Russian internet "trolls," actually disinformation and propaganda specialists working for the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency, helped push the 2016 candidacy of Donald Trump by staging an aggressive social media campaign to persuade potential Hillary Clinton voters to back Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Stein is a Harvard-educated doctor who has never held public office outside of Lexington, Massachusetts, and that pro-Stein campaign was far more aggressive than previously believed, according to an NBC News account of a new Senate report.
The Internet Research Agency is funded and operated by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who, as Inquisitr has reported, is so close to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is known in Russia as "Putin's Chef."
The Russian agents working for Prigozhin posted at least 1,000 Twitter messages with Stein's name during the campaign, according to the NBC News report. Prigozhin was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller along with a dozen Internet Research Agency employees in February, in connection with the social media campaign to tamper with the election in favor of Trump, CNN reported.
The Russians included the hashtag "Grow a spine, vote Jill Stein" in many of the tweets posted by the Internet Research Agency using false online identities to deceive readers into believing the messages were posted by authentic Stein supporters. The Russian messages are believed to have been read by tens of millions of social media users, according to Think Progress.The Russian campaign may have been effective. In each of the three states that swung the Electoral College to Trump, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the total votes for Stein greatly exceeded Trump's margin of victory over Clinton, as Five Thirty Eight reported. Had only some of those Stein voters cast ballots for Clinton, the Democratic candidate would have won those states — and the presidency.
The report commissioned from the independent research firm New Knowledge by the Senate Intelligence Committee found that the Russians waged "comprehensive anti-Hillary Clinton operations" which included not only social media messages directly attacking Clinton and supporting Trump, but also attempts to divert votes away from Clinton by backing Stein, as well as Clinton's rival Democratic candidate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, according to CNN.
During her campaign, Stein called for a soft approach to Russia, and claimed wrongly that NATO countries had "surrounded" Russia with nuclear weapons, as she said in an interview with Vox, even describing Russia as one of the "enemies we invent to give the weapons industry a reason to sell more stuff." She also compared NATO's stance toward Russia to "the Cuban missile crisis in reverse, on steroids." In fact, only about 10 percent of Russian territory borders on NATO countries.
Stein also notoriously attended a December, 2015, dinner in Moscow honoring the state-run Russian propaganda outlet Russia Today. At the dinner, as NBC News reported, Stein was seated at a table with Putin, as well as retired U.S. General Michael Flynn, who later became Trump's national security adviser and has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts during the post-election transition period. A photo from that dinner can be seen above.