Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

Russian propaganda shop pushed Californians and Texans to secede

Russia’s three goals for information warfare:

  • Promote divisiveness in the West
  • Promote chaos and confusion in the West
  • Promote Russian national interests

This is definitely ‘promoting divisiveness.  The Calexit movement founders recently returned to Russia after their connection was established.

Yes California’s links to Russia have been well documented. “Calexit” started trending on Twitter in the hours after the results of the 2016 presidential election were announced. Before then, the PAC received favorable attention from news outlets backed by the Kremlin. Marinelli attended a conference in Moscow dedicated to the right of secession last September.

Russia has a long-standing tradition of encouraging foreign fringe groups like California separatists in order to exploit tensions in the West — a position that prompted critics and some members to reject Yes California. In a page on the Yes California website that has since been taken down, the group denied accepting any financial support from the Russian government.

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Texans and Californians who supported their state’s secession in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election may have been duped by the Russian government.

The Internet Research Agency has recently been linked to secession efforts in Texas and — as the BBC reported late last week — California.

Perhaps you remember #Calexit.

Styled in the way of #Brexit, the campaign for the United Kingdom to remove itself from the European Union, #Calexit is a California secession “movement” that seemed to gain some traction right as President Donald Trump was elected, with the apparent aid of a Twitter bot network.

Supposed secessionists argued that California’s predominantly liberal views were too divergent from the rest of the country for it to remain a part of the U.S., and that California had the economic standing to hold its own as a separate nation.

But the supposed movement has been suspect for some time now. As The Atlantic reported back in March, the recent arguments for a separate California weren’t all that sound once you got past the hype, and its ties to Russia were always a little … strange.

In February, for example, The New York Times ran a story about Louis Marinelli, the president of secessionist movement Yes California. He was 30 at the time of publication, an English teacher, and all that seems normal enough. But readers were probably a little perplexed by the lead photo, which showed Marinelli dressed in a jacket, standing amid a field of snow.

That’s because Marinelli, who told the Times that his links to the Russian government were nonexistent, was living in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

Russia and Calexit were further linked last Wednesday, when the U.S. House Intelligence Committee released 2,752 Twitter handles with ties to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian government propaganda shop. One of those accounts was @CalifroniaRep, which, as the BBC reported, was known for hyping up #Calexit.

The Internet Research Agency also amped up Texans with a mind for secession. The Russian group operated “Heart of Texas,” which at one point had 250,000 followers, making it the most popular Texas secession page on the platform.

Calexit campaigners sought liberal Californians angry at Trump’s victory. Texit campaigners sought right-wing Texans. But both, it seems, stemmed at least in part from the same source.