A Russian-government-backed “troll factory” hired a black man and a Hillary Clinton look-alike to make a sex tape, according to the first former employee of the factory’s American division to go on the record.
Alan Baskaev worked for the troll factory, also known as the Internet Research Agency, for about six months, he told the independent Russian television channel TV Rain. And his account of the night shift at the troll factory’s American division sheds even more light on the inner workings of the Russian-sponsored effort to influence U.S. elections.
The trolls ran websites that published pro-Trump stories and attempted to sow racial discord. They were also behind hugely popular Twitter accounts, some of which were retweeted by Trump campaign officials and even Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. And the troll factory had ordinary Americans organize rallies at its behest.
Baskaev now works teaching Russian in Thailand, but just two years ago, as a college student, he talked his way into a job impersonating “Kentucky rednecks” and black Americans with youthful bravado. Yet Baskaev and the other young people who wrote propaganda for spending money didn’t take the job too seriously, he told TV Rain.
“You know, there’s this meme about the troll factory, people sitting in black caps, masks, behind them there’s a photo of Putin and a Russian flag. They’re so intense,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t know what happened on the day shift, but the night shift was a bacchanal. We did the most ridiculous things we could think of.”
Baskaev worked at the factory from November 2014 to April 2015, mostly writing posts on political forums online.
Once, Baskaev recalled, Russian propaganda-makers thought they hit the “sensation” jackpot with a fake video of a black man and a woman who looked like Hillary Clinton having sex.
“Do you understand... no one will believe that,” Baskaev said.
Another time, he recalled, “our idiots” made a video that supposedly featured an African-American soldier shooting a Quran. But, Baskaev laughs, the man turned out to have an African accent. (Comments on the YouTube page for that video are in Russian, mocking the failed piece of propaganda.)
Baskaev said that if he thought his former bosses or their patrons were people who could hurt him for speaking out, he wouldn’t be showing his face on camera. And, he suggested, security at the troll factory was pretty lax and didn’t pick up audio. The night shift trolls played ISIS songs and greeted each other with “Glory to Ukraine,” Baskaev told TV Rain.
And Baskaev fingered Putin pal Yevgeny Prigozhin as his former “boss,” or “our guy who gives us money.” But the real head of the American department, he said, was the Azerbaijani-born Dzheykhun Aslanov—known simply as “Jay.”
Basaev says he was eventually fired after his bosses discovered he pre-wrote forum posts and simply pasted them in, instead of responding to content.
“All six months that I worked there it all looked like farce and clownery,” Basaev said.
“It was the realest postmodernism. Postmodernism, Dadaism, and surrealism.”