A simple tweet, sent when a nation is in shock, is a quick and effective way of provoking outrage. That’s what @SouthLoneStar discovered after rebuking British Muslims in the wake of the Westminster terrorist attack in March. After the attack, the tweeter shared a photograph of a young Muslim woman walking along the bridge looking at her phone, and wrongly accused her of ignoring the injured. It was swiftly picked up in the media – and the depiction of the incident became a minor cause célèbre.
SouthLoneStar appeared to be a fairly conventional member of the American “alt-right” taking a sudden interest in London. And he – or perhaps she – was pleased with the result. For days after, the tweeter was gleefully sharing press clippings. “Wow … I’m on the Daily Mail front page! Thank you British libs! You’re making me famous,” he said, referring to an article that appeared on Mail Online and which still bore the tweet at the time of writing. A day later: “I’m on The Sun! Thank you again, British libs! Now I’m even more famous!”
But there was a hidden – and disturbing – dimension to the incident, because this tweeter was part of a Russian disinformation campaign.
Until the Twitter account was suspended in summer 2017 for its Russian links, @SouthLoneStar sought quite a different identity. With a bio that proclaimed him a “proud TEXAN and AMERICAN patriot”, hashtags showing his support for the second amendment and opposition to abortion, and an avatar of a fuzzy-faced young man in a cowboy hat, he might have been any one of millions of Donald Trump-supporting Americans.
He was, naturally, a vociferous opponent of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, attacking them for “creating Isis under Obama’s rule”. “I don’t think it is possible to beat Isis while its co-founder Hussein Obama is living in the White House,” he tweeted on Boxing Day 2016, before celebrating on New Year’s Day that the “traitor-in-chief leaves the White House in 18 days”.
LoneStar’s partisan support for Trump did not extend to the rest of his team, however. By April 2017, he was joining in with a campaign to “#KeepBannon & #FireKushner” that had been started by a former rapper turned alt-right star. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was a “liberal snake pushing his agenda in [the] White House”, LoneStar tweeted. “With all respects…