Title Title
Russia-linked pro-gun bots active in aftermath of Florida shooting Money, guns, and Russia
Summary Summary
Bots flare up and U.S. government reported taking a closer look at ties between the NRA and Putin government  The U.S. government is taking a closer look at ties between the NRA and Putin government
Highlights Highlights
Content Content
<strong>In the aftermath of the <a href="https://www.apnews.com/a6fd450470d4464ab423b8b3a911b42d">fatal shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School</a> in Parkland, Florida, the connection between Russia and the pro-gun lobby in the United States has gained renewed focus with those who track Russian attempts to spread chaos on social media, detecting a sharp rise in pro-gun messages traceable to Russia.</strong>  
In the hours immediately following the latest school shooting “troll and bot-tracking sites reported an immediate uptick in related tweets from political propaganda bots and Russia-linked Twitter accounts,” according to <em><a href="https://www.wired.com/story/pro-gun-russian-bots-flood-twitter-after-parkland-shooting/">Wired</a></em>. Misinformation about the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, as well as shooting-related terms, dominated trending hashtags and topics of a site that tracks Twitter activity linked to Russian influence campaigns.  
  In recent weeks, a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/18/trump-nra-fbi-alexander-torshin-russia-investigation">possible connection</a> between Russian agents, the National Rifle Association, and the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump has fallen under increasing scrutiny from the U.S. government.
  Now, in the emotional aftermath of the shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 dead<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/02/15/florida-school-shooting-suspect-booked-on-17-counts-of-murder-premeditated/?utm_term=.39febc397548"> </a>(<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/02/15/florida-school-shooting-suspect-booked-on-17-counts-of-murder-premeditated/?utm_term=.39febc397548"><em>Washington Post</em></a>), the efforts of Russia-based trolls and misinformation bots to disseminate pro-gun messaging have broadened the scope of what may prove to be an explosive nexus of money, guns, Russia, the NRA, and U.S. government.
  For more than a year, stories about a connection between the NRA’s ties to the Putin government have circulated on various “alternative” websites. In March 2017, Ladd Everitt, director of gun-control group <a href="https://www.onepulseforamerica.com/">One Pulse for America</a> and self-described “longtime advocate for gun violence prevention who isn’t scared of the NRA,” posted a story on Medium titled “<a href="https://medium.com/@LaddEveritt/from-russia-with-love-for-the-nra-ffc69088fe41">From Russia With Love for the NRA</a>.” The continually updated timeline lays out a controversial case for “collusion between the Trump campaign/administration and Russia.”
  “The NRA’s relationship with the Putin government is longstanding, dating back to at least 2011,” <a href="https://medium.com/@LaddEveritt/from-russia-with-love-for-the-nra-ffc69088fe41">wrote Everitt</a>. “When Donald Trump announced he was seeking the presidency in 2015, the NRA and Russia once again found their interests aligned.”
  The NRA is among the most powerful special interest lobby groups in the United States. Its $250 million annual budget – “far more than all the country's gun control advocacy groups put together” (<a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-35261394">BBC</a>) – is used to influence Congress on gun policy.
  Beginning in 2018, U.S. congressional leaders and more mainstream media seem to have begun attaching weight to the possibility of links between Russian-government-backed figures, the NRA, and the Trump campaign.
  In January, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/18/trump-nra-fbi-alexander-torshin-russia-investigation"><em>The Guardian</em></a> and other outlets reported the FBI was “investigating whether a Russian banker [Alexander Torshin] with close ties to Vladimir Putin funneled money through the National Rifle Association to support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.”
  According to a 2017 <a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/article177312006.html">McClatchey</a> news company report, the NRA likely spent more than $70 million on the 2016 election.
  On February 2, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon officially requested information from the NRA and U.S. Treasury Department related to possible Russian contributions to the NRA to support Trump’s campaign (<a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/02/wyden-asks-nra-treasury-about-russian-contributions-for-trump-support.html">CNBC</a>).
  In a letter to the NRA, <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/02/wyden-asks-nra-treasury-about-russian-contributions-for-trump-support.html">Wyden, a Democrat, said</a> he was “specifically troubled by the possibility that Russian-backed shell companies or intermediaries” illegally influenced the U.S. election (CNBC).
  <h2>Russian Twitter-bots active following shooting</h2>
  In the aftermath of the fatal shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the connection between Russia and the pro-gun lobby in the United States received heightened interest from communities who track the efforts of hackers.
  In the hours immediately following the shooting, which touched off intense public debate about gun legislation in the United States, “troll and bot-tracking sites reported an immediate uptick in related tweets from political propaganda bots and Russia-linked Twitter accounts,” according to <em><a href="https://www.wired.com/story/pro-gun-russian-bots-flood-twitter-after-parkland-shooting/">Wired</a></em>.
  The<i> </i>report stated misinformation about the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, as well as shooting-related terms, dominated trending hashtags and topics of a site that tracks Twitter activity linked to Russian influence campaigns.
According to <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/pro-gun-russian-bots-flood-twitter-after-parkland-shooting/"><em>Wired</em></a>, the top link shared by Russia-linked accounts following the shooting was a 2014 article that criticized a statistic cited by pro-gun control group <a href="https://everytown.org/">Everytown for Gun Safety:</a> “Twitter accounts tracked by the group have used the old link to try to debunk today’s stats about the frequency of school shootings.”  According to <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/pro-gun-russian-bots-flood-twitter-after-parkland-shooting/"><em>Wired</em></a>, the top link shared by Russia-linked accounts following the shooting was a 2014 article that criticized a statistic cited by pro-gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. “Twitter accounts tracked by the group have used the old link to try to debunk today’s stats about the frequency of school shootings.”
It turns out, however, that a statistic from the anti-gun group calling the tragedy the 18th school shooting in the United States so far in 2018, a number widely repeated in reporting of the Florida shooting, may have been misleading. It turns out, however, that a statistic from the anti-gun group calling the tragedy the 18th school shooting in the United States so far in 2018, a number widely repeated in reporting of the Florida shooting, may have been misleading.
"It is a horrifying statistic. And it is wrong," reported the <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/no-there-havent-been-18-school-shooting-in-2018-that-number-is-flat-wrong/2018/02/15/65b6cf72-1264-11e8-8ea1-c1d91fcec3fe_story.html?utm_term=.bff65651d6c6"><em>Washington Post</em></a>, explaining that the definition of "school shooting" used by the group was broad enough to include the suicide of a man who had been parked outside a vacant school that had been closed for seven months. "It is a horrifying statistic. And it is wrong," reported the <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/no-there-havent-been-18-school-shooting-in-2018-that-number-is-flat-wrong/2018/02/15/65b6cf72-1264-11e8-8ea1-c1d91fcec3fe_story.html?utm_term=.bff65651d6c6"><em>Washington Post</em></a>, explaining that the definition of "school shooting" used by the group was broad enough to include the suicide of a man who had been parked outside a vacant school that had been closed for seven months.
<h2>Russia and the NRA?</h2>  
The activity of "Twitter bots" in the wake of the Florida shooting comes against a backdrop of separate U.S. government inquiries into possible connections between Russian agents, the <a href="https://home.nra.org/">National Rifle Association</a> (NRA), and the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump. In January, <a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article195231139.html"><i>McClatchy newspapers </i></a> reported the FBI was investigating whether a Russian banker called Alexander Torshin with close ties to Vladimir Putin may have funneled money through the National Rifle Association to support Trump’s presidential campaign.  
Data compiled by the <em><a href="https://www.opensecrets.org/">Open Secrets</a> </em>site of the Center for Responsive Politics investigative nonprofit service in Washington suggest the NRA spent almost $55 million on the 2016 election. However, according to a <em><a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/article177312006.html">McClatchy</a></em> news report, it was more than $70 million. Those hoping the latest mass shooting might bring clarity to what Florida Governor Rick Scott pledged to be a <a href="https://www.flgov.com/2018/02/15/gov-scott-we-must-have-a-real-conversation-about-keeping-students-safe/">"real conversation"</a> about gun control may remain disappointed. The complicated issue of gun violence and gun legislation in the United States appears more tangled than ever.
On February 2, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon officially requested information from the NRA and U.S. Treasury Department related to possible Russian contributions to the NRA to support Trump’s campaign (<em><a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/02/wyden-asks-nra-treasury-about-russian-contributions-for-trump-support.html">CNBC</a>)</em>. In a letter to the NRA, <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/02/wyden-asks-nra-treasury-about-russian-contributions-for-trump-support.html">Wyden, a Democrat, said</a> he was “specifically troubled by the possibility that Russian-backed shell companies or intermediaries” illegally influenced the U.S. election (CNBC).  
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