The Daily Beast is reporting that the Kremlin-backed troll farm at the center of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election had once set it’s sights around co-opting a 2016 protest surrounding the death of India Cummings at the Erie County Holding Center.
Event in Buffalo, NY april 4th pic.twitter.com/4I22bK47zC
— Josh Russell (@josh_emerson) September 29, 2017
The Russian “information exchange” Joker.Buzz, which auctions off often stolen or confidential information, advertised a leak for a large cache of the Internet Research Agency’s (IRA) internal documents. It includes names of Americans, activists in particular, whom the organization specifically targeted; American-based proxies used to access Reddit and the viral meme site 9Gag; and login information for troll farm accounts.
The leak contained information related to a known Russian Facebook page named ‘Blacktivist’ who contacted various people planning to attend the April 2016 event:
In the same month, based on the Internet Research Agency leak, Blacktivist appeared to have reached out to actual or potential attendees of an April 2016 rally for India Cummings, a black woman who died suspiciously in police custody, in Buffalo, New York.
When Dierra Jenkins, a Buffalo-based woman active in the local civil rights community, first came across Blacktivist, she thought its heavy concentration of Buffalo-focused content meant its creators were local. She was named in the Internet Research Agency leak, and confirmed to The Daily Beast that the account contacted her about the Cummings rally. “I do a lot of activist work in Buffalo,” Jenkins said. “Whoever was running that page, I thought, was from Buffalo, because they were posting stuff that was happening in Buffalo.”
Shortly before the protest, Jenkins said, Blacktivist’s Facebook page contacted her over Messenger, with “no indication why,” to send her an invitation to the demonstration. She was familiar with the Blacktivist page but hadn’t previously interacted with it or anyone affiliated with it—making it likely that the Russian imposters were fishing for attendees based on similar interests visible on Facebook.
The Daily Beast also reports that another Buffalonian was contacted by ‘the Internet Research Agency’ regarding the same event:
Noah Westfall, another person named as being contacted by affiliates with the Internet Research Agency, lives in Buffalo, New York. In 2016, he wanted to participate in the April protest at the Erie County Holding Center on Cummings’ behalf. Prior to the protest, he had an interaction with a now deactivated Facebook user about the event.
According to screenshots of the alleged conversation provided by Westfall to The Daily Beast, he was messaged on April 3 in the afternoon and was told “We need a volunteer to help us with signing the petition/printing posters.”
The user also informed Westfall: “It would be cool if you could also periscope the protest.”
He was subsequently sent a petition and a set of posters to use and was encouraged to put them on cardboard.
Ultimately, Westfall did not attend. Three weeks later, the user sent a link to another Facebook event and said “you are welcome to attend our protest, on Monday, May 2.”
An attorney for the Cummings family said the imposter account had no role in setting up any demonstrations on Cummings’ behalf.)