The office of special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals on Feb. 16 for their alleged scheme to influence U.S. public opinion during the elections.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said that the indictment did not include any allegations that any American or members of the Trump campaign “was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.”
He also said that “there is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said President Trump said in response to the allegations that he “is glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates—that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected.”
“It is more important than ever before to come together as Americans,” Trump said in a statement released by Sanders. “We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful.
“It’s time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories, which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors, like Russia, and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions. We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections.”
According to the indictment, the Russians made preparations as early as 2014 to create fake social media profiles to stir resentment among both liberal and conservative groups.
The efforts were coordinated by the Internet Research Agency LLC and attempted to sow public discord by tapping into controversial public issues.
The court documents reveal that the Russians were instructed by the agency to create “political intensity through supporting radical groups, users dissatisfied with [the] social and economic situation and oppositional social movements.”
The pages created by the group span the political spectrum. One of its pages is in support of secure borders, while another was in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. There was also a page with the name “United Muslims of America” and a group called “Army of Jesus.”
The methods reflect Soviet-era subversion strategies designed to destabilize societies by driving opposing groups into conflict and to cause the population to lose faith in its institutions.
Besides using social media to influence public opinion and sow discord, the Russian organization also used real-life events to further its cause.
In some cases, the group was responsible for staging both pro-Trump and anti-Trump rallies simultaneously. The court documents show that they organized a rally in New York intended to “show your support for President-Elect Donald Trump” on Nov. 12, 2016. While at the same time they used a different social media group they created to stage a rally in New York called “Trump is NOT my President.”
They also organized a rally called “Charlotte against Trump” in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Nov. 16, 2016.
The suspects hid their identities by using an American-based server, as well as the use of identity theft of at least three American nationals. The forged identities used stolen social security numbers and falsely-obtained drivers licenses and were used to create Paypal accounts to pay for the advertising created on social media.
According to the indictment, the Russian nationals used the fake personas they created on social media—which, in some cases, had hundreds of thousands of followers—to communicate with unwitting members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump Campaign involved in local community outreach.
According to the indictment, the Russian nationals spread derogatory information on all candidates involved in the campaign but made a particular effort to target Hillary Clinton.
However, the Russians were using several accounts simultaneously to both criticize and praise Clinton.
In June 2016, the Russian defendants and their co-conspirators used a Facebook group named “United Muslims of America” to promote a rally called “Support Hillary. Save American Muslims,” held on July 9, 2016, in the District of Columbia.
Weeks later, the group wrote on their page that Muslim voters were “between Hillary Clinton and a hard place.”