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A Conspiracy Made in America May Have Been Spread by Russia

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A Conspiracy Made in America May Have Been Spread by Russia

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The night of the Iowa caucuses in February, Robby Mook, Hillary Clintons 2016 campaign manager, logged into Twitter to find the hashtag #RobbyMookCaucusApp trending across the country. Pundits on both sides of the aisle accused him of developing a mobile app to rig the Democratic primary against Senator Bernie Sanders.

Soon his phone was buzzing with calls from reporters demanding to know what role he had played in creating the app, a flawed vote-reporting system that delayed caucus results for days.

But he had never even heard of the app, which was developed by a company called Shadow Inc. This mattered little to the thousands of Twitter users attacking him online. Four months later, Mr. Mook sighed, There are still people out there who believe I developed that app.

Mr. Mook was the target of an American-made social media conspiracy theory that was picked up by Americans and quickly amplified by accounts with Russian links. What happened to him in February though just a sliver of the enormous amounts of misinformation pouring onto social media platforms offers a manual to understand how false information about the coronavirus and the election is now spreading.

The conspiracy targeting Mr. Mook started a week before the Iowa caucus, when Chelsea Goodell, a web designer in Arizona, quoted a Twitter post that included a screenshot of an article from the technology news site CNET describing Democrats plans to use an app to tabulate votes in the caucus.

The article noted that Iowa officials were working with Harvard Universitys Defending Digital Democracy program a program Mr. Mook helped found to protect the caucus from digital threats. Ms. Goodell claimed it was a Democratic ploy to steal the primary from Mr. Sanders.

Four hours later, Ms. Goodell added the hashtag #RobbyMookCaucusApp to her tweets.

There was no basis for her claims. The Digital Democracy Project had run threat simulations for Iowa election officials in both parties. But neither Harvards staff nor Mr. Mook had even seen the Shadow app before the caucuses that February.

The conspiracy theory might have flamed out had it not been picked up by Ann Louise La Clair, a self-described Los Angeles filmmaker with a Russian Twitter following. Her tweets praising RT advertisements and protesting American airstrikes in Syria a key Russian ally had previously been picked up by RT, the Kremlin-owned news outlet.

She had also caught notice of @DanWals83975326, who also claimed to be a filmmaker. But his Twitter feed suggested otherwise.

He tweeted in broken English 72 times a day, on average, often in the middle of the night in the United States just as business was getting underway in Russia. Of the 2,000 accounts he followed, many posted exclusively in Russian. He routinely shared content from RT, Sputnik, Tass and other Kremlin-owned outlets.

He often took aim at the deep state and American media and retweeted Americans like Ms. La Clair who criticized the Democratic establishment. In fact, Ms. La Clair was among the top 10 accounts @DanWals83975326 retweeted. He promoted Ms. La Clairs theories to his 1,200 followers, which included a broader network of Russia-linked accounts that bore the words Russia, Moscow and Kremlin in their profiles, set their locations to Russia, and regularly promoted Russian state news.

The account he liked most frequently belonged to @Manul_na_skale, which posted from Russia, exclusively in Russian, and highlighted tweets like Happy Border Guards Day a holiday celebrated by members of the F.S.B., the successor to the K.G.B.

None of the accounts in @DanWals83975326s network had particularly large followings.

They arent looking for their own accounts to go viral anymore, because it draws attention to themselves, said Ms. Otis, the former C.I.A. analyst. The bulk of their approach is to slip into existing narratives.

Within 10 minutes of Ms. La Clair quoting Ms. Goodells Mook-Iowa theory, @DanWals83975326 shared it. When the app imploded the night of the caucus, RT picked up the theory, writing: There are rumors that Clintons former 2016 campaign manager, Robby Mook, was indirectly involved with the Shadow app.

By the time Mr. Mook could correct the record on Twitter that evening, the false claim had been shared more than 20,000 times. The #RobbyMookCaucusApp hashtag had climbed to the top of Twitter. Soon, President Trump, his campaign advisers and his sons were echoing the claims.

Mark my words, Eric Trump, the presidents son, posted, they are rigging this thing.

I dont want to be used as somebodys pawn, Ms. La Clair said. But to find out whether every tweet I share is disingenuous, I would have to go all the way back and find out who the instigator is. I dont even know how to do that.

She argued on Twitter that Dr. Anthony Fauci, a crucial figure in the Trump administrations pandemic response, and the billionaire Bill Gates are part of a plot to profit from an eventual Covid-19 vaccine. Once again, her theories were promoted by @DanWals83975326.

@DanWals83975326 also promoted Russian accounts that claimed the virus was created at an American military base. Disinformation analysts suspect his account is part of a broader Russian campaign. A leaked European Union report found, in the two months leading to mid-March, 80 instances in which Russia fabricated or exaggerated theories that Covid is a bioweapon. In February, American intelligence officials warned that Russian accounts were once again meddling to re-elect President Trump in 2020, and boosting Senator Sanders as part of that effort.

@DanWals83975326 continues to play his part. He amplifies Mr. Sanders and Representative Tulsi Gabbard, the Democrat from Hawaii who is a favorite of the Russian press, while slamming Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the D.N.C. He applauded Joe Rogan, the podcaster and onetime Sanders supporter, when he announced that he would vote for Mr. Trump over Mr. Biden.

Joe Rogan is with people & not of the dumbest flock, @DanWals83975326 tweeted. (The account turned on Mr. Rogan in May after the podcaster dedicated an entire show to the question: Why is Russia so crazy? More recently, he has pushed Jimmy Dore, a comedian who was a staunch critic of the special counsels investigation into Russian collusion and is an ardent critic of Mr. Bidens.)

Occasionally, to appear more American, @DanWals83975326 tossed out the odd American cultural reference. Sometimes he appeared to tip his hand, praising President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, bragging about Russian grain production and fawning over the Russian military.

In late May, after this reporter sent the account holder a list of questions concerning his identity, @DanWals83975326 vanished, deleting his Twitter history. He recently resurfaced as @DanRadov.

But the game is still the same. He still amplifies Ms. La Clairs posts, blames the Pentagons bioWMDs for the pandemic and with the nation seized by protests his latest tweets seem to appreciate how little foreign interference is required to take the country down.

U.S. has long been in the position when one spark can burn the whole country down and all of the United West for that matter, @DanRadov posted. Buckle your seatbelts people. We are up for rough ride.



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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories – KTVZ

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories - KTVZ

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Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York are calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to create a new bipartisan committee focused on election integrity and schedule hearings to reassure Americans over a process President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to undermine.

There is growing anxiety among Democrats, and some Republicans, that Trump will not only continue to sow doubt over the legitimacy of the coming election but throw the subsequent count into chaos by declaring victory before all the votes can be tallied, including the millions that will arrive by mail.

In a letter to McConnell, Sanders and Schumer quote back the Kentucky senator’s own words, in which he attested to the reliability of mail-in voting by citing its successes in Oregon, Washington and Colorado, which have been using the system for years.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the validity of mail-in voting, promoted conspiracy theories questioning election security, called on supporters to act as unsanctioned “poll watchers,” and suggested that the absence of a clear result by the evening of November 3 would in some way cast doubt on the eventual outcome. Key allies in powerful positions, like Attorney General Bill Barr, have followed suit. Barr has persisted in puffing up a debunked claim that ballots received by mail would somehow strip the sender of their privacy — ignoring well-established safeguards.

By escalating the matter now, Sanders and Schumer are responding to growing concern, in partisan and nonpartisan spaces, that Americans are not adequately prepared for the potential of a longer-than-usual wait for results or Trump’s willingness to short-circuit the democratic process if he smells defeat.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress must come together to ensure that we have a free and fair election where every vote is cast and counted without intimidation,” Sanders told CNN, “where no one has to put his or her health in danger to cast a ballot, and where we have full confidence in the results.”

The proposed hearings would invite a cross-section of election officials from across the country to testify to the security and reliability of mail-in, early- and in-person voting — subjects on which Sanders and Schumer, again, referenced McConnell’s own words.

“Despite the clear security of our vote-by-mail system, some have continued to undermine it with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud,” they wrote. “As you have correctly said, people ‘can vote early, you can vote on Election Day, or you can drop it in the mail,’ and that voters should ‘not worry about your vote not counting.’”

The minority leader and Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also want more detailed discussion about the fraught hours, or days, after the polls close and a real-time watch of the election horse race potentially swings from one candidate to another.

“We know a number of states may well be counting ballots for a period of time after Election Day, and that those votes may be determinative in this election,” the senators wrote to McConnell. “To avoid disinformation, conspiracy theories, and suspicion about results, we must understand the likely timeline for this process.”

The letter goes on to reference the recent war games-style preparations conducted by a group called the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan gathering of operatives and academics that made headlines when some of the outcomes of their exercises — including “both street-level violence and political impasse” — were reported on in late July.

“A bipartisan group of experts and officials have studied multiple scenarios where the outcome of the election was not immediately known. Some of these scenarios resulted in unrest and even violence,” Sanders and Schumer wrote, suggesting the Senate should elevate similar discussions and familiarize the public with the uncertainties ahead. “We would like to hear from the most knowledgeable people in the country as to how we can do everything possible to make sure that the election and the period afterward is secure and peaceful.”

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS supported Caputo, with a statement that called him a critical, integral part of the presidents coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was no immediate statement from the White House.

Attempts to reach Caputo were unsuccessful.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called on Azar to fire Caputo, accusing the spokesman of trying to interfere with CDC reports to the medical and scientific community, as well as the public at large. And Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Azar himself to resign, citing interference with the CDC as one example of what he termed the administration’s failures.

Officials at CDC have privately complained of recent efforts by political appointees at main HHS to try to edit or press for changes in the agency’s weekly MMWR publications, a go-to resource for public health professionals.

MMWR articles are technical, but they reveal telling details. One published earlier this year noted that while Trump’s travel restrictions dramatically reduced travel from China in February, nothing was being done at that time to restrict travel from Italy and Europe, where the coronavirus was spreading widely and rapidly. Analysis of virus samples from hard-hit New York in March suggested it was introduced there from Europe and other parts of the U.S., the CDC article reported.

Caputo is an unswerving Trump loyalist. His recent book, The Ukraine Hoax, claims the presidents phony impeachment was rooted in a vast conspiracy.

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS…

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS...

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My RSS Feedunwinona:

This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS and Polio narrative (among others), only we’re seeing it escalated to weeks and months instead of years or decades.

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