Russian election meddling comes in two basic forms: trolls and government-sponsored hacking groups. Trolls have the job of spreading general discord and no clear evidence exists that they favor one political party more than another. Government hacking groups have more devious goals in mind. They have the capability to maneuver themselves into a position from which they could potentially benefit one candidate.
Sometimes, though, Russian government hackers will also work on sowing discord. A March, 2020 New York Times article stated that one of the best Russian government’s hacking groups is “trying to incite violence by white supremacist groups and to stoke anger among African-Americans.” While they are encouraging white nationalists to be more aggressive, their mainstream newspapers are highlighting stories “emphasizing allegations of police abuse” against African-Americans. Apparently, Russia feels this is the best, and, perhaps, easiest way to stoke social unrest and make the U.S. look bad.
But which party benefits from such an outcome? Here, opinions differ. Some say that creating social disturbances, such as protests and riots, will make Americans turn to more conservative, more law-and-order candidates. Others feel that Democrats could benefit if they could tie the discord to the Trump presidency.
So even if the current protests/riots were not initiated by Russian agents, you’d have to be quite naïve to believe that they wouldn’t venture in to take advantage of them. They would be happy to exploit social media to piggyback on Antifa, Black Lives Matter, other anarchist groups, such as Black Block, or their right wing adversaries, such as Proud Boys or Patriot Prayer.
But Antifa is the main group in the spotlight. Keep in mind that Antifa is a worldwide, loosely-organized group of anti-capitalist, Marxist, anarchists. Yes, they have a Russian component.
However, some unwitting commentators are quick to conclude that Antifa is a movement and not an organization. This is just simplemindedness. There are Antifa ‘nodes’ in most American cities. These nodes are coalesced around websites and social media accounts and these have to be built and maintained by discrete individuals. The truth is, the owners of the websites and social media accounts can be traced down as can those who interact with them. Sure, a lot of these owners have paid for special privacy protection, but read the fine print. If the government really wants that information, the web hosts and social media platform owners will give it to them. So, yes, Antifa members can be unmasked. They are not anonymous.
The fact that American Antifa has a defense fund for Russian Antifa members means that the Russian government would have no problems at all infiltrating the group.
Pretending to be dedicated anti-fascists, Russian agents could be in a position to post on any Antifa site to fire up discord. Keep in mind that they’ve already done this in the past with fake sites like this
Now, the truth is that the Russian government finds Antifa to be reprehensible. They have, in fact, arrested and imprisoned a number of Antifa associates. They can just as easily infiltrate extreme right wing sites to encourage division, as they did on this site.
and this site.
Recently, former National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, when speaking of Russia, was widely criticized for saying, “I would not be surprised to learn that they have fomented some of these extremists on both sides using social media. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they are funding it in some way, shape, or form.” In essence, she is probably correct. They may not be physically starting the fires but they are metaphorically throwing fuel on them. If Russia or any other government was found to be funding these destructive riots, then Antifa could be placed in the position of being named as a foreign-funded terrorist organization. That is something they will do everything in their power to avoid.
So in some way, Russia has succeeded in reaching one of their goals. They have helped make America look bad. But what about the other goal; that of influencing the outcome of the 2020 election? And the big question: If the Russian government could promote one candidate, who would it be?
They certainly don’t like Biden because he seemed to be chumming it up with their arch enemy, Ukraine and, more specifically, a rival in the gas market, Burisma. However, Russian operatives hacked Burisma late last year and most likely found incriminating evidence on Biden and his son, Hunter. It appears quite likely that the Russian government has leaked some of this information through sympathetic French Journalist, Olivier Berruyer. Berruyer is making a documentary on Biden and Biden’s relationship with the Ukrainian government and Burisma. Four parts of this documentary have already been released. If I were to make a bet, I would bet that the most incriminating parts of this documentary will be released just before the U.S. election. Then again, they may hold back some key information in case Biden becomes president. They could then use this as leverage in a Biden presidency.
So does this mean that Russia would prefer Trump to continue as president? Some studies have preliminarily found no real preference. On the other hand, Russia may see Trump as at least someone who will consider them as a player in international politics. For example, he wanted them included in the G7 meeting he recently proposed. That would probably be more than they’d get from Biden. There is a caveat here. If Russia too openly supports Trump, it could have just the opposite effect.
In the final analysis, Russia probably hasn’t decided who to throw their weight behind in 2020. But do they have any real weight to throw? Certainly they have some, and, if they use it in swing states or key districts, their meddling could make a difference. Is it possible that the vying political parties could court this interference? That can’t be ruled out. If such courting occurs, we would see it in positive remarks made about Russia or simply in avoiding saying anything bad about them. As anyone who watches Russian’s RT TV knows, they will glom onto any positive comments made about Putin or the Russian government and attack any negative comments. They are listening, and they do have the power to enhance a candidate’s chances, especially in a close election.
But Russia is not alone in its attempt to influence the future of the U.S. China and Iran are also putting their hand into the mix. In the end, it just may be that all of these attempts cancel each other out. These countries are, however, united in one goal, and that is to make the U.S. look as bad to the world as possible, hoping, perhaps, that people stop looking at their own human rights records.
For example, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, stated that “by taking measures to prevent looting and other illegal actions, authorities should not violate the rights of Americans to peaceful protest.” So says the country which locks up nearly anyone who tries to protest.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said “American politicians had better get their own house in order.” “China has a sense of right and wrong. We are opposed to all violent and illegal activities. We also hope that the U.S. will not stay indifferent to the issue of racial discrimination.” This call for tolerance from a nation that has put a million Muslim Uighurs in concentration camps.
And, finally, there’s Iran. “The voice of the protesters should be heard, so the suppression of the persecuted Americans and the restrictions of the media must be stopped quickly.” This from a country who never found a human right it wouldn’t violate.
All hypocrisy aside, these countries will do whatever it takes to push the election results in a direction from which they will derive benefits. Among these, Russia will be the most prominent. They have the best hacking tools available and are not shy about using them. How they use them and who they use them against is the only thing we don’t know at this point.