Raleigh activist was duped by Russian Internet operatives

Joel Brown Image
Friday, October 20, 2017
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Raleigh activist Conrad James said he thinks the Russian trolls saw an interview he did with ABC11 and subsequently approached him.

RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) -- An alarming North Carolina connection is emerging between the racial justice movement and Russians working to interfere in the presidential election.

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A Raleigh man is at the center of it all, acknowledging he was duped by Russian operatives.

Congressional investigators say those Russians were intent on stirring-up racial tension and undermining Hillary Clinton.

Conrad James is one of the many American civil-rights activist fooled by the Russian Internet trolls. He's been interviewed several times by ABC11 through the years at countless social-justice protests he has organized across the state for his non-profit activist group, Living Ultra-Violet.

And apparently, from their desks in St. Petersburg, Russia, Internet agitators with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin were watching, too.

"I guess what happened is they saw an interview with ABC11 and they reached out to me after that," James said.

In the throes of the Charlotte riots over the police-shooting death of Keith Scott in September 2016, just weeks before the presidential election- congressional investigators tell ABC News - Russian operators were disguising themselves as black activist groups on Facebook and Twitter; piggybacking on the themes of the Black Lives Matter movement; and convincing unwitting activists like James to participate in rallies.

"They asked me to be a speaker at the event. They said that they're having an event, a peaceful day of action after the Keith Lamont Scott shooting," James recalled.

More than 600 people turned out in Charlotte to demonstrate- including a man and a woman who identified themselves to James as the event organizers.

"They did not appear to be Russians," he said. "But they were with another gentleman who never introduced himself, never even cracked a smile. And he was, I would say, a Russian-looking gentleman."

Investigators in Washington say they believe James became an unwitting participant in Russia's attempt to use American civil rights activists to stoke racial tensions and stir political unrest.

"What I think is obviously happening is called divide and conquer," James said. "I also think that the intent of that was to stir up trouble."

And it appears the Russian meddling did not end after the election. Even this year, a Russia-backed online group called Black Fist has been recruiting African-American physical trainers to teach black self-defense classes; urging people to "be ready to protect your rights."