US citizens charged with pushing pro-Kremlin disinfo, election interference

Also a bunch of Russians plus someone giving free trips to the Motherland

Four US citizens have been accused of working on behalf of the Russian government to push pro-Kremlin propaganda and unduly influence elections in Florida.

According to a grand jury indictment [PDF] the Americans along with three Russian nationals allegedly participated in a multi-year foreign-fueled influence campaign that began around November 2014 and continued through July 2022.

The indictment follows earlier charges last year [PDF] against Moscow resident Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, two unnamed Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agents, and four unnamed Americans for their roles in recruiting US political groups to sow discord and division among voters, and push, among other fringe ideologies, California's secession from the US.

It's claimed this same group of FSB agents also funded and directed the political campaign of a particular candidate for office in St Petersburg, Florida, in 2019, we're told. The name of the recipient has been not been given.

Now the Feds have named the remaining Russians and Americans in the group: Russian nationals Yegor Sergeyevich Popov and Aleksey Borisovich Sukhodolov, and Americans Omali Yeshitela (aka Joseph Waller), Penny Joanne Hess, Jesse Nevel (aka Jesse Nevelsky) and Augustus Romain Jr. (aka Gazi Kodzo). 

Between November 2014 and July 2022, Ionov allegedly recruited members of political groups within the US, including the African People's Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement (collectively, the APSP) in Florida, Black Hammer in Georgia, and an unnamed political group in California. 

Yeshitela served as the chairman and founder of the APSP, while Hess, Nevel and Romain were members of the same group, and Romain was also the founder of Black Hammer in Georgia, according to the Feds.

As part of the conspiracy, Ionov allegedly wrote fake news articles filled with Russian disinformation, and sent these to Yeshitela, Hess and Nevel to publish in the APSP's media outlets. 

In another case, Ionov allegedly directed Hess to write a petition to the United Nations on behalf of the APSP claiming that the US committed genocide against African people in the US. Ionov subsequently donated $500 to the political group, the documents state. 

Last March the APSP hosted Ionov via video to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine, during which Ionov stated that anyone who supported Ukraine also supported Nazism and white supremacy, and Yeshitela and another APSP member allegedly made statements of solidarity with the Russian government. Yeshitela also received an all-expense paid trip to Moscow to meet with Ionov, it's claimed.  

Ionov, Sukhodolov, Popov, Yeshitela, Hess, Nevel, and Romain are charged with conspiring to have American citizens act as illegal agents of the Russian government within the US — without providing prior notification to the Attorney General, as required by law. 

If convicted, they each face a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Yeshitela, Hess and Nevel are also charged with acting as agents of Russia within the US. If convicted, they each face a maximum penalty of 10 years behind bars.

You've won a free trip to Moscow!

In a separate case, the US Department of Justice unsealed a criminal complaint charging Russian national Natalia Burlinova, president of diplomatic non-profit PICREADI, with conspiring with an FSB officer to act as an illegal agent of Russia in the US.

According to court documents [PDF] Burlinova recruited US citizens from academic and research institutions to travel to Russia to participate in a so-called public diplomacy program called "Meeting Russia," because that's not at all creepy-sounding. 

The program was operated by Burlinova's PICREADI, which was funded by Moscow to promote Russian national interests. The org describes itself as "a team of believers working towards greater understanding between individuals, communities and states."

The complaint claims that the FSB provided funding and other support for Burlinova's efforts to advance Russian interests in the US, and in exchange, Burlinova provided the FSB officer with info about American citizens who were recruited to attend her programs, including their résumés, passport information, photographs, and analyses of their views toward Russia. ®

And speaking of politics and elections... Fox News has just settled with voting machine maker Dominion for $790 million. The manufacturer sued the TV channel for defamation regarding false claims that, among other things, Dominion rigged the 2020 US presidential election for Joe Biden by changing votes from Donald Trump. Dominion wanted $1.6 billion.

During the run-up to trial, internal communications at Fox News were publicly revealed that suggested its hosts and other senior staff believed conspiracy theories about the election being stolen – claims pushed on air – were baseless.

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