For more than a year and a half, efforts by an obscure group called the US Freedom Army to recruit “100,000 patriots in uniform” to help defend President Donald Trump, have been heavily promoted by suspected Russian internet operatives using a huge wave of Twitter messages and social media posts, cyber experts tell the Law&Crime Network.
At the same time, a Twitter account belonging to the US Freedom Army founder, L.H. Shupe Jr., has posted more than 754,000 tweets, even though he died in October, 2017.
Twenty-four hours after Law&Crime reporters questioned Twitter about the allegations, the social media company suspended the accounts of the US Freedom Army, its deceased founder, L.H. Shupe, and Shupe’s son Nat, who lives in Las Vegas.
Frank de Monbrun, identified as the “Commander in Chief” of the US Freedom Army confirmed the accounts had been suspended. “Twitter’s unilateral decision to strip us of our basic right of free speech is chilling, and serves as a warning to all that they could be next,” de Monbrun told the Law&Crime Network.
Shupe’s son, in a statement, said he was appealing his suspension. “I broke none of twitter’s rules, except their unspoken rule of tweeting while being conservative,” he said. “I have been on twitter for 10 years, and had over 173,000 followers.” In a later email, he said he had kept his deceased father’s Twitter account going, not the Russians. He called Twitter “nothing but a propaganda machine for the left, pushing fake news, just like our media.”
In a phone interview, de Monbrun said he had “heard” the Russians might be involved based on an earlier on-line article, but was “not aware” their feed had been hijacked or hacked by Russians “Had we been alerted to such activity by Twitter we would have certainly taken their advice regarding identifying and deleting such accounts,” de Monbrun said.
“We are a real organization, legally recognized as tax-exempt, with a mailing list of about 11,000 people but we only have a handful of volunteers who are really involved with our Army.”
A cyber researcher at the Miami-based firm Cyxtera, David Aitel, said he first discovered the alleged role of the Russians in the US Freedom Army when he analyzed more than 9,000,000 tweets on a variety of subjects turned over to the Senate Intelligence Committee by Twitter a few months ago. At first, Aitel says, he thought the army was an entire fiction created by the Russians until he was informed of the reporting by Law&Crime that the group actually did exist.
“I think they’re definitely using organizations like this US Freedom Army to both pretend to make it seem to be a growing movement and then, also, to get Americans to sort of fight against each other,” he said in an interview on the “Brian Ross Investigates” program Thursday.
US Freedom Army commander de Monbrun said his group had “over 120,000 followers from all walks of life and from all political persuasions,” on its Twitter site account.
“Well, it probably makes them feel good,” to have so many followers on Twitter, said Aitel. “The downside of that is that it looks real to other people as well, so it’s very difficult to go into any social media right now and say this movement or that movement is actually getting traction.”
On its website, the US Freedom Army calls for a command structure to include brigades in each state, and prepared to “immediately answer a Call to Arms from our President to protect and defend him.”
Several volunteers have posted videos on a US Freedom Army YouTube channel. One offers US Freedom Army hats, uniform patches and vehicle bumper stickers “to get the word out.”
Volunteers are urged to “Be that warrior who stands in the gap between our freedom and the socialist threat that will lead us into global servitude.”
[Image via YouTube screengrab]