GOP Senator Claims Russian Trolls Are Stoking Controversy About NFL Protests

Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford talks to supporters during the Republican watch party in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
J Pat Carter/FR171340 AP

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) on Wednesday claimed that Russian “troll farms” and “Internet folks” played a part in amplifying the controversy surrounding NFL players and coaches who knelt during the national anthem as an act of protest.

“We watched even this weekend the Russians and their troll farms and their Internet folks start hashtagging out ‘take a knee’ and also hashtagging out ‘boycott NFL,'” Lankford said during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing (Lankford is a member of the panel). Lankford also sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

He said Russian actors “were taking both sides of the argument this weekend and pushing them out from their troll farms as much as they could to try to just raise the noise level in America and to make a big issue seem like an even bigger issue as they’re trying to push divisiveness in the country.”

“We’ve continued to be able to see that,” Lankford said. “We will see that again in our election time.”

Lankford on Monday compared players who knelt during the anthem in protest to high school coaches who he claimed were fired for kneeling “in silent prayer.”

“We can’t say to one football coach, ‘You’re fired if you kneel in silent prayer at the end of the game,’ but to a player, ‘If you kneel in protest at the game, you’re celebrated,’” he said. “If we’re going to honor all free speech and all free exercise of religion, we need to be able to honor that universally.”

President Donald Trump last week said that any “son of a bitch” protesting during the national anthem should be fired for doing so, but insisted on Tuesday that he was not “preoccupied” with the matter “at all.”

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