According to Donald Trump’s favourite news source, CNN, the Russians posed as being part of the Black Lives Matter movement to exploit racial tensions and sow discord among Americans.
The campaign, titled "Don't Shoot Us", offers new insights into how Russian agents created a broad online ecosystem where divisive political messages were reinforced across multiple platforms, amplifying a campaign that appears to have been run from one source - the Kremlin-linked troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA).
The Don't Shoot Us Facebook page was one of the 470 accounts taken down after the company determined they were linked to the IRA. CNN has separately established the links between the Facebook page and the other Don't Shoot Us accounts.
The Don't Shoot Us campaign referenced the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" slogan that became popular in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown that highlighted incidents of alleged police brutality. The cunning plan was to get African Americans to protest and encourage white Americans to view black activism as a rising threat.
The Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts belonging to the campaign are currently suspended. All of these YouTube videos link back to a donotshoot.us website. This website was registered in March 2016 to a "Clerk York" in Illinois. Public records do not show any evidence that someone named Clerk York lives in Illinois. The street address and phone number listed in the website's registration belong to a shopping mall in North Riverside, Illinois.
The donotshoot.us website in turn links to a Tumblr account. In July 2016, this Tumblr account announced a contest encouraging readers to play Pokémon Go, the augmented reality game in which users go out into the real world and use their phones to find and "train" Pokémon characters.
The Don't Shoot Us contest directed readers to go to find and train Pokémon near locations where alleged incidents of police brutality had taken place.
Users were instructed to give their Pokémon names corresponding with those of the victims. A post promoting the contest showed a Pokémon named "Eric Garner," for the African-American man who died after being put in a chokehold by a New York Police Department officer.
CNN has not found any evidence that any Pokémon Go users attempted to enter the contest, or whether any of the Amazon Gift Cards that were promised were ever awarded. Niantic, the makers of Pokémon, Go was furious as it was clear that the company's game had been appropriated and misused in promotions by third parties without permission.
Just a day after the shooting of Philando Castile by police in a suburb of Saint Paul, Minnesota in July 2016, local activists in Minnesota noticed a Facebook event for a protest being shared by a group they didn't recognize.
Don't Shoot Us called for a protest outside the St. Anthony Police Department, where Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who shot Castile, worked. Local activists had been protesting outside the Minnesota Governor's Mansion. When an activist group with ties to a local union reached out to the page, someone with Don't Shoot Us replied and explained that they were not in Minnesota but planned to open a "chapter" in the state in the following months.
The local group became more suspicious and found the website registration information showed a mall address, they posted on their website to say that Don't Shoot Us was a "total troll job".