A federal grand jury filed charges against 13 Russian nationals Friday for allegedly stealing identities, wiring money overseas, and staging a small series of flash mobs to help tip the 2016 election in Donald Trump's favor. It's unclear whether the social media campaign had any actual impact on voting, but the FBI alleges Russian money indeed affected one small group of Miamians who unknowingly used Russian cash to pay for supplies for an unnamed rally the September before the presidential election.
There still seem to be online traces of that Moscow-funded rally.
Only one publicized, pro-Trump rally appears to have taken place in the Miami area — #LatinosConTrump in Doral at 1 p.m September 11, 2016. The event was pitched as an "anti-media" protest outside the town's Univision offices. The national group Latinos With Trump created flyers for the rally and noted that virtually all of Miami's most prominent pro-Trump groups — Cubans 4 Trump, Hispanas for Trump, Latinas for Trump, and the official Miami Trump Volunteers — would attend. The official Facebook pages for Latinas for Trump and the Miami Trump Volunteers even shared the flyer:
The event's details seem to match the description in the federal indictment, because Latinas for Trump shared the event flyer September 8, 2016. The indictment alleges a Russian national sent one of the campaign organizers (neither person is named) money the next day, September 9, for supplies. The Russian agent allegedly used a fake or stolen U.S. identity. Here's the full passage from the indictment:
On or about August 31, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, using a U.S persona, spoke by telephone with a real U.S person affiliated with a grassroots group in Florida. That individual requested assistance in organizing a rally in Miami, Florida. On or about September 9, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators sent the group an interstate wire to pay for materials needed for the Florida rally on or about September 11, 2016.
The indictment does not allege that any Americans involved in planning the rally broke the law or knew they were dealing with Russian agents. According to the legal filings, Russian agents with the troll farm Internet Research Agency staged multiple flash mobs and rallies across Florida during the 2016 campaign, including other events in Coral Springs and Fort Lauderdale. The FBI also says Russian agents wired money to multiple pro-Trump organizers in the state.
(This is far from the first Miami tie in the Trump-Russia affair. One of the Russian oligarchs central to Donald Trump Jr.'s infamous meeting with a Russian lawyer apparently owns $14 million in Miami real estate and once rented out the Versace Mansion on Ocean Drive to throw a lavish party with a performance by 1990s one-hit wonder Lou Bega.)
Two rally attendees said they were sure it was the only pro-Trump event in Miami that day. Reached by phone, one of the event's organizers, Ariel Martinez with Cubans 4 Trump, says he had no knowledge of money changing hands to fund the rally that day. In fact, he says, his group didn't spend any money on that day's event.
"It was pretty much just put together on Facebook," Martinez says. "There was no money involved in it at all. There was not much to it. We planned it for about a month in advance, and my buddy just kinda brought his truck out." He said about 400 people attended.
Ileana Garcia, the Latinas for Trump founder, says that she was not
"I went, 'LatinosWithTrump.org? Who is that?'" she recalls. (The Latinos With Trump website no longer exists.)
Guess who else showed up? E
Symonette puts his face directly in front of the camera. "Hillary for prison. Trump for president," he says.
Symonette then begins talking about how people of all races and colors should unite to vote for Trump.
"Hillary wants slavery!" he shouts. "I am against slavery! They're trying to put everyone in slavery: Latin, black, and white."
The camera pans out toward the street, and Garcia briefly shows the Univision headquarters. She notes that local cops had been dispatched to monitor traffic and guard the protest; she and another organizer then shout, "Blue lives matter!"
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If indeed this is the Miami rally paid for by Russian operatives, it raises more questions than it answers. For one, it's still unclear how much of
Of all the rallies that occurred in Miami during the 2016 campaign, this also was barely a memorable one. No members of the media seemed to have attended, there weren't any famous speakers, and there's barely even a footprint of the event on social media. If this were some sort of Russian
But, of course, Special Counsel Robert Mueller seems to have a lot of information left to disclose before this entire affair is through.