A prominent Democratic congresswoman who has been a vocal proponent of Donald Trump’s impeachment says she was the target of a Russian-bot Twitter campaign that encouraged her own removal from office.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) wrote Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey on Thursday requesting information on the “total number of accounts linked to Russia that ever mentioned” her name, as well as the number of times those tweets were retweeted. In her letter, Waters reveals that the now-notorious Russian-bot account, @TEN_GOP, ginned up attacks against her after Trump’s elections, and did so—she alleges—with apparent knowledge of a town hall she was holding inside her district.
“The account advanced exaggerated and false stories about my home and my constituents, and was instrumental in promoting #ImpeachMaxineWaters, a hashtag it helped trend on Twitter during one of my town hall meetings earlier this year,” Waters wrote. “While I have suspected for some time that I was the target of Russian operatives aligned with Donald Trump, it is most disturbing that the Russian Twitter account was able to coordinate its efforts with people on the ground in Los Angeles, who produced large and elaborate “Impeach Maxine Waters” posters that coincided with the namesake hashtag the Russian account promoted on Twitter.”
In her letter to Dorsey, Waters provides screen shots of instances in which she was targeted by @TEN_GOP, including in the lead up to a town hall she hosted on May 17, 2017—further evidence that Russian bots were not just content to play in the 2016 campaign but also were targeting Trump critics after he assumed office.
But while Waters says the account “was able to coordinate” with individuals on the ground in her district, there is no concrete evidence to back up that claim. Numerous individuals took cues from and RT’ed the account without apparent knowledge that it was a Russian bot.
As The Daily Beast previously confirmed, @Ten_GOP was a prominent troll account purporting to be the “unofficial Twitter account of the Tennessee Republicans”—but was really operated out of the Kremlin-funded “troll farm” in St. Petersburg.
@Ten_GOP was tweeted by prominent figures in the Trump campaign, including campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, digital director Brad Parscale, and Donald Trump Jr., in the days before the 2016 election. The account frequently pushed hashtags for movements it hoped would trend on Twitter, and was frequently successful.
Trump Jr., who followed @Ten_GOP on Twitter, retweeted a false conspiracy theory from the account about voter fraud in Florida.
According to extensive data analysis by Buzzfeed, @Ten_GOP’s account was one of the most influential Twitter accounts pushing the “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. A white nationalist ran over several protesters at the event, injuring 19 people and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
The account often appeared in stories for Russian propaganda sites RT and Sputnik, along with far-right websites like InfoWars, Breitbart and Gateway Pundit.
@Ten_GOP, in turn, would often tweet articles from RT and Sputnik, often about stories that aligned with Kremlin talking points, but not ones espoused by the American GOP or Trump White House. The account, for example, repeatedly called a chemical weapons attack by Kremlin ally and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a hoax.
That it went after Waters is, perhaps, not a surprise.
Among Democratic members of the House, Waters is perhaps the most reviled in Trump’s universe, having been a persistent supporter of the president’s impeachment. Some of Trump’s closest allies have, in response, rallied around Water’s opponent in the 2018 election, a young Los Angeles-based Republican named Omar Navarro. Navarro ran against Waters in 2016 and lost by 50 percentage points. But this go around, he has the support of, among other people, Roger Stone, former Herman Cain, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and InfoWar’s Alex Jones.