Hundreds of thousands of fake social media messages generated by an army of Russian trolls during last year’s presidential campaign spewed racism, inflamed conflict in American society and falsely linked Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and associates to satanism and satanic rituals in an effort to influence the outcome of the election, NBC News reported Thursday.
The satanic messages were quickly echoed and amplified by Fox News’ Sean Hannity and The Drudge Report, the network found.
NBC analyzed a database of the messages linked to known Russian troll accounts revealed by the House Intelligence Committee last month. Though the tweets have been taken down and are no longer accessible to the public, they are still available in archives, according to NBC.
One of the more grotesque “story lines” propagated by the trolls included fake posts that Clinton and campaign manager John Podesta participated in a satanic ritual and supported a devil-worshipping “priestess.” The hoax was linked to a question about a “spirit cooking” artistic performance in one of the campaign’s hacked emails. The emails were hacked, according to U.S. intelligence, in an operation orchestrated by the Kremlin.
Neither Podesta nor Clinton ever responded to the question. Artist Marina Abramović never actually did the “spirit cooking” performance, which wasn’t satanic, in any case. Yet the trolls tweeted that the Clinton Foundation paid “occult Spirit Cooking priestess $10,000,” according to an archived tweet obtained by NBC. Other tweets said Podesta and Clinton attended the “Spirit Cooking satanic ritual.” The lie was quickly referred to in a tweet by Hannity and on his website. The eventual retelling by Hannity and The Drudge Report became even more sensational.
Other tweets generated by the trolls spewed racist messages and accused the Democrats of being sympathetic to rapists, according to NBC.
The bizarre “Pizzagate” tale that emerged during the campaign falsely linking Clinton and Podesta to a nonexistent child sex trafficking ring at a Washington, D.C., pizza shop was was also pushed by Russian trolls — and again amplified by American right-wing conspiracy theorists. Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, pleaded guilty to federal and local charges after he opened fire last December at the eatery, believing he was attacking criminals. Fortunately, no one was injured.
Michael McFaul, a U.S. ambassador to Russia for two years during the Obama administration, told the network that the tweets are proof that the Kremlin aimed to support Donald Trump, hurt Clinton and generally create chaos during the election.
The goal was to “sow doubt and discord in America.”