Donald Trump
Credit: The White House/Flickr

Almost two weeks ago, a story circulated that Portland protesters were burning Bibles and American flags. It spread via social media and was picked up by conservative outlets, such as the Washington Examiner. Of course, several Republican leaders joined the bandwagon.

Two reporters at the New York Times, Matthew Rosenberg and Julian Barnes, decided to look into the story and found Vladimir Putin’s fingerprints all over it. As is often the case with effective propaganda, this story contains a kernel of truth. Apparently, some group was handing out Bibles to protesters that night and one of them was used to start a fire. An American flag was also burned. But a local paper covering the protests that night devoted just one sentence to that story in a lengthy piece about what happened.

The video news agency connected to Russia Today (RT) was regularly streaming a live feed of the Portland protests. They edited the clip of the fire and made it the focal point of their protest coverage that night. Then, RT did an entire story about it. Social media took it from there and the next thing you know, outlets like the Washington Examiner were picking it up. Here is how Rosenberg and Barnes summarized the process:

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.

Following Trump’s press briefing on Wednesday, Hunter Walker tracked down another example of Russia’s attempt to get their propaganda in the news. He wrote about the question OAN reporter Chanel Rion asked the president.

Rion: In the last hour or so, if you googled it would take you straight to Joe Biden’s website, his official campaign website. Odd situation. We don’t know who’s behind that. But it raises an interesting leadership question. Should Joe Biden, the Democrat party, Kamala Harris– should they publicly denounce the Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization?

Trump: They should. I think they’re afraid to. It’s– in my book it’s virtually a part of their campaign, Antifa. The Democrats act like, gee, I don’t know exactly what that is.

Take a look at Portland. Take a look at any place you want to take a look at, and they’re all over the place. They were here.

Basically Rion gave Trump the opportunity to claim that Antifa is part of the Biden campaign—which is, of course, a blatant lie.

Walker looked into what actually happened with the website. Once again, as Pelosi said, “all roads lead to Putin.”

Records for “” in the domain name database show the site was registered in the Russian Federation from 2013 through last July. Starting last November, the site’s registration was moved to Panama, The website has always been anonymously registered and its owners could not be reached for comment.

Russia set up the website and eventually redirected it to Biden’s campaign page, allowing the president to claim that the group was involved politically with Democrats. Of course, this raises the old question of whether this was all coordinated with the president or if Trump is simply taking advantage of Putin’s efforts. The same questions are raised about the role of OAN in these kinds of Russian propaganda efforts.

So there you have two examples of how Russia is currently interfering in the 2020 election to support the reelection of Donald Trump. One thing worth noting is that if these examples are reflective of their efforts, Vladimir Putin has calculated that his best bet is to inflame the so-called “culture wars,” something that has been the bedrock of the Republican strategy for decades. The Bible burning story was especially useful for the Christian nationalists who want to scare their followers into thinking that, as Trump has suggested, Joe Biden is against God and the Bible.

It is important to keep in mind that the only reason we know about these Russian efforts is because some reporters put in the time to track down the story. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who has seen what our intelligence services know about Russian interference, said that the 2020 efforts “make Moscow’s past interference and nefarious actions look like child’s play.” But the Trump administration is keeping that information from the public, while the attorney general hypes the antifa story and puts all of his energy into accusing the Obama administration of “spying” into the Trump campaign. That strikes me as the definition of collusion.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.