A Republican senator said Wednesday that Russian trolls are taking advantage of the spat between President Trump and NFL players who protest during the national anthem to “push divisiveness” in the United States.
Sen. James Lankford (Okla.) said trolls are “taking both sides of the argument” by employing hashtags such as “#TakeAKnee” and “#BoycottNFL” on social media.
“They were taking both sides of the argument this past weekend and pushing them out from their troll farms as much as they could to try to just raise the noise level in America and to make a big issue seem like an even bigger issue as they’re trying to push divisiveness in the country,” Lankford said during a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“We’ve continued to be able to see that. We will see that again in our election time.”Moscow’s efforts at hacking the 2016 elections allegedly included influence campaigns on social media, and officials from Facebook and Google were on Wednesday invited to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee as it probes last year’s meddling.
Trump has personally taken up the issue of NFL protests, saying at a campaign rally last week that players who refuse to stand for the national anthem should be fired. A range of professional football figures pushed back on those remarks, but Trump doubled down this week, calling for the NFL to institute a new rule on the issue.
Lankford made the comments as Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Counterterrorism Center Director Nick Rasmussen testified about threats to the U.S.
The senator used the comment to segue into asking Duke if Homeland Security has the resources to conduct “onsite assessments” for states ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
Duke said while the department has the resources, not all states have pushed for the federal government’s involvement.
Lankford’s comments come as both the FBI special counsel and multiple congressional committees conduct probes into Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 United States election.