By now many of you have likely heard of Russia’s Internet Research Agency, or IRA for short. The IRA is believed to be controlled by Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin, a wealthy associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and also believed to have been behind much of the social media influence campaign leading up to the 2016 Presidential election.
On February 16, 2018, 13 individuals and 3 corporate entities were indicted on alleged illegal interference in the 2016 presidential election. One of these organizations was the Internet Research Agency.
While their social media influence campaign appears to have been extensive, with hundreds or even thousands of accounts created to promote chaos prior to the election, sow division among the public and generally support Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton for president, it’s their odd connection to the National Rifle Association that is now the center of attention.
While the IRA pushed many messages which will resonate with conservatives here in the United States, it was their pro-gun stance that seems to stand out from other topics and issues that they regularly promoted. One particular account that the IRA used was the pro-gun handle Defend.The.Second. According to NPR this handle was used on both Instagram and Facebook and regularly pushed out messages which were identical, or nearly identical to those pushed by the NRA and/or their spokesperson Dana Loesch.
One example of this mimicking seen between the NRA and the IRA is when the NRA made the following post on social media attacking the new Chair of the DNC, Keith Ellison.
“Democrats are on the verge of electingRep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), an avowed opponent of gun rights,to Chair the Democratic National Committee. Ellison has made clear that he believes the Democratic Party should not only pursue a litany of severe gun control measures, but that the party should also directly attack the Second Amendment,” wrote the NRA.
Shortly after this statement was made on the NRA’s social media accounts, the IRA made the following post, changing only a single sentence:
“They say Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), an avowed opponent of gun rights, is going to be appointed a Chair the Democratic National Committee. Ellison has made clear that he believes the Democracy Party should not only pursue a litany of severe gun control measures, but that the party should also directly attack the Second Amendment.”
This was just a single example of dozens in which either the NRA or IRA copied posts of the other, sometimes exactly, while other times being very similar in nature. In fact, NPR reports that ’on at least 62 occasions, the Internet Research Agency shared the same content as the National Rifle Association after an original NRA post.”
It was’t a one-way street however. NPR also found that The National Rifle Association, “on at least 90 occasions, promoted Twitter content similar to that of the Internet Research Agency, in some cases after the IRA had gone first.”
Additionally, it appears as if Russia’s Internet Research Agency had somewhat of an infatuation with NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch. NPR found that Twitter accounts connected to the IRA tagged her username, @DLoesch, at least 77 different times.
Whether these posts between the NRA and IRA were coordinated in any way, has yet to be proven, but there is little doubt that the now-indicted Russian organization had been closely monitoring the NRA. Additional similarities between the posts made by the two organizations can be seen here.
Given the recent ties to the NRA, that now-indicted Russian agent Maria Butina allegedly had, the continued interconnection between the Russians and the NRA certainly brings things into question.