Charlotte shooting protest had hidden help – a Russian troll farm, news site says

Updated: Oct. 18, 2017 at 5:29 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (Bruce Henderson and Steve Harrison/The Charlotte Observer) - The Russian troll farm suspected of trying to disrupt U.S. elections last year apparently infiltrated Charlotte during racial protests last year, BuzzFeed News reports.

The online news site says the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency recruited U.S. activists to help stage protests in order to help divide the nation ahead of the 2016 elections.

Conrad James of the Raleigh nonprofit Living Ultra-Violet was among four activists who told BuzzFeed they never suspected they were being recruited by the Russians.

James told the news site he was contacted by BlackMattersUS, which the Russian news outlet RBC linked to the Russian troll farm. James said BlackMattersUS asked him to speak at a rally following the September 2016 police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, which sparked two days of protests.

"I thought it was a knockoff of Black Lives Matter," James told BuzzFeed, but its website appeared legitimate.

Living Ultra-Violet's Twitter feed describes itself as a "Millennial Think-tank intellectually innovating economic development, research, and altruism." The Observer couldn't reach James on Wednesday.

James told BuzzFeed that he volunteered to organize the rally himself when he learned it had no organizer. The BlackMattersUS Facebook page, he said, connected him to a woman named Stephanie Williamson.

Williamson appeared with a white man who never spoke or smiled, James said, but gave him a bank card for microphones and loudspeakers for the rally and permits for the event. Williamson could not be reached Wednesday.

James told BuzzFeed he organized a larger rally for BlackMattersUS in Charlotte last October. The BlackMatters YouTube account has an 8-minute video, apparently shot at Marshall Park, titled "Stephanie Williamson at BM Charlotte protest."

The Charlotte Department of Transportation said it issued no permits for a street protest in September and October 2016. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said Wednesday that none of the roughly 120 amplified noise permits it issued in those two months appeared to be related to Scott protests.

The BlackMattersUS website lists activist Andrew Fede as someone who attended the Oct. 22 protest, which took place at Marshall Park and then moved to CMPD headquarters. Fede told the Observer he wasn't aware of any Russian involvement in the protest, and didn't return follow-up phone calls to the Observer.

The BlackMattersUS web site has some unusual grammatical errors.

The site, for instance, site says "we are especially delighted and proud of the activists participated in the event. This shows that we have not rested on our bowels in the fight for total liberation and justice."

It also states: "Every share Makes Black Voice louder."

James said he learned BlackMattersUS was linked to a Russian troll farm when RBC reporters contacted him a few weeks ago.

The revelation was "angering," James told BuzzFeed, that "they were using black culture here in America as a springboard for a divisive tactic and strategy."