Expect more of this, because fire-starting and gaslight come from major arsonists.

The truth was far more mundane. A few protesters among the many thousands appear to have burned a single Bible — and possibly a second — for kindling to start a bigger fire. None of the other protesters seemed to notice or care.

Yet in the rush to paint all the protesters as Bible-burning zealots, few of the politicians or commentators who weighed in on the incident took the time to look into the story’s veracity, or to figure out that it had originated with a Kremlin-backed video news agency. And now, days later, the Portland Bible burnings appear to be one of the first viral Russian disinformation hits of the 2020 presidential campaign.

With Election Day drawing closer, the Russian efforts to influence the vote appear to be well underway. American intelligence officials said last week that Russia was using a range of techniques to denigrate Democrats and their presumptive presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr. And late last month, intelligence officials briefed Congress on Russian efforts — both covert and overt — to stoke anger over the nationwide racial-justice protests.


The Russian technique is a kind of information laundering, akin to money laundering. Stories originate with Russian-backed news sites, some of them directly connected to Moscow’s spy agencies, officials and experts said. They are then picked up by Americans on social media or in domestic news outlets, and their origins quickly become obscured. Often, by the time a story reaches most of its American audience, there is little to indicate that it was created to fuel grievances and deepen political divisions.

Some of the news outlets used by Russia are well known, like RT, the Kremlin-financed operation whose video news agency, Ruptly, put out the video of the Bible burning. Others are more obscure, including some directly connected to Russia’s spy agencies, and are used to actively test themes and stories to see which ones play best.



Donald Trump’s “official” super PAC has spent more than $25 million since last year to get the president re-elected. Now it’s trying a new tactic: the group, America First Action, has launched a news website.

The site is called the American Herald, and it describes itself as “a conservative news platform designed to bring you all the news the liberal media doesn’t want you to know. We commit to cover national issues that impact all Americans, not just what fits the left’s political agenda.”

The American Herald’s formation comes during an election cycle in which Trump’s political machine has sought to construct its own media infrastructure to combat and circumvent what it sees as endemic hostility from the political press. “Stop being told what to think,” the American Herald’s tagline declares.

Quietly launched in June, the American Herald is devoted to putting a Trumpian spin on the headlines of the day, then blasting out those headlines in emails, social media posts, and digital advertisements. America First has already spent thousands of dollars to promote the group’s “stories” through Facebook and Instagram pages for both the America First and the American Herald. It’s spent thousands more promoting the site in Google ads.



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