Russian far-right rally

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Russian extremists could exploit their ties with white nationalist groups in the US to foment violence around the presidential election, terrorism experts have told Business Insider. 

They warned that Russia’s influence with white nationalists in the US is growing. They say that Russian propaganda and disinformation targeting extremists who believe that progressives are plotting to steal the election could inspire violence.

The fear of election-day violence is already having consequences. US state-level officials are preparing for potential violence, as are companies like Facebook, which has a contingency plan to slow inflammatory content.

The experts Business Insider spoke to said that Russian extremists — with the Kremlin’s tacit approval — could seek to exploit existing tensions to help them spill over into violence.

“Russia wants chaos and violence serves that, violence divides, violence reduces trust in institutions,” said Daniel Byman, a senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institute in an interview with Business Insider.  

Jason Blazakis, a professor of terrorism studies at the Middlebury Institute in California, said that Russia is seeking to “light the fuse” of US white supremacy.

Blazakis told Business Insider: “It is in the Russian Federation’s strategic interests to create a politically unstable United States. Cyber and disinformation efforts targeting the radical right in the United States remain part of the tool-kit — a kit that is being used to light the fuse of white supremacy.”

How Trump laid the ground for extremism

The 2020 presidential election is proving the most contentious in recent history. President Donald Trump has spread groundless accusation that Democrats are plotting to steal the election, and has been accused of offering encouragement to far-right and white nationalist groups.

In turn, they have taken encouragement from the president’s anti-immigrant policies and his willingness to stoke white grievances. 

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Far right so-called militia groups have said they will heed Trump’s call for supporters to monitor polling stations.

One such group is accused of plotting to kidnap and murder Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The head of the FBI, Christopher Wray, in testimony to Congress in September warned that racist extremists are the most urgent domestic terror threat in the US.

For years, ties have been forming between white nationalist groups in the US and Russia, the experts said. US extremists have long seen Russia’s President Vladimir Putin as a bulwark against what they regard as the forces of decadent liberalism. Neo-Nazi Matthew Heimbach, one of the organisers of the 2017 Charlottesville white nationalist rally, in 2017 described Putin as “the leader of the free world.”

Alex Newhouse, who researches online white nationalist propaganda, also at Middlebury, said the reverence US white nationalists feel for Russia exposes them to manipulation. 

“One of the scariest parts of the developments in the information space and the extremism space over the last five years is the gradual — the pretty significant but gradual increase in pro-Russian sentiment among American white nationalist groups,” he said.

“And that is a very specific trend that needs to be addressed. Because it does open them up to influence and …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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