Fake social media accounts, rallies for and against Donald Trump, paid protesters: Russia managed a vast propaganda operation to support the Trump campaign in the 2016 presidential election, according to a court indictment.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, investigating possible collusion between the campaign and Russia along with other potential wrongdoing, on Friday charged 13 Russians for an alleged conspiracy to defraud the United States.
The indictment details a wide-ranging multi-million-dollar enterprise to interfere with and "sow discord" in the American political system using social media.
Here are facts about the alleged operation, as outlined in the indictment:
- The instigators -
The campaign began in 2014. It was managed by Internet Research Agency LLC, a company based in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and financed by Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin.
Russian media had previously reported on the company and said it was believed to have ties to Russian intelligence.
The Agency aimed, in part, to carry out "information warfare against the United States of America" through fake US identities on internet-based media and social media.
Propagandists were told to create "political intensity through supporting radical groups, users dissatisfied with (the) social and economic situation and opposition social movements."
Starting from the Republican and Democratic primaries, the Agency worked to favor Trump and denigrate his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton, with a budget that by September 2016 exceeded $1.2 million a month.
- Fake accounts -
The Agency created pages, which sometimes rivaled each other, on Facebook and Instagram about immigration, race relations and religion.
Among the page names were: Secured Borders, Blacktivist, United Muslims of America and Army of Jesus.
The company also controlled "numerous" Twitter accounts designed to appear as if they were operated by Americans.
One even purported to belong to the Tennessee state Republican Party. It issued false information about an inquiry into electoral fraud during the Democratic primaries in North Carolina.
There were election-related hashtags including #Trump2016 and #Hillary4Prison.
Several days before the ballot, the Blacktivist Instagram account called on voters to back Jill Stein of the Green Party.
At about the same time, United Muslims of America posted a message which said "most of the American Muslim voters refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton."
- Ad purchases -
The Agency and its staff, concealing their Russian identities, "began to produce, purchase, and post advertisements" on social media and elsewhere online "advocating for the election of then-candidate Trump or expressly opposing Clinton."
To pay for the ads, they fraudulently opened US bank accounts with fake identity papers, and used PayPal and cryptocurrencies.
US law forbids foreigners from buying political ads.
They also "organized and coordinated political rallies," promoted through their fake social media accounts but also by reaching out to large social media groups focused on US politics.
- Organized rallies -
Florida, considered a "swing" state and ultimately won by Trump, was a particular target of those rallies in August 2016, dubbed "Florida Goes Trump."
The accused contacted local Trump supporters, and paid an American "to wear a costume portraying Clinton in a prison uniform" at the rallies.
They also funded her trip to participate in a New York rally while wearing the same costume.
Rallies organized using "false US personas" continued even after the November 2016 election, including two on the same day in New York, one in support of Trump and the other opposed.
- Trump campaign contacts -
The indictment makes no allegation of collusion between Trump's campaign team and Russia.
It says some of the accused, using fake US identities, communicated with "unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign."
- The outcome -
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters there was no allegation that the propaganda campaign altered the outcome of the election, which Trump won.