When is a Texan not a Texan?
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. Tracing these links has become an unexpected hobby of mine, and I’ve written on the topic a handful of times, from The Diplomat to Slate to The Daily Beast.
Moscow’s ties to the California secession movement, which received a boost following Donald Trump’s election, has seen the greatest coverage — understandably so, given the former #Calexit leader’s willingness to highlight his links to the Moscow-funded Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR) at every turn. Only so many people would be willing to open a “California Embassy” in Moscow, after all. (For my own writings on #Calexit’s myriad ties to Russia, in addition to the links above, click here, here, or here.) 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.
#Calexit was further “amplified by many of the same accounts that infiltrated conservative Twitter communities and promoted a pro-Trump, white nationalist agenda.”
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.