An anti-Muslim rally organized in Houston last year by a group called Heart of Texas was actually masterminded by a Russian group called the Internet Research Agency, CNN is reporting.
The "Stop Islamization of Texas" rally was held in May 2016 in protest of the downtown Islamic Da'wah Center's opening of the Library of Islamic Knowledge. A Heart of Texas spokesperson told the Houston Press at the time, "Last time we checked, Houston was predominantly Christian city, so what's the point? We don't build Christian churches in the Middle East, do we?"
But CNN reports that it was actually a stunt orchestrated by "a 'Troll Factory' thousands of miles away in St. Petersburg, Russia," adding that "the Houston rally sheds light on an effort originating in Russia to sow discord in the U.S. through social media; in this case it had real impact on the ground."
From the report:
"Not only were police on the scene, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Texas, Mustafaa Carroll, told CNN that his organization had contacted the FBI about comments posted on the Heart of Texas page before the protest. One of them read: 'Need to blow this place up. We don't need this shit in Texas.'"
"A source familiar with the matter tells CNN that Heart of Texas was among the 470 accounts and pages that Facebook turned over to Congress, following its investigation into ads generated by the Internet Research Agency. Neither the Facebook page nor a companion Twitter account @ItsTimeToSecede is still accessible. The link between Heart of Texas and the Russian campaign was previously reported by Business Insider."
The Heart of Texas link to Russian trolls was first discovered by former Press reporter Casey Michel, a contributing reporter for ThinkProgress and an expert on Russia who has worked in the former Soviet Union.
The 2016 protest was framed as a criticism of the Islamic Center's library's funding, with a post on the now-deleted Facebook page stating:
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"The library reportedly cost around $2.5 million. Imagine how much our tax money went to building this shrine to hatred (the very money which could have been spent on vets). Imagine Texas turning in a muslim ghetto full of mosques and 'Islamic Knowledge' centers.
It's gettin' real. What would founding fathers say if they knew we're gonna put up with people who wish to kill us?
That's a disgrace but even more shameful would be doing nothing about it."
As CNN reported:
"Generating anti-Muslim sentiment in the US was one of the goals of the Russian campaign. CNN reported Tuesday that some ads bought on Facebook were aimed at reaching voters who might be susceptible to anti-Muslim messages, even suggesting that Muslims were a threat to the American way of life."
We wonder how the folks who showed up to the protest would feel about this. But there's probably enough hate in their hearts for both Muslims and Russians.