Criminal charges filed today against 13 Russian nationals in the United States allege that there was a concerted effort to influence the 2016 presidential election, including attempts to suppress minority votes, “sow political discord,” and increase distrust in the country’s political system.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, appointed to investigate Russian interference in the election, filed charges of conspiracy to defraud the US against 13 individuals and three Russian organizations that allegedly used fake online accounts to deceive millions of voting Americans.
Following the release of the charges, officials said there was no evidence the tactics influenced the outcome of the election.
In an operation dating back to 2014, the Russian organization known as the Internet Research Agency posted "derogatory information about a number of candidates,” online, bought ads, communicated and coordinated with “unwitting” associates of Donald Trump’s political campaign, and disparaged Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, according to CNN.
The individuals who are charged traveled around the US, in at least eight states identified as “purple” battleground states in the election, including Colorado, Virginia, and Florida, according to the New York Times.
The group specifically targeted minority voters, which it tried to dissuade from voting at all.
The indictment alleges that the defendants “began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate.”
In October, the individuals used the Instagram account “Woke Blacks” to encourage people to abstain from voting rather than vote for Hillary Clinton. In November, they bought advertising to promote an Instagram post encouraging people to vote for Jill Stein.
The accounts also posted bogus charges that Hillary Clinton was being investigated for voter fraud in states including North Carolina and Iowa, according to the indictment.
Russia’s Internet Research Agency was designed to disrupt the US political process and spread distrust toward “the political system in general,” according to the New York Times. It is based in St. Petersburg, Russia, and operates on a budget of millions of dollars a year.
In addition to charges of defrauding the US, three of the defendants were also charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, while five were charged with aggravated identity theft.
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