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Florida Trump Flash Mobs Organized by the Russian “Troll Factory”

September 20, 2017

By Aric Toler

Translations: Русский

On September 20, the Daily Beast published a report alleging that a series of flash mobs in support of Donald Trump were orchestrated by the so-called Russian “troll factory.” This same Russian operation has organized a number of projects over the years, from hordes of commenters leaving pro-Kremlin messages on news articles and blogs, to operating a number of social media profiles, and even meme-creation and fake news sites. Their new project is apparently operating Facebook pages sympathetic to a handful of issues, such as supporting (then candidate) Trump or disparaging Black Lives Matter.

These events were organized through the Facebook page “Being Patriotic,” which has been shut down by Facebook after its ties to the so-called “troll factory” were discovered, and then shared through a number of pro-Trump organizations in the United States. Two weeks ago, the Daily Beast reported that the troll factory-ran Facebook page “Secured Borders” organized an event in Twin Falls, Idaho against immigration; however, the importance of this “scoop” was difficult to assess, as the event was cancelled and there is no indication that the event was ever held. More so, the event garnered next to no attention in the small Idaho town.

In contrast to the Idaho event, a series of pro-Trump flash mobs organized by the “Being Patriotic” page actually turned into real-life results, though we should not exaggerate the impact of these rallies. The turnout for these flash mobs, which were to take place across Florida on August 20, 2016 at 2pm local time, was quite small, and there was little impact felt outside of a very small circle of social media posts.

Traces of the Facebook Event

While the “Being Patriotic” page has been wiped from Facebook, we can still find the event it created on Google’s cache–a page that we archived at the site archive.is, which will still be accessible once Google’s cache is refreshed. The text for the event can also be found on a Palm Beach Country website, which imported the information (likely from a script) from Facebook. A screenshot of the event page, along with all of the planned flash mobs and some of the organizers, can be found below:

A post from “Being Patriotic” on the event’s page (archive) gathered a relatively large number of interactions: 475 likes, 155 comments, and 230 shares.

Turnout at the Flash Mobs

So, did anyone actually go to these flash mobs? Many of the events have actual local organizers, raising the question of how the Russian administrators to the “Being Patriotic” page interacted with these actual, human, American Trump supporters to organize the events. Most likely, “Being Patriotic” called for flash mobs supporting Trump throughout Florida on August 20, and some local organizers stepped up, answering the call.

It is unclear how many of these events actually took place–and it is quite likely that many of these events saw zero or negligible turnout–but some did have actual results on the ground. By searching through Twitter with the keywords “flash mob” and the hashtags #MarchForTrump and #FloridaGoesTrump for August 20, 2016 (the day of the flash mobs), we can find some photographs and videos taken of the events.

One video shot from Pensacola shows eight Trump supporters (plus one behind the camera) on a street corner holding flags. They all enthusiastically (but not quite in harmony) yell “lock her up,” about Hillary Clinton.

Archive

A quick geolocation of the planned rally location in Pensacola (Brent Lane and U.S. Highway 29) gives us a match, with a Walgreens visible across the street and the Trump flash mob set up in a strip mall parking lot.

Another rally organized by the Russian troll factory-linked Facebook page was in Fort Myers outside of a Bass Pro Shop. A local Trump supporter shared a video of eight supporters (plus a child, dog, and the camera operator) yelling “southwest Florida for Trump!”

Archive

The Trump supporter posted a series of videos and photographs from the rally, allowing us to again quickly verify that the rallies were taking place in the locations specified by the Russia-ran Facebook page.

Archive

We can also find a photograph of the rally in Spring Hill:

Archive

Yet again, we can geolocate this rally photograph to the place that the Russian Facebook page specified — along Highway 19 and Spring Hill Drive, across the street from a Wal-Mart. Fifteen people, plus the camera operator, are visible.

A photograph discovered by @RussiaMonitor is a bit harder to geolocate, but possible with a keen eye.

Archive

With the mention of Miami, we know to look for 8650 SW. 40th Street, mentioned by the “Being Patriotic” page. If we match up the mint/turquoise-colored part of the storefront and the brown/grey building in the left part of the frame, we can match the scene to the address specified by the event page, in front of the La Carreta Cuban restaurant.

Another post with the #FloridaGoesTrump hashtag from August 20th does not specify a location, but includes four photographs of Trump supporters.

Archive

Checking the lineup of stores in one of these photographs shows that these are additional photographs of the Miami rally in front of the La Carreta Cuban restaurant.

Conclusion

The “Being Patriotic” page succeeded in something that most other Russian troll factory projects have failed in — creating actual, real-world political events. However, as can be seen in the photographs and videos of these rallies, the flash mobs that were spurred by the Russian administrators of “Being Patriotic” failed to gather more than a dozen or so people each. This development of the Russian “troll factory” spurring tangible events in the United States is very interesting, but it is important to keep these events in perspective. Russians starting an event page that leads to real Americans holding a political rally is a capability to keep an eye on, but we should also keep our ear on what was actually produced in the Pensacola flash mob: eight people unable to simultaneously yell an anti-Hillary Clinton slogan, with their voices drowned out by the wind and passing traffic.

Do you know of any other photographs or videos of these August 20 flash mobs? Please leave any links in the comments, or tweet at @bellingcat on Twitter.

Update: Gavin Sheridan located this video from the August 20th Miami rally.

Archive

Aric Toler

Aric Toler has written with Bellingcat since 2015 and currently leads the Eurasia/Eastern Europe team. Along with his research into topics in the former Soviet Union, he organizes and leads Bellingcat's Russian-language workshops for journalists and researchers. He graduated with an MA in Slavic Languages & Literatures from the University of Kansas in 2013, focusing on Russian literature and intellectual history. After graduation, he worked for two years as an intelligence specialist in the private sector. If you have any questions, or have a story idea related to eastern Europe or Eurasia, you can contact him at arictoler@bellingcat.com

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12 Comments

  1. Sean Lamb

    Quite frankly most of them look fairly overweight it was probably good to get them out of the house.

    But do the Russians get any thanks for their public health service? They do not!

    Reply
  2. Hilary kenna

    You are an idiot.!!! Am i from Russia.!!!!? You are the sort of person that causes wars, a bit like Hitler.!!!!! I don’t think that you have ever lived in a community or country that has turned on each other.!!! Coming form ireland, let me tell you that you are what we would call an aggressor, and some one we call, an expander, who is someone who gets paid to cause trouble.!!!! |investigate my name kenna/lisowiec and you will find that it is because of people like you the “agitator” that cause innocent lives both from Ireland/ Poland/ Russia/Syria and Ukraine. Now stop making money out of innocent people.!!!!

    Reply
    • Dan

      //Am i from Russia.!!!!?//
      Are you?
      //the sort of person that causes wars, a bit like Hitler//
      Or Stalin? Also congrats on getting right in there with Codwins law

      I could go on, but I honestly have no idea what you’re trying to say. I thought they spoke English in Ireland, but after attempting to decipher your comment, i’m no longer sure.

      Reply
  3. Nick

    You do realize that Trump DOES have a real constituency in America? Do you really think it takes a Russian conspiracy to organize a couple dozen Trump supporters? I see on your bio that you went to school at the University of Kansas, so you should know first-hand how much support he can rely on, especially in those regions. Florida is a bit more divided, but he won 4.6 million votes in the state.

    Reply
  4. Zaida

    Since Russians hate the West, why would they support patriots in Europe or USA?
    It’s true Putin is against the EU as he correctly sees the EU’s imperial expantionism as a threat to his own genocidal empire.

    Reply
    • Comprehension

      Zaida,
      You have a lot to learn… you’re clearly not comprehending the core issue. Keep reading.

      Reply
  5. Don

    Thanks for doing the investigative work on this russian conspiracy to elect trump. Trump won the election by 70,000 votes in 3 states, thereby winning the electoral college votes in those 3 states and pushing him over the 260 electoral vote threshold. If russian intelligence can bring out a few Floridians on a fake russian sponsored rally & can swing/sway a few voters it does not take much to target and swing/sway 70,000 votes. On facebook, russian paid ads were seen by 10 million people, if only a fraction were swayed that is how trump was elected as president.

    Reply
    • Derek

      Whatever is said about trump, and he is indeed an incompetent idiot, he was democratically elected. Had Hillary Clinton won, that could never be definitively said, given her demonstrated/proven cheating and theft in the primaries….
      Ill still take a transiently incompetent true democracy over a corrupt pseudodemocracy any day… Only one leaves room for change on behalf of the people…

      Reply
      • Winston

        Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million and was only elected by the electoral college. Sounds like a ‘corrupt pseudodemocracy’ to me.

        Reply
  6. Vince

    I would also like to see some photos from the pro-hillary/resist trump demonstations, such as the one in New York and in North Carolina. the russians succeeded because their their was to disrupt our election

    Reply

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