Russian intelligence services have attempted to sow division in the United States ahead of the 2020 election by fueling racial division, including by influencing extremist groups, American officials told The New York Times.
The Russian government’s methods to divide Americans are broader than what the country used 2016, the Times reported, citing multiple unnamed American officials briefed on recent intelligence.
In 2016, Russian activity was meant to reach a wide number of Americans and included spreading disinformation to suppress voter turnout and creating fake Black Lives Matter Facebook pages.
In 2020, things have changed, per the Times. Efforts reportedly include pushing extremist groups to spread hate messages and inciting violence. Unlike in 2016, unnamed intelligence officials told the Times, Russian operatives have taken to using private Facebook groups and message boards like 4chan.
Per the Times, Russian intelligence services observed the fallout of the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — which ended with the white supremacist James Fields Jr. murdering counter-protester Heather Heyer — and determined that promoting hate groups would effectively sow discord in the United States.
One specific interest of the FBI’s, per The Times, is the founder of the neo-Nazi group The Base, which has been rocked by a string of arrests in recent months.
The Guardian and BBC identified Rinaldo Nazzaro as the previously anonymous founder of the violent neo-Nazi group in January, reporting that he was living in Russia and that he had previously advertised his services as an intelligence and security expert. Four Base members told the Guardian they were suspicious that Nazzaro was really a law enforcement agent or “honeypot” meant to lure neo-Nazis out into the open, and Times reported that the FBI is looking for potential ties between Russian intelligence and Nazzaro.
Specifically, the Times reported that the FBI has zeroed in on Nazzaro’s purchase of property in Washington State in 2018, which the anti-fascist group Eugene Antifa said in August was meant as a training “hate camp.”
Base members across the country have been arrested in recent months, including in Virginia, Wisconsin and Georgia. The three members charged in Georgia were accused of plotting the murder of a local anti-fascist couple.