By Greg Gordon –
WASHINGTON -A television crew from Russia’s largest state-backed network swooped into downtown Miami two days before New Year’s Eve, 2016, on a curious mission.
RT, the network formerly known as Russia Today, was there to provide global news coverage of one of five unremarkable rallies across Florida that day aimed at turning the public against the nearly completed, $3 billion Sabal Trail Pipeline designed to carry natural gas to the state from Alabama.
What the demonstrators didn’t know was that so-called Russian internet trolls had been busy for two weeks encouraging people to turn out for the protests with posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They used phony, American-sounding identities — names such as Steven Cook and Amalie Baldwin.
Russia’s hidden hand in the Florida pipeline protests was extensive, according to sources familiar with the operations. At least eight Russian accounts, most tied to the troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency, sent at least 16 social media messages excoriating the Sabal Trail pipeline or retweeting messages from one of its most prominent opponents, a frequent guest on RT. The tweets were sent to a total of more than 40,000 followers as well as anyone else who saw them via hashtags.