MILWAUKEE — Russia-linked Twitter accounts sought to spur racial and political discord in Wisconsin after a police officer’s fatal shooting of a black man sparked riots, a newspaper reported.
The accounts sent more than 30 tweets during the August 2016 unrest in the city’s Sherman Park neighborhood following the shooting, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The accounts garnered more than 5,000 retweets during the two nights of rioting.
One of the accounts, @TEN_GOP, is named in a recent federal indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller. The account tweeted during the riots: “These photos are not from Iraq ... This is Obama’s America! #Milwaukee.” Another account claimed Black Lives Matter supporters were targeting “white people for a beat down.”
Last year, jurors acquitted former officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown of homicide charges for fatally shooting Sylville Smith when Smith ran from a traffic stop. Heaggan-Brown is also black, but the shooting in the majority African-American neighborhood made already tense police-community relations boil over.
Police arrested about 40 demonstrators during the riots and multiple officers were hurt. Protesters also set fire to eight businesses and a squad car.
“To think that halfway around the world people are using this tragic series of events for partisan gain ... it’s daunting. It’s heartbreaking,” said Democratic state Rep. Evan Goyke, who represents the Sherman Park area.
The Journal Sentinel reported the Russia-linked accounts appeared aimed at boosting then-candidate Donald Trump’s chances in Wisconsin and spread fake news to help the primary challenger of U.S. Speaker Paul Ryan, who had criticized Trump in the lead-up to the election.
Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin since the 1984 election.
The tweets also sought to elevate the voice of former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke — a conservative firebrand who is one of Trump’s biggest supporters — by quoting Clarke during the riots. The newspaper reported there is no indication Clarke was aware of what Russia was doing.
“These are enemies of the United States who are trying to sow dissention in our country and on the streets of Milwaukee,” Mayor Tom Barrett said in a statement.
The Journal Sentinel said it researched its story by using an NBC News archive of 203,000 tweets from 453 accounts that Twitter and Mueller have linked to Russia in their investigations. The newspaper said it also found images of some of the tweets by using other web archives.