By Jasper Craven
National Review (9/18/19)
The post popped up in select Instagram feeds shortly before the election in 2016. Its photo depicted an anonymous black-clad woman on an airport tarmac, crying over a metal casket covered in an American flag. “Killary Clinton will never understand what it feels like to lose the person you love for the sake of your country,” the caption began. “Honoring the high cost paid by so many families to protect our freedom. Buy a T-shirt—help a veteran.”
A little money and deviousness goes a long way for foreign actors in propagandizing veterans, who are among the most trusted and civically engaged constituencies in American politics.
In the world of military memes, it was a pretty standard sponsored post by the popular american.veterans Instagram account, targeted at members of online groups for the United States Army Reserve, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Concerned Veterans for America, and a fan page for Chris Kyle of American Sniper fame. The apparel sales were real, but the post was not concocted by a veteran—not a United States veteran, at least. The account that posted it was controlled by Russia’s Internet Research Agency; for just over 3,000 rubles (about $50), its “Killary” post was targeted to nearly 18,000 mostly-veteran Instagram users; at least 500 clicked through to the third-party site selling “MilVet” apparel. “Who profits from sales of MilVet merchandise in any of these cases is also unknown,” investigators now say, though it’s not hard to imagine who profited from the post’s political message.
It was but one of thousands of politically charged social media posts directed at military veterans by foreign actors, according to a new 191-page investigative report released Tuesday by Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). And rather than taper off after the 2016 election, these shady accounts and shareable memes have continued to proliferate. “Known Russian propaganda and similar politically divisive content that targets service members and veterans is being spread by admins from at least 30 foreign countries, with concentrations in Eastern Europe and Vietnam,” VVA chief investigator Kristopher Goldsmith, writes in the report’s executive summary. …