Russian intelligence services are stepping up their efforts to stoke racial violence in the United States ahead of the 2020 election, seven American officials told The New York Times.
Bob Mueller previously confirmed that Russian intelligence operatives targeted black voters with their online disinformation campaign in 2016 but officials briefed on the latest intelligence told The Times that the efforts have grown.
Russian operatives have tried to incite white supremacists to commit acts of violence and have tried to “push black extremist groups toward violence” as well, officials told the outlet.
These operatives have urged "white nationalists to more aggressively spread hate messages" and helped amplify these messages.
These efforts come as state-backed outlets like RT similarly push a narrative aiming to stoke racial tensions over police violence and racism.
Unlike 2016, these operatives have used 4chan and private chats to communicate rather than use Facebook, which is trying to crack down on Russian-linked accounts.
Is this an election ploy?
Some officials believe these efforts are intended to influence the election but others aren’t sure.
Officials say the aim is to “foster a sense of chaos in the United States” but much of their efforts are “trying to amplify the messaging of existing groups.”
"We see Russia is willing to conduct more brazen and disruptive influence operations because of how it perceives its conflict with the West," said David Porter, a top agent on the FBI's Foreign Influence Task Force, according to the Times. "To put it simply, in this space, Russia wants to watch us tear ourselves apart."
Experts say Russia trying to suppress voters:
"Russia's trolls pretended to be American people, including political groups and candidates," said an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice. "They tried to sow division by targeting both the left and right with posts to foment outrage, fear and hostility. Much of their activity seemed designed to discourage certain people from voting. And they focused on swing states."
"As senior administration officials testify behind closed doors, lawmakers will be treated to an exquisitely delicate dance as officials presumably try to argue that Russia's goal is to stoke chaos -- but not necessarily to reelect Trump," said former CIA official Ned Price. "They're essentially one in the same."