An Instagram post about a confederate rally in Houston is cited in special counsel Robert Mueller's report as the “earliest evidence” of Russian influence in political rallies that happened across the United States.
Page 29 of the Mueller investigation on Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election states: “The Office identified dozens of U.S. rallies organized by the IRA (St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency). The earliest evidence of a rally was a “confederate rally” in November 2015.”
In a footnote, the report refers to an Instagram post about a Houston-area rally planned for November 14, 2015.
The report also says: “The IRA (Internet Research Agency) continued to organize rallies even after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The attendance at rallies varied. Some rallies appear to have drawn few (if any) participants, while others drew hundreds. The reach and success of these rallies was closely monitored.”
Though some of the events organized by Russian operatives never came to fruition or had low attendance, one anti-Muslim rally in Houston drew small crowds of both protesters and counter-protesters.
In May 2016, a handful of protesters with the banner “White Lives Matter” showed up for a protest to “Stop the Islamization of Texas” outside the Islamic Da'wah Center in Downtown Houston.
A larger crowd of counter-protesters also showed up.
The protest was organized by the Heart of Texas Facebook group.
“The Heart of Texas Facebook group really was a group that was created by the Russians,” said Rice University political science professor Mark Jones.
“There was no group of concerned Texans forming it, it was formed by Russian trolls with the idea of gaining a following and manipulating that following to political ends,” said Jones.
Despite being created by Russian trolls, the New York Times reported that the group had about 250,000 likes on Facebook before it was taken down.
“Russian trolls were able to mobilize people on one side that were antagonistic towards the mosque and people on the other side that were supportive of the mosque to get out there and protest,” said Jones, who thinks the rally shows how the Russians were somewhat successful in undermining the democratic process by stoking existing hardline ideologies.
Following the 2016 election, the use of Facebook and Instagram to manipulate political beliefs is being more closely monitored.
In August 2018, Facebook wrote in a post: “Today we removed multiple Pages, groups and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram. Some of this activity originated in Iran, and some originated in Russia.”
They wrote that they took down more than 650 pages, groups and accounts for “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”