A Russia-supported group sold merchandise through "Blacktivist"-branded Facebook and Twitter accounts, which "have been suspended and are among those handed over to Congress as part of its investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election," CNN reports.
The Blacktivist Facebook page sold various T-shirts and sweatshirts with messages including "melanin and muscles," "our sons matter," and others that mirror slogans for the Black Lives Matter movement on a website called Represent. The store page has since been taken down, but CNN found 84 items of clothing for sale on a cached version of the Facebook page, which reportedly had more likes than an official BLM account.
Jonathon Morgan, founder and CEO of New Knowledge, a company that identifies online propaganda, told CNN that the page's activity "fits a pattern of Russian propagandists' attempts at appearing as authentic Americans participating in politics," by selling merchandise and promoting events.
"The Russian objective the entire time has been to pit Americans against each other and to prey on divisions that already exist and to capitalize on the hyper-partisan environment that already exists in the U.S.," he added.
"It's one thing to get people arguing with each other on the internet but if you can get Americans marching in the streets that escalates conflict and further destabilizes the country."
Last year, after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, Blacktivist attempted to organize a march against police brutality in Baltimore. Local pastor and community activist Heber Brown III contacted Blacktivist to see if the person behind the page lived near the city.
"No," Blacktivist answered in a Facebook message that Brown later released on his own page. "But there are people in Baltimore. Volunteers. We are looking for friendship, because we are fighting for the same reasons."
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