Fire Set To Fake News Agency Russian Trolls Allegedly Used To Meddle In 2016 Election

Man flees the scene of a fire in the dark of night.
Carl Court / Getty Images

The St. Petersburg office of a pro-Kremlin media company linked to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation on Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was set ablaze in an act of arson early Tuesday morning, October 9.

The Moscow Times reports that a fire broke out at the headquarters of Federal News Agency after an unknown suspect supposedly broke one of the business’s windows and tossed a molotov cocktail inside. The attack is reported to have taken place at around 3 a.m. A recording that was taken via video surveillance captures the moment the fire erupted in the space. As computers on one end of the room become engulfed by flames, an employee who was startled and fled the explosion can be seen returning to gather her belongings.

Federal News Agency (FAN) hosts one of 16 websites run by billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency. As The Hill notes in its reporting, Prigozhin’s agency was pegged as an internet troll farm before pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice led to its rebranding. That pressure came via a February 2018 grand jury indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three entities believed to have carried out activities organized for the sake of influencing the outcome of the presidential race.

According to research gathered by Newsweek and Slate, the Internet Research Agency spent portions of a $1.25 million monthly budget to finance propaganda campaigns on social media and to coordinate grassroots political initiatives in communities across the U.S. However, the likelihood of Mueller and the DOJ being able to hold the network to account is slim given Prigozhin’s relationship with President Vladimir Putin and Moscow’s unwillingness to extradite those named in the indictment.

Under its incarnation as the Federal News Agency, the Internet Research Agency continues to enjoy an estimated 30 million page views per month. However, its focus on news coming out of the U.S. has gone cold and readers now know its publications deliver coverage deemed patriotic with a bias in favor of Putin. Still, the entity apparently continues to make enemies, as is evident by Tuesday’s attack, according to FAN’s editor-in-chief Yevgeny Zubarev.

“I believe this is tied to FAN’s activities,” Zubarev reportedly told the media after the incident. “We’re most often attacked online, but these types of attacks have already taken place offline.”

The fire is said to have been extinguished before it could spread beyond containment. There were no reports of injury documented as a result of the attack.