By Linda Armacost, Jeff Benesch | La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club
Recent news reports published in the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, and appearing on many network news programs including “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC, alluded to Russian hacking and manipulation of the 2016 presidential election, decidedly in favor of Donald Trump’s campaign.
During the heat of the primary campaign, several website administrators of Bernie Sanders’ Facebook sites, including John Mattes (who was a Bernie supporter at our springtime Bernie/Hillary forum) noticed a disturbing trend. Many posts and posters, hundreds of them in fact, were originating in Eastern Europe.
John Mattes is an attorney and veteran award-winning investigative journalist who spent many years with XETV and other local news outlets, as well as stations in Miami and Los Angeles and ABC World News. He’s been based in San Diego since 2002 and runs The Investigative Guy website.
Mattes first suspected outside interference in the campaign when he detected strange posts from Eastern Europeans on Bernie Sanders support Facebook pages. The posters had no profile or ties to Sanders but had started dozens of faux-Sanders groups. The users, who Mattes suspected were plants, posted only vicious anti-Hillary Clinton stories from U.S.-based websites, but were strangely all located in Albania and Macedonia.
In early September, Mattes alerted several investigator friends with a list of the suspect sites he had uncovered. Digging deeper, Mattes uncovered dozens of anti-Hillary websites all hidden behind private registrations or addresses in Macedonia. Posts from the suspect websites were flooding Sanders’ media and online platforms nationwide in October with anti-Hillary posts claiming Clinton was to be indicted, or had a stroke, or was involved in human trafficking.
Come late October, Mattes shared his findings.
“What is most disturbing is that the Macedonia stories worked to directly help Trump,” he told Buzzfeed. “The stories targeted Sanders supporters, creating doubts about Hillary among a key voting bloc.”
Buzzfeed reported that Mattes thought this was part of a concerted effort to suppress the votes of Sanders’ supporters in order to help Trump win the election. “Some [of the Sanders supporters] are newly-energized Democratic voters,” he said, “If you have the ability to suppress and poison the well and reduce participation, that’s a win.”
After the election, Mattes expanded his investigation into the potential role of Russian tampering with the election. His findings were included in a story in the New Yorker titled “Trump, Putin and the New Cold War.” Mattes’ investigation then was profiled in Huffington Post and The Raw Story, and now has reached numerous other publications.
In March, Mattes’ assertions were proven correct when the former director of the NSA testified that Russia had employed more than 1,000 trolls to plant anti-Hillary disinformation on Sanders social media platforms. Currently, he is continuing this investigation, and working to spread his findings across the U.S. and the globe.
Mattes will present his latest findings at the next meeting of the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club on May 3 at the La Mesa Community Center, 4975 Memorial Drive.
Also appearing at the meeting is Nathan Fletcher who will talk about what we can do locally to counter Trump (particularly on voting rights and ballot access) and give an update on efforts to bring deported veterans home.
Fletcher is a father of two boys, a UCSD political science professor, former Marine and former State Assemblyman. He is also involved in several political groups like Organizing for Action, the Public Policy Institute of California, the Aspen Institute Global Alliances Program, the Truman National Security Project, the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Human Rights and is a delegate for the California Democratic Party.
The meeting begins with social activities at 6:30 p.m., followed by the presentations at 7 p.m. All members and guests are welcomed.
—Linda Armacost is president and Jeff Benesch is vice president of programming for the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.