Kremlin-controlled social media accounts posing as black activist groups shared memes supporting Colin Kaepernick and other athletes protesting police shootings of black Americans by kneeling during the national anthem as early as last summer.
CNN confirmed on Friday that the “Blacktivist” Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts were taken down by the social networks last month after they were proven to have originated from a Kremlin-backed “troll farm” in St. Petersburg.
The Daily Beast found dozens of the propaganda group’s pages remaining on cache and archive services throughout the internet.
“‘Blue’ lives do not exist. Black lives do. Being a police officer is an occupation, a choice. Blackness is non-negotiable. #BlackLivesMatter,” one of the memes, which appeared on the propaganda group’s Instagram page, reads.
On Wednesday, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that Kremlin troll accounts shared inflammatory messages from fake accounts posing as Americans who both support and oppose NFL players who have knelt during the anthem.
Lankford said “Russian troll farms” were “hashtagging out #TakeAKnee and also hashtagging out #BoycottNFL” with the intention of increasing rancor in the debate.
“They were taking both sides of the argument this weekend... to try to raise the noise level of America and make a big issue seem like an even bigger issue as they are trying to push divisiveness in this country,” Lankford said.
After President Donald Trump tweeted several times last weekend encouraging his supporters to boycott the NFL over currently unsigned Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest from last year, NFL players, coaches, and some owners took a knee with their players in solidarity against the president’s words.
Polling shows Americans are split on the protests, with 43 percent saying it’s the right thing to do, and 49 percent saying that kneeling during the anthem is the wrong way to express their opinions.
The Russian propaganda group backed kneeling during national anthems as far back as June of last year, when it commended the Arkansas Razorbacks’ women’s program for taking “a knee for injustice and political brutality in America” in a meme.
Months later, in October of 2016, “Blacktivist” tweeted a picture of Colin Kaepernick kneeling next to a photo from a civil rights sit-in in Arlington, Virginia, in 1960. “What kind of protest has ever been acceptable?” it reads.
In one meme, the page photoshopped a nonexistent tweet from Kaepernick that reads, “I wish they treated police brutality like they’re treating me for standing up against it.”
Despite takedowns from the three major social networks, that meme, along with other watermarked Blacktivist content, are still available on image searches across the web.