You Have No Friends: Russia Joins America’s Black Voter Suppression Effort

You Have No Friends: Russia Joins America's Black Voter Suppression Effort

Blacks in America are well aware of the politricks played by white supremacists. But now it seems like the entire world is getting in the game.

A new report detailed how the Russians specifically targeted African-American voters in the 2016 election to help President Donald Trump win—adding to domestic efforts to suppress the Black vote.

The New York Times obtained an advanced copy of the report that was released on Monday, and it found that a Russian-backed team used an array of tactics to suppress turnout among Democrats through social media outlets, especially Instagram and Facebook.

A U.S. Senate committee commissioned the study that was produced by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company based in Austin, Texas, along with researchers at Columbia University and Canfield Research LLC.

The efforts through Facebook and Instagram focused on developing Black audiences and disproportionately recruited unwitting African-American activists who were sometimes paid to stage rallies to create turmoil.

“As Russia takes aim at African-American voters, we can’t ignore the fact that people of color remain the primary targets for voter suppression schemes right here on American soil. In setting its main target on African Americans, Russia is taking a page out of the U.S. voter suppression playbook; by allowing voter suppression domestically, we send a dangerous message to bad actors such as Russia that Black votes don’t matter,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said.

America’s long history of suppressing the Black vote also impacted the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. For example, after the Republican-led statehouse in Wisconsin changed its voter registration law mandating stricter identification, more than 200,000 voters, mostly African Americans, were not able to vote, according to a study from Priorities USA that was reported in The Nation.

The progressive voting rights organization found that Wisconsin’s voter-ID law reduced turnout by 200,000 votes. Trump won the state by only 22,748 votes.

A St. Petersburg company called the Internet Research Agency operated the influence campaign. It was owned by businessman Yevgeny V. Prigozhin who has a close connection to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The company created a dozen fake websites using names that would appeal to African Americans, such as,, and It operated a YouTube channel that covered the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality.

On Facebook, ads targeted users who showed an interest in certain topics like Black history or the Black Panther Party.

“Facebook’s engagement with partisan firms, its targeting of political opponents, the spread of misinformation and the utilization of Facebook for propaganda promoting disingenuous portrayals of the African American community is reprehensible,” said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson.

The civil rights organization called on Congress to conduct additional investigations into Facebook in the aftermath of this report.

Ahead of Monday’s release of the report, the civil rights organization called for a digital protest against Facebook on Dec. 18, dubbed # LogOutFacebook.

“Over the last year, NAACP has expressed concerns about the numerous data breaches and privacy mishaps in which Facebook has been implicated. And since the onset of the Silicon Valley boom, the organization has been openly critical about the lack of employee diversity among the top technology firms in the country,” a statement said.

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The 21st century is, in fact, littered with the bodies of Black votes. Here are just a handful of examples from The Guardian:

  • In the 2000 presidential election, which George W Bush won in Florida by 537 ballots, the state kept African Americans from the polls, purged Black voters from rolls, locked gates at polling places, set up a Florida Highway Patrol checkpoint at the only road leading to the polls in key, heavily Black precincts in Jacksonville, and simply didnt count ballots. The US Civil Rights Commission later concluded that, “of the 179,855 ballots invalidated by Florida officials, 53% were cast by Black voters. In Florida,” the commission’s report continued, “a Black citizen was 10 times as likely to have a vote rejected as a white voter.”

  • In the US state of North Carolina, white supremacists targeted African American voters “with almost surgical precision”. The state required ID’s which its research showed a disproportionate number of Black people did not have. And, as Think Progress reported, the GOP slashed the number of early voting sites in Guilford county, which is nearly 30% African American, from “16 in 2012 to a single location” in 2016. As a result, the magazine noted, “turnout so far is down 85%”. There was a similar elimination of early voting sites in Mecklenburg county, home to the city of Charlotte and 15% of the state’s African American population. Pleased with what they had accomplished, North Carolina Republicans “celebrated” mowing down Black access to the voting booth.
  • In Indiana, once it became clear that Black people could determine the outcome of an election, like when Barack Obama carried the state in 2008, the Republicans mobilized to cut off African Americans’ access to the polls. Similar to North Carolina, Indiana’s GOP realized how essential early voting was to Black voter turnout. The Republican-dominated legislature mandated that counties with more than 325,000 residents could only have one early voting location unless approved on a bi-partisan basis. Then governor, Mike Pence, signed this into law in 2013. Once again, the targeting was clear. Only three counties in Indiana have more than 325,000 people and account for 72% of the state’s Black population. The result, as the Indianapolis Star reported, is that Marion county, including the state’s largest city, Indianapolis, lost two of its sites and was reduced to only one early voting precinct, which was inaccessibly located downtown with no available parking. Not surprisingly, by design, in the 2016 election, early voting in the county plummeted by 26%.
  • a dozen African American activists and school board members arrested and, over the course of a long grueling four-year period, dragged through the courts. Although, in the end, there were zero convictions for voter fraud, there was a chilling effect as lives were ruined, jobs lost, and a hard lesson on the costs of voting made abundantly clear.Then, in 2014, Kemp put his crosshairs on the New Georgia Voter Project, an organization determined to register some of the 700,000 African Americans in the state who were not yet on the voter rolls. When the group signed up more than 100,000 to vote, Kemp immediately took to the airwaves insisting: “We’re just not going to put up with fraud.” That claim, spoken often and wrongly by Republican stalwarts from Kris Kobach to Donald Trump, is the lie used to justify voter suppression techniques. Yet, as the law professor Justin Levitt has documented, between 2000 and 2014, there have only been 31 cases of voter identification fraud out of one billion votes. Kemp, in his own way, acknowledged the lie when, behind closed doors, he explained to a group of fellow Republicans: “Democrats are working hard … registering all these minority voters … If they can do that, they can win these elections in November.” He, therefore, used the power of his office to launch a very public multi-year investigation that would, once again, aim to intimidate and dissuade African Americans from registering to vote.

You Have No Friends: Russia Joins America's Black Voter Suppression Effort

In 2016, pummeled by voter suppression in more than 30 states, the Black voter turnout plummeted by 7%. For the GOP, that was an effective kill rate. For America, it was a lethal assault on democracy.

As you create political strategies and tactics with your Chapters and grassroots organizations, take into account the tactics and strategies that white supremacists use to counter your fight for what is right!

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