Federal agents are investigating whether right-wing sites including Breitbart and InfoWars colluded in any way with Russian agents who were working to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances in the presidential election, McClatchy reports.
The FBI-led investigation is focused on Russia’s use of social media “bots” to amplify stories that put Donald Trump in a favorable light when he appeared to be struggling during the campaign, two anonymous sources told McClatchy. Part of the investigation involves working to determine whether any of the sites whose stories the bots often amplified were cooperating in some way with the Russian operatives.
The bots were apparently strategically timed computer commands, which would spread links to stories from right-wing and Russian propaganda sites all over social media. The bots could operate without any help from the sites involved, but the FBI is nevertheless exploring the possibility. McClatchy’s sources said the federal agents are looking into Breitbart, InfoWars and the Russian propaganda outlets Sputnik and Russia Today, although it’s unclear if other sites are involved in the probe.
The investigation is led by the FBI’s counter-intelligence division, which focuses less on criminal inquiries and more on intelligence gathering operations. The agents involved in this case are primarily working to reconstruct the Russian influence campaign in order to figure out how to prevent future attacks, rather than to search out criminal behavior.
Breitbart is a right-wing digital media company that specializes in a bombastic, attack-style presentation of the news, while InfoWars is a known peddler of conspiracy theories and loosely supported conjecture that took a hard swing toward the Trump camp in the election. Neither are known for their restraint in matters of possible government overreach, and they’re not likely to take kindly to the McClatchy report.
“To be called a Russian asset by McClatchy and by the LA Times and by a bunch of other publications today is funny, if it wasn’t so serious,” InfoWars’ Alex Jones said on his radio show Monday. “I don’t personally take this as a threat … I’m threatened for the country. I mean if the Russians want to secure our borders, cut our taxes, not have us go bankrupt, rebuild our military, block radical Islam — well then, hell, I’m a Russian agent! But I’m not.”
Breitbart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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