Sunday, September 10, 2017

How Many Texans Will Fall For Russia's Secession Tricks? More Than Californians


Yesterday was California Admission Day. We became a state on September 9, 1850, the U.S. having forced Mexico to give up what is now the state after the Mexican-American War (1848). British and Spanish ships began exploring the coast of California by the mid-1500s. By the 1700s Spanish missionaries started building missions and the Spanish military started building forts and towns-- including what are now Los Angeles and San Jose. In 1821 when Mexico won its independence from Spain, California was part of the deal. Earlier (1812) the Russians had set up a trading post at Fort Ross in what is now Sonoma County and held onto it until 1841 when the Russians sold it to John Sutter. The Russians never had much of a presence beyond trapping sea otters and other furry creatures.

Fast forward to Trumpanzee America and there's a pitiful Russian effort underway to get California to secede from the U.S.-- Calexit. Two GOP morons Louis Marinelli, a Russian spy and obsessed homophobic fanatic, and Marcus Evans, a typical right-wing hate talk radio blowhard started "the movement," which is meant to appeal to low-info, self-identifying "progressives" and is headquartered in... Yekaterinburg, at once the 4th biggest city in Russia and the scene of the gruesome 1918 murder of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and their children Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Tsarevich Alexei. Marinelli's "movement," Yes California, has "an embassy," paid for by the Kremlin, in Moscow. They need to get over half a million signatures to get the beginning of their secession plan onto the ballot next year. The chance of that happening is generally rated zero. However... the Russians may have more luck in another part of the U.S. that was once part of Mexico: Texas, a;best as part of an appeal to right-wing imbeciles, not left-wing imbeciles.
Earlier this week, Facebook announced that they had shuttered almost 500 accounts they believe were associated with a Russian company that spent some $100,000 on ad buys since June 2015. As a release from Facebook noted, “these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia.” Tabbing the accounts as “inauthentic,” Facebook added that the accounts and affiliated ads “focus[ed] on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum--  touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

One other arena these actors may have targeted: secession movements within the U.S. At this point, it’s little secret that a number of American secession movements--  including Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and both white and black nationalists--  have constructed links with Russian actors, including those funded by the Kremlin... As Jonathon Morgan, the founder of Data for Democracy, noted a few months back in detailing the online footprint of Russia and California secessionists, the primary group pushing #Calexit was further “amplified by many of the same accounts that infiltrated conservative Twitter communities and promoted a pro-Trump, white nationalist agenda.” Not exactly an organic upswell.

But for all of the egregious links between Russia and California separatists, the earliest foray into ties between Moscow-linked actors and American secession movements, per my research, was found in my former home: Texas. Back in 2015, I put together a piece for Politico Magazine detailing the ties between Lone Star secessionists and Russia, dovetailing off a recent visit from the Texas “foreign minister” to St. Petersburg, where the Texan turned to Russian media to fan the flames of secession. As local Russian officials were threatening to deliver arms to Mexico (and unidentified “guerrillas”) to allow Mexico City to reclaim Texas, Texas secessionists themselves were finding sympathetic ears in Moscow.

...“Heart of Texas,” the Facebook site, for the past two years, existed as the most prominent Texas secession social media presence online. With over 225,000 followers as of summer 2017, the page, at one point last year, boasted more Facebook fans than the official Texas Democrat and Republican pages combined.

The page was laced with the kind of xenophobic, nativist, and anti-immigrant material many still associate with the Texas secession movement. Plenty of posts targeted Muslim immigrants and refugees, slammed liberals and LGBT activists, condemned vegetarians and Hillary Clinton. Taken on its face, the “Heart of Texas” page plugged material largely associated the American far-right--  an amalgamation of InfoWars conspiracy, neo-Confederate separatism, and white nationalist calls for a return to an America past. The page supported the armed insurgents in Malheur, pushed conspiracies surrounding Jade Helm and Antonin Scalia’s death, shared fake Founding Father quotes, and came with the type of Texas-first chauvinism few other states can match:

But there was always something off about the “Heart of Texas” page. There was no contact information ever listed, for instance. Unlike TNM, there was no address, no phone number. No individuals identified behind the “Heart of Texas” page. Unlike those fake news pages run by Macedonian teens, there were never any ads placed on the pages, meaning the project was either a bizarre labor of love or something backed by some kind of money. Likewise, while it’s unclear when the Facebook page was founded, the site’s Twitter page ( went live in November 2015--  within the time-frame listed by Facebook for its surge of Russia-linked “inauthentic” accounts. And when it came to the site’s paltry “about” section, all we learned was that “Texas’s the land protected by Lord [sic].”

And then there were the typos. Horrible, no-good, laugh-till-you-cry typos, lining every other post, especially through 2016. There’s no possible way I can capture the types of aggressively strange typos-- often complete with Russian grammatical structures, no less--  in a synopsis, so I’ll let these posts provide an overview of the type of grammar and spelling the “Heart of Texas” page brought to bear:

If the site was limited to eye-bleeding typos and paeans to Dr. Pepper and Whataburger, the page might have been simply another odd, tone-deaf attempt from actors trying to collect fans who don’t care about things like literacy or fact-based analysis. Idiotic, sure--  but largely harmless.

Last November, however, the “Heart of Texas” page tried to roll into the real world, organizing a series of Nov. 5 rallies across the state. Claiming that “It’s time to say a strong NO to the establishment robbers,” the page said a Clinton victory would lead to “higher taxes to feed undocumented aliens,” more “refugees, mosques, and terrorist attacks,” and even the outright banning of guns. “We are free citizens of Texas and we’ve had enough of this cheap show on the screen,” the organizers wrote.

...As it is, the rallies didn’t generate much participation — only a few dozen people showed up at scattered sites across the state, if memory serves correctly. (In combing my screenshots, it doesn’t look like I snagged any screen-caps of the small turnout, unfortunately.) But in transferring its support from online to on-the-ground participation, the move mirrored, in a certain sense, the Columbian Chemicals plant explosion hoax in Louisiana, perpetrated, presumably, by Russian actors.

But the rally organization did do one thing. In gathering online support, the “Heart of Texas” page obtained identities of potential supporters of Texas secession-- supporters whose information the folks at the “Heart of Texas” said they would pass along to the TNM. That is to say, the “Heart of Texas” page-- a page likely run by foreign, presumably Russian, actors-- was putting its talents toward recruiting for a very real Texas secession organization, one that had already received funding from a Kremlin-backed group.

For the past few months, things seemed hunky-dory for the folks behind “Heart of Texas.” They chugged along, posting much of the same material, albeit recently (and unfortunately, for those laughing along) cleaning up many of the site’s typos.

Then, Facebook announced it was cleaning up hundreds of “inauthentic” accounts linked to Russia. And like that, the “Heart of Texas,” along with its Twitter page, was gone. Just like that, Facebook’s most popular Texas secession page was no more.

While no Russian actors have come forward to claim responsibility for the site, there’s any amount of circumstantial evidence--  the typos and grammatical structure; the strategic goals behind the site, and the fact that it was shuttered at the same time as hundreds of other Russia-linked fake pages; the parallel rhetoric put forth by other Russia-linked, U.S. domestic politics-related pages; even the ties with the TNM, a group already supported materially by a Kremlin-financed outfit--  pointing to actors in Russia as the ones pulling the site’s secession strings.

So RIP, “Heart of Texas.” We hardly knew ye. (Literally.) Looking forward to seeing where pro-secession foreign actors turn to next on Facebook--  and where we can enjoy those wonderful typos once more. After all, as “Heart of Texas” told us, for those in love with Texas shape, always be ready for a Texas size.

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At 9:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can we make texas secede right now... before the other 49 states have to pay to rebuild their ignorant, hate-filled but flooded state? We'd all get better results if we just piled up $10 billion and lit it on fire.

texas, just fucking leave already. See how well you do without the other 49 paying to wipe your ass after you shit yourself.

At 1:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We'd need to build a very expensive defensive perimeter around that snake pit, for sure as Texans shoot they will be wanting to expand their territory.

At 4:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Texas were to secede it would be the first country in modern history to explicitly legalize stupidity. Maybe also the first to re-legalize slavery. Never, ever forget: The whole Texas myth - intrepid gringo 'settlers,' oppression by Mexico, independence, Polk's war, admission to the Union, every single stinking syllable of it is drenched in promotion of slavery.

Let the United States keep Austin and the San Antonio Spurs. As for the rest, screw 'em!

At 5:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They can keep the Spurs. The NBA is tantamount to a criminal organization anyway (see: Seattle SuperSonics) and though Austin would be nice to keep, they can have it if they just leave and stay gone. Fuck them all.

They would have a hard time expanding. Most of their people would flee and the rich white assholes don't know how to do much by themselves. They'd all die in a generation for lack of government services, for which they'll never tax themselves (sewers, fire depts., health depts...).


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