Over the weekend, Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore received a Twitter bounty many can only dream of – he nearly doubled his number of followers. 20,000 more people than before hit the “follow” button to read the thoughts of a man who lost his first judgeship in 2003 when he refused to take down a statue of the Ten Commandments outside his courthouse; his second when he said states who didn’t agree with gay marriage could disobey the Supreme Court ruling legalizing it; and, when told his arguments against LGBTQ civil rights were similar to Vladimir Putin’s, said, “Maybe Putin is right.”
Well, maybe Putin heard him say this, because it turns out that many of Moore’s new Twitter followers…were Russian.
According to The Montgomery Adviser, the accounts that followed Moore were bots who hadn’t actually tweeted anything about the Senate candidate. Their biographies, when run through Google Translate, came out as weird statements like, “ONE THOUGHT -THOUGHTS!” and “I’m landing a sushi, I’m studying at the institute, I’m getting ready for my daughter’s birth.” Many of these accounts have been suspended since this weekend, and Moore’s number of followers is now back to what it was before, roughly 27,000.
Moore, a candidate so conservative he makes the first class of Tea Partiers from 2010 look like Bernie Sanders, represents former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s vision of an even more right-wing Republican Party. Bannon, who backed Moore over his Trump-endorsed opponent, Luther Strange, just recently declared war on incumbent conservatives, promising to support other challengers in next year’s midterms. Bannon has also denounced the notions of Russia influencing the past election, calling public evidence “far from conclusive.” However, the House Intelligence Committee is about to investigate Cambridge Analytica, a company that specialized in micro-targeting likely Trump voters over social media, and in which Bannon owns between $1 and $5 million worth of stock. It would be unwise to jump to conclusions about his involvement with the Moore’s Russian bots, but given the amount of coincidences we have seen throughout the past few months linking conservative politicians in both the United States and Western Europe to the Kremlin and its allies, it still raises one’s hackles.
Moore’s campaign has been less than forthcoming with answers on how this incident occurred. In a statement released yesterday, they said, “It’s not surprising that they’d choose the favorite topic of MSNBC and the Fake News outlets – the Russia conspiracy. Democrats can’t win this election on the issues and their desperation is on full display.” The statement offered no evidence that the campaign of Doug Jones, Moore’s Democratic Senate opponent, was involved in the attack.
Ironically, Jones actually has more Twitter followers than Moore now, numbering at some 40,000, 96% of whom are authentic, according to TwitterAudit. To quote Seinfeld, a show which was rumored to provide Steve Bannon with residuals, “They’re real…and they’re spectacular.”
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.