“When trying to identify disinformation operations in the wild, I need to understand the early signals and ideas that Russian state media and influencers share,” Walter told WIRED. “Russian Telegram channels exploded overnight and started broadcasting messages specifically about the possibility that Texas could become an independent state, the possibility that there could be a civil war in the United States. »
Russian state media echoed these claims and published a flood of articles with headlines including phrases like “Civil War 2.0.” They also spread conspiracies claiming that “American elites will keep the border wide open.”
Last week, Russian Telegram channels and state media also began reinforcing the “Take Our Border Back” convoy led by far-right extremists, sovereign citizens, QAnon supporters and anti-vaccine conspirators who traveled from Virginia to the Texas border to support Abbott. “Fears that FBI is spying on 'Take Back Our Border' convoy shows American democracy is dying,” Sputnik headlined last week.
The convoy's official channels on Telegram were also infiltrated by Russian accounts, although some were removed or challenged by the group's US-based members. “They are in every group on every social media,” a member calling themselves “Eat Putin’s Heart” wrote on Telegram in response to a question about why Russians were members of the group. “They want civil war/chaos more than anything. What is bad for America is good for Russia.”
Researchers from Antibot4Navalny, a Russian anti-disinformation research group that closely tracks a Russian disinformation network known as Doppelganger on X, have shared data exclusively with WIRED that shows that a network of bot accounts previously Doppelganger campaign-related was deployed in the last week online to discuss the Texas issue.
The campaign, like previous Doppelganger campaigns, shared links to fake websites designed to appear legitimate but actually containing fake articles intended to weaken the United States. One article, for example, which appeared on a fake site called Warfare Insider, declared that Texas “has become a battlefield symbolizing the clash between state and federal authorities.”
In recent days, bots have also responded to messages unrelated to Texas with references to the situation at the border.
Some experts have linked this campaign to previous Russian disinformation campaigns. This already echoes the incident in which Russian agents were accused of organizing an anti-immigration rally and a counter-protest event to their own rally, in Texas before the 2016 elections.
Caroline Orr, a behavioral scientist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland who tracks misinformation online, wrote in his Weaponized newsletter that the term “Free Texas” in Russian was “widely used” [on X]and almost exclusively, by Russian accounts associated with the notorious Internet Research Agency, which hosted the 2016 election interference operation.”
The IRA was a Kremlin-linked troll farm launched in St. Petersburg and became famous for its role in attempting to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It was led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of the president Russian Vladimir Putin, who also led the Wagner mercenary group until he died in a mysterious helicopter crash last year.
There also appear to be a number of Russian accounts on presented as being led by Russia.
One of the suspicious accounts is that of the Texan Independence Supporters, who have already been arrested. spelling mistakes And constantly referring to Ukraine and Russia. On Sunday, the account stated: “We are a Texan organization, not a Russian one. We can certainly assure you [sic] that we are not Russian.
Before that, Russia had already been accused of being indifferent to the 2024 US presidential election, notably in strengthening Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s campaign— but Walters says efforts to advance the narrative of the Texas crisis mark an escalation in the Kremlin's efforts.
“That's the first thing I see as a potentially important concern to pay attention to, because I think it's an area [where] they could quite easily cause more divisions in the United States,” he says.