‘Kidnapped for Their Melanin’

The Russian Troll Tumblr Post So Stupid It Went Viral

None of the troll-farm posts earned as much mockery across the web as Hustle in a Trap’s conspiracy theory about black people being kidnapped and ‘consumed’ for nearly $30 million.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

In the Reddit community TumblrInAction, a group devoted to mocking posts by “social justice warriors” who “pretend they’re oppressed,” a user named TheStonedWizard was dumbfounded by a post written on a Tumblr page called “Hustle in a Trap” last April.

For good reason.

“The Beast is eating, sniffing & injecting us,” the Tumblr post by Hustle in a Trap reads. “Melanin $158,144 a pound, 185 pounds in the Average Black mans body. Dead black man with 185 pounds of melanin worth $29,256,640.”

In short, when Hustle in a Trap’s post isn’t confusing melanin, the natural pigments produced by all people that make skin darker, and melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, it’s alleging this: African Americans are being kidnapped for their melanin, but America is too distracted by “issues pertaining to homosexuality” to notice.

“What world do these people live in?” TheStonedWizard asked.

The answer to that question is Savushkina Street in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Hustle in a Trap is one of the 21 Tumblr accounts contained in a massive leak of documents from Russia’s Internet Research Agency, or “troll farm,” that The Daily Beast discovered last week. The leak was put up for auction on a Russian “information exchange” last year and included login credentials to troll farm Tumblr accounts, according to the listing.

While no one bid on the poorly labeled document cache last year, and the auction has since been pulled, The Daily Beast was able to verify the authenticity of the leak through the screenshots the leaker used to advertise the trove.

The troll farm regularly posed as African Americans and attempted to simulate what it believed to be American hip-hop vernacular for its Tumblr account names. The troll factory ran accounts called Swag in the Rain, Ghetta Blasta, and 4MySquad from 2015 to 2017.

These accounts often reposted the IRA’s Black Matters group, which was much more successful in creating real-life protests across the U.S. before the 2016 election. All of the accounts posted content about African-American issues, along with the occasional post attacking Hillary Clinton.

But none of the sock puppets received as much mockery as Hustle in a Trap, whose conspiracy theory about black people being kidnapped and “consumed” for nearly $30 million each attracted ridicule across the web.

“While Afrikan people are increasingly DISTRACTED by issues pertaining to homosexuality and a government occupied with focusing on ‘gay rights,’ some one or some thing is stealing and consuming our children,” the post reads.

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A website that viewed itself as a watchdog of “social justice warrior” blogs called socialjusticeisantijustice.tumblr.com was one of more than 1,300 accounts to reblog the post on Tumblr, pointing out the melatonin and melanin mixup.

The language they use is incredibly awkward. And what are they even gonna use the melanin for?
Dr. Susan Taylor, University of Pennsylvania

The disparagingly titled subreddit “Conspiratard,” whose users mock conspiracy theorists on the internet, was equally incredulous.

“Apparently dead black men are 100% melanin,” a user wrote.

While the troll farm was able to successfully push Americans to attend protests from its perch in St. Petersburg and evade detection from social-media companies for over two years, its attempts at creating a credible scientific conspiracy theory were clearly not as effective.

Susan Taylor, an associate professor of dermatology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, told The Daily Beast it’s unclear how or why anyone would have melanin extracted.

“I’ve never even conceived of removing the melanin from someone’s body that way. Would you do it by peeling off the skin? Crushing it or processing it in some way?” said Taylor. “Either way, it’s awfully inefficient.”

Taylor said the conspiracy shows a fundamental lack of understanding about how skin works.

“Melanin is made by cells in the skin called melanocytes. All people—black, white, Asian—have the same number of melanocytes. What differs is the how much melanin melanocytes can make,” said Taylor.

The troll farm’s tactics sometimes included posing as minority groups throughout the United States by reposting lighthearted or wholesome content, then using its built-up credibility to paint those minority groups in a negative light.

According to Robert Mueller’s indictment of the troll farm last month, the troll farm had an unwitting American hold up a sign with the fake quote “I think Sharia Law will be a powerful new direction of freedom,” along with Hillary Clinton’s face, at a Washington, D.C., rally in 2016.

That rally, called “Support Hillary. Save American Muslims,” was created by the troll-farm group United Muslims of America, which was posing as a real, defunct nonprofit of the same name.

Whether it was an elaborate trap or simply just a badly conceived conspiracy theory is not clear. Taylor does know this: The entire post was almost too stupid to read.

“The language they use is incredibly awkward,” she said. “And what are they even gonna use the melanin for?”