White House senior adviser Jared Kushner listens during a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, Wednesday, May 3, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

If You Ever Said Anything Critical of Trump During Campaign 2016, You’ll Want to Read This

Let me tie together two stories, one old and one new, that explains where things may be headed.

First is a 2015 New York Times story titled “The Agency.”

If Arthur had checked Twitter, he might have become much more worried. Hundreds of Twitter accounts were documenting a disaster right down the road. “A powerful explosion heard from miles away happened at a chemical plant in Centerville, Louisiana #ColumbianChemicals,” a man named Jon Merritt tweeted. The #ColumbianChemicals hashtag was full of eyewitness accounts of the horror in Centerville. @AnnRussela shared an image of flames engulfing the plant. @Ksarah12 posted a video of surveillance footage from a local gas station, capturing the flash of the explosion. Others shared a video in which thick black smoke rose in the distance.…

The Columbian Chemicals hoax was not some simple prank by a bored sadist. It was a highly coordinated disinformation campaign, involving dozens of fake accounts that posted hundreds of tweets for hours, targeting a list of figures precisely chosen to generate maximum attention. The perpetrators didn’t just doctor screenshots from CNN; they also created fully functional clones of the websites of Louisiana TV stations and newspapers. The YouTube video of the man watching TV had been tailor-made for the project. A Wikipedia page was even created for the Columbian Chemicals disaster, which cited the fake YouTube video. As the virtual assault unfolded, it was complemented by text messages to actual residents in St. Mary Parish. It must have taken a team of programmers and content producers to pull off.

Anyone who criticized Donald Trump during 2016 understands this story. As I documented at the time, critics of the President were inundated with long dormant Twitter accounts from Russia suddenly harassing them, filling their timelines, and trying to drive them from the conversation. Look at the harassment suffered by the Colorado GOP via online trolls after they declined to side with Trump during the primaries.

Well, now here’s the second story to tie to the New York Times one and this one is from last week.

Congressional and Justice Department investigators are now probing whether the digital campaign operation run by Trump son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner helped Russia target U.S. voters with fake news stories about Hillary Clinton, according to a new report.

McClatchy News first reported that investigators are looking into whether the Trump campaign helped Russian cyber operatives target areas in key states, “where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton.”

CBS leaves out the harassment and trolling of others component, but I would suspect that is being looked at too. Someone had to be behind the Twitter troll army. There is speculation in Washington that Mueller’s team is investigating whether Kushner might have had something to do with it and with the micro-targeting of voters via social media, etc. And, here is the big bit, if so was it properly disclosed on a campaign contribution disclosure report.

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Erick Erickson

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