According to the YouTube page for “Williams and Kalvin,” the Clintons are “serial killers who are going to rape the whole nation.” Donald Trump can’t be racist because he’s a “businessman.” Hillary Clinton’s campaign was “fund[ed] by the Muslim.”
These are a sample of the videos put together by two black video bloggers calling themselves Williams and Kalvin Johnson, whose social media pages investigators say are part of the broad Russian campaign to influence American politics. Across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, they purported to offer “a word of truth” to African-American audiences.
“We, the black people, we stand in one unity. We stand in one to say that Hillary Clinton is not our candidate,” one of the men says in a November video that warned Clinton “is going to stand for the Muslim. We don’t stand for her.”
Williams and Kalvin’s content was pulled from Facebook in August after it was identified as a Russian government-backed propaganda account, The Daily Beast has confirmed with multiple sources familiar with the account and the reasons for its removal. Williams and Kalvin’s account was also suspended from Twitter in August. But the YouTube page for Williams and Kalvin remains live at press time.
It’s reminiscent of the Russian attempts to impersonate a California-based Muslim group and piggyback off of the Black Lives Matter protests to spread the Kremlin’s message. But this time, the Kremlin operation used real people, not just memes and hijacked hashtags.
The discovery of living, breathing, real-life avatars for Kremlin talking points deepens and complicates the emerging picture of how Russian propaganda reached what Facebook alone estimated last week were 10 million users in the United States—a number considered by many outside experts to be a lowball estimate.
‘This Woman is a Witch’
Videos published by Williams and Kalvin in late 2016, especially in October, often engaged in fever swamp theories about Hillary Clinton and in some cases promoting Donald Trump directly.
One specific video published in October, prior to the presidential election, refers to Hillary Clinton as an “old racist bitch.”
“She’s a fucking racist,” the host says over a subdued rap beat. “And this woman is a witch,” he says as a picture portrays Clinton in Wizard of Oz attire. He goes on to praise Julian Assange for releasing hacked emails. “This woman, she’s sick on her head.”
Other videos are more explicit about urging people to vote for Trump.
“This is time for change. This is why I say that let our vote go for Trump. Because this man is a businessman. He’s not a politician. We can have deal with him,” Williams says in a video published in August of 2016. “Because I don’t see him as a racist. Because any businessman cannot be a racist because when you are a racist, then your business is going down.” He then makes a black-power fist as he endorses Trump.
For good measure, the video also stated that Barack Obama’s legacy was “police brutality, injustice [and a] lack of education for our children,” illustrated with Obama’s face giving way to Samuel L. Jackson’s character from Django Unchained.
Williams and Kalvin’s content on one social network did not stay penned in there. While the videos only racked up hundreds of views on YouTube at press time, some Williams and Kalvin videos on Facebook reached thousands of people. Before the account was shuttered, Williams and Kalvin’s Facebook page had 48,000 fans.
Facebook and Twitter declined to comment for this article. As with previous Daily Beast investigations into Russian propaganda on Facebook, the company did not challenge The Daily Beast’s reporting. Facebook says that as a matter of policy, it shares information with its competitors.
“We have been working with many others in the technology industry, including with Google and Twitter, on a range of elements related to this investigation,” its vice president for policy and communications, Elliot Schrage, blogged late last week.
Google did not respond to specific questions about the Williams and Kalvin account.
“All videos uploaded to YouTube must comply with our Community Guidelines and we routinely remove videos flagged by our community that violate those policies. We also terminate the accounts of users who repeatedly violate our Guidelines or Terms of Service,” Google spokesperson Andrea Faville told The Daily Beast.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the vice chair of the intelligence committee, encouraged the social media companies to deepen their shared understanding of Russian propaganda and inform unsuspecting users of its presence.
“It’s incumbent upon each social media company to dedicate the resources necessary to conducting their own robust internal investigations about how Russians may have used their platforms to sow misinformation and propaganda during the 2016 election, and to work with Congress to put in place standards and safeguards to prevent the Russians or other bad actors from doing the same thing again in the future,” Warner told The Daily Beast.
“It’s also critically important for each of these companies to alert users exposed to this content—content created and disseminated to sow division, disinformation, and discord—that is associated with accounts managed by Russian actors.”
Requests for comment from Williams and Kalvin through their Facebook and Twitter accounts, which contained mostly political messages and almost no interaction with other people, went unreturned.
Efforts to reach out to Facebook friends of Williams and Kalvin, who also joined their sole Facebook group, “#BlackLivesMatter against #PoliceBrutality,” also did not receive a response. None of Williams or Kalvin’s Facebook friends are from Atlanta, where the two claim they live on Facebook and in videos. On Facebook, both Williams and Kalvin claim their hometown is Owerri in Nigeria.
In 2015, Williams Johnson claimed he had just spent his “first Thanksgiving with my LIL BROTHER in America!” and attached a since deleted Tweet from Alex Jay, who is a rapper and Instagram model. Jay told The Daily Beast he had never heard of Williams.
“My last name is Johnson, but nope,” he said. “Don’t know anyone with that name.”
‘I Support Bernie Sanders’
While Kalvin Johnson’s personal page appears to still be active on Facebook, the most recent post is from November 2015. One of the posts from that month includes a link to a story about Hillary Clinton wanting to censor New York’s Laugh Factory comedy club. “Hillary must be in prison for this!” the account wrote with the link attached.
The pair also promoted a shirt labeling Bill Clinton as a rapist in an October video called “A word of truth about a rapist’s wife.”
“To say the truth, Bill Clinton is a rapist. And there is a lot of fact to prove it,” the host says, before saying the Clintons are “serial killers and they are going to rape the whole nation.”
The video concludes with the line: “We have to do all we can to not allow this racist bitch to become the next president.”
In an August video, one of the hosts explicitly endorses the movie Clinton Cash and begins the video by saying, “I support Bernie Sanders.”
“Today is old bitch Clinton time,” the host says before a title card informs people watching that the film will premiere the day prior to the Democratic National Convention.
The rest of the video is an advertisement for the movie, which was based on a book mostly consisting of research from a nonprofit investigative research outfit founded by Breitbart editor Peter Schweizer and Breitbart CEO and ousted White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
In another video, Williams and Kalvin push the conspiracy that Bill Clinton has an African-American son named Danney Williams, an idea often amplified by right-wing media with no corroborating evidence.
“A black guy who claims to be his son. So when I saw all those headlines, I thought that is kind of fake. And now it seems to be true. Man, this is fucking amazing,” Kalvin says. “Now we can see that he has a son. And his son is a black.”
“A word of truth about Danney Williams” was published three weeks before the election.
“It seems that Hillary has never been wanting sex at all,” he continues. “I wonder how she give birth to a daughter, Chelsea. I think that Bill have no time to fuck Hillary.”
‘Third Parties and Contract Cutouts’
According to Clint Watts, a former FBI counterterrorism agent who testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Russian cyberattacks, using third party contractors from both inside Russia and countries with cheap labor is a method used by the Kremlin to “muddy the waters on attribution” of propaganda.
“Often, (the Kremlin) will contract out entities to do this so they can say, ‘You can’t prove that it’s us,’” Watts told The Daily Beast. “It’s pretty routine for them to try to gain resources through third parties and contract cutouts.”
Williams and Kalvin’s videos are not particularly rigorous about nuances of American culture and geography. Kalvin, for example, claims that Baton Rouge is in “L.A.” Another video calls LeBron James the best “basket” player of the year.
Watts called the low quality videos a “weakness in their system.”
“In a normal influence campaign, you do these things called ‘audience analysis’ and ‘product testing’ to see what works before you put it out there. They didn’t. They try everything, then go with what works,” said Watts. “They skipped the product testing phase. They didn’t do it. And they also don’t care.”
Watts said Russia’s forays into YouTube influence is “probably new for them in the U.S. space” after years of social media campaigns across Eastern Europe.
“They thought they were going to do something really cool and amazing—and I’m sure they thought it came out amazing,” he said. “But it didn’t take off, and they showed their hand.”