2 years ago

Report: Democrats used Russian tactics to support Doug Jones’ candidacy

Despite all of the criticism of and criminal investigations into Russian interference in America’s 2016 presidential election, a report by the New York Times has revealed that Democratic operatives executed a covert, “deceptive” digital campaign copying “Russian tactics” in support of Doug Jones’ candidacy in 2017.

“As Russia’s online election machinations came to light last year, a group of Democratic tech experts decided to try out similarly deceptive tactics in the fiercely contested Alabama Senate race,” the New York Times article summarized, referring to Jones’ general election win over Republican nominee Roy Moore.

“False flag” operation

The NYT article is based off of an internal report on the Democrats’ shadowy tactics that was published by the very participants in these efforts.

In fact, one participant in the campaign, Jonathon Morgan, is the chief executive of New Knowledge, a cyber security firm that wrote a scathing account of Russia’s social media operations in the 2016 election that was just released this week by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The internal report admitted explicitly that the Democratic operatives “experimented with many of the tactics now understood to have influenced the 2016 elections.”

The shadow campaign’s operators created a fake Facebook page on which they pretended to be conservative Alabamians, using it to try to divide Republicans in the Yellowhammer State. They even endorsed a specific write-in candidate to draw votes away from Moore.

Perhaps the most startling revelation in the internal report was that of the operatives’ “false flag” operation where they essentially admitted to manufacturing a false story against Moore that national media outlets then ran with. This involved a scheme to link the Republican candidate’s campaign to thousands of Russian Twitter accounts that suddenly began following the Moore.

“We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet,” the report bragged, later calling it “radicalizing Democrats with a Russian bot scandal.”

The report also explained that the efforts intentionally sought to “enrage and energize Democrats” and “depress turnout” among Republicans, in part by amplifying accusations that Moore had pursued inappropriate relations with teenage girls when he was a prosecutor in his 30s.

However, Morgan claimed that he was not on the same page as other participants in the efforts when it came to their intended effects. For him, or so he asserted, the tactics were purely research and not meant to influence the election.

“The research project was intended to help us understand how these kind of campaigns operated,” Morgan told the New York Times. “We thought it was useful to work in the context of a real election but design it to have almost no impact.”

He referred to the efforts in Alabama as “a small experiment.”

The funding of the Democratic efforts

The project had a budget of $100,000, which was funded by California billionaire Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn. The New York Times further detailed how the funding flowed into the race without voters being able to know what was happening.

“The money passed through American Engagement Technologies, run by Mikey Dickerson, the founding director of the United States Digital Service, which was created during the Obama administration to try to upgrade the federal government’s use of technology. Sara K. Hudson, a former Justice Department fellow now with Investing in Us, a tech finance company partly funded by Mr. Hoffman, worked on the project, along with Mr. Morgan,” the article outlined.

The publication added that no evidence has surfaced that now-Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) sanctioned or was even aware of the “deceptive” efforts meant to boost his candidacy.

Joe Trippi, a prominent national Democratic operative who served as a top adviser to Jones’ campaign, said he had noticed the Russian bot swarm suddenly following Moore on Twitter. Trippi added that it was impossible that a $100,000 operation had an impact on the race, which saw tens of millions spent during the general election.

The New York Times authors themselves also stated that the “secret project…was likely too small to have a significant effect on the race.”

Trippi, however, said he was disturbed by the shadow tactics.

“I think the big danger is somebody in this cycle uses the dark arts of bots and social networks and it works,” he said. “Then we’re in real trouble.”

However, in a race decided by a margin of only 21,924 votes that drew more than 22,800 write-in votes, people will question if there was a tangible effect of the Democratic efforts.

Write-in interference

Morgan did confirm that the operatives created a generic Facebook page to trick conservative Alabamians — he claimed he could not remember its name — and that Mac Watson, one of several write-in candidates, contacted the page.

“But we didn’t do anything on his behalf,” Morgan added.

However, the internal report admitted the Facebook page agreed to “boost” Watson’s campaign and that the operatives, under the anonymous cover of the fake page, stayed in regular touch with him. The report also stated that the page was “treated as an advisor and the go-to media contact for the write-in candidate.’’ The report explained the page got him interviews with The Montgomery Advertiser and The Washington Post.

Watson, a business owner in Auburn, confirmed that he got some assistance from a Facebook page whose operators stayed in the shadows.

After he contacted the page, it offered an endorsement, though no direct funding.

“They never spent one red dime as far as I know on anything I did — they just kind of told their 400 followers, ‘Hey, vote for this guy,’” Watson advised.

He never spoke with the page’s author or authors by phone, and they declined a request for an in-person meeting. This was not the only red flag in the situation, as Watson noticed that his Twitter followers suddenly ballooned from about 100 to about 10,000 out of nowhere.

Watson also said that the page asked whether he trusted anyone to set up a super PAC that could receive funding and offered advice on how to attract disenchanted Republican voters.

Then, Watson noticed one final oddity. The day after the December 2017 election, the Facebook page that had supported him had vanished.

“It was a group that, like, honest to God, next day was gone,” Watson remarked. “It was weird. The whole thing was weird.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

10 hours ago

Trump gives closing pitch supporting ‘true conservative’ Tuberville in Tuesday’s runoff

President Donald Trump on Monday evening held a telephone town hall with former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville ahead of Alabama’s primary runoff Election Day on Tuesday.

Trump has endorsed Tuberville in the Republican U.S. Senate runoff against former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sessions was Trump’s first attorney general after being an early supporter of his 2016 campaign, however the president has strongly criticized Sessions since he recused himself from the Russia investigation. Trump has even called on Sessions to drop out of the Senate race, and Tuberville appeared on Air Force One with the president recently.

During the pre-runoff tele town hall, Trump continued to urge Alabamians to send a fresh choice to Washington, D.C., bashing Sessions in the process.

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“[T]omorrow is a big day,” Tuberville said at the beginning of the call.

Introducing the president, Tuberville commented, “I saw how he was fighting the D.C. swamp and the people all around him, and I made up my mind at that time that God had sent Donald Trump to us  — and he needed some help. So that’s the reason I’m doing this today, trying to support and represent the state of Alabama and go stand beside President Donald Trump.”

Trump began his remarks by noting, “It’s great to be speaking to the people of Alabama, a place I love, a place where we’ve had tremendous success. Where they like me and I like them — maybe love is a better word, frankly. But it’s been a great state.”

“And I love helping you,” Trump continued. “And one of the ways that we’re going to be helping you is recommending strongly Tommy Tuberville to be your next senator. He’s a tremendous guy.”

“Tommy is a very special guy. He’s a leader, he’s a real conservative — a true conservative,” the president said of Tuberville. “And he loves your state. And he loves this country. He will protect your Second Amendment like I’m doing.”

Trump said the former football coach will staunchly support securing the United States’ border with Mexico, including building “the wall.”

The president also discussed his own reelection campaign, as well as the state of his administration. Accomplishments he highlighted included rebuilding the military and reforming the Veterans Affairs system.

Trump said he views Tuberville as someone who will further help him in bettering the country’s treatment of its veterans.

‘I had no idea it could be as bad as it was’

The president then turned his attention to Sessions.

“I will tell you, I got to know Jeff Sessions very well,” Trump explained. “I made a mistake when I put him in as the attorney general. He had his chance, and he blew it. He recused himself right at the beginning — just about on day one — on a ridiculous scam, the Mueller scam, the ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’ scam. And Jeff didn’t have the courage to stay there.”

“He immediately ran for the hills,” the president added of Sessions. “And he ruined a lot of lives, a lot of very innocent, good lives — people that went there all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, they went there and they ended up getting caught up in a scam. It was a scam of Pelosi and Schiff and just a horrible thing — Schumer — a horrible, horrible thing.”

He then contrasted Tuberville and Sessions.

“Tommy Tuberville is going to do a job like you haven’t seen,” Trump stressed. “He’s going to take over, and he’s going to be representing you well. He’s going to have a call direct-line into my office. That I can tell you.”

“We had the Jeff Sessions thing, we gave it a shot. I had no idea it could be as bad as it was,” the president advised. “But he had no clue. And he just let it get away from him. It’s really a shame.”

Trump subsequently highlighted the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 as a marquee accomplishment of his administration.

Speaking of these “big tax cuts,” Trump added, “Tommy’s going to help me, because we’re going for additional tax cuts.”

He also noted his administration’s track record of getting rid of burdensome government regulations that unnecessarily hamper economic growth. Trump touted America becoming “energy independent” during his presidency.

“Tommy is going to do great for Alabama. Tommy is going to be a real solid guy — he’ll never let you down,” Trump emphasized.

The president, in wrapping up his comments, once again encouraged Alabamians to go out and vote for Tuberville on Tuesday.

“He’ll be a tremendous senator,” Trump said.

‘It’s time to continue to send outsiders to Washington, D.C.’

The call was not advertised to the media, however Yellowhammer News was one of the many registered voters invited via text message to tune in.

Tuberville spoke at length after Trump left the call. The Senate candidate outlined — among other items — his support for law enforcement, conservative judges, getting God back in schools and combatting the rise of socialism.

“I want to fight,” Tuberville remarked. “I’m a fighter. I’m not a follower, I’m a leader. We need a leader from the state of Alabama that’s going to fight.”

He then lamented the drug epidemic plaguing many rural communities in the Yellowhammer State. Tuberville spoke about his support for rural economic development, including bringing jobs back from overseas into local communities.

“We’re losing population, we’re losing our kids — they’re moving out-of-state,” he advised. “We can’t allow that to happen.”

Tuberville subsequently commented, “China’s been a mess.”

He voiced his support for bringing manufacturing and other jobs back from China “to give our kids an opportunity to stay in this state, have good jobs, have families and enjoy life in the great state of Alabama.”

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Tuberville added. “I’m doing this for the right reasons. I believe in this country. I believe in this state. I believe in the people.”

“President Trump’s done a great job being President of the United States, being a businessperson” he concluded. “Now it’s time to continue to send outsiders to Washington, D.C., and help make those hard decisions. Let’s go out and vote tomorrow.”

Polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. — 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

Masks are strongly recommended to be worn at polling sites but cannot legally be required. Local elections officials, supported by Secretary of State John Merrill’s office, have taken steps to sanitize voting locations while enabling social distancing as much as possible.

The winner of the GOP Senate runoff will go on to face U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) in November.

Sessions, shortly after the Trump-Tuberville tele town hall, appeared on Fox News’ “The Story with Martha MacCallum.”

On Tuesday, there are also Republican runoffs for Congress in AL-01 and AL-02, as well as a statewide race for the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, among other respective local matters.

You can find your polling location and sample ballot here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Alabama-built rocket set to power NASA mission to Mars this summer

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has been attached to the top of the Alabama-built rocket that will send it toward the Red Planet in the coming weeks.

NASA and Yellowhammer State rocket-builder United Launch Alliance (ULA) recently updated the mission’s launch period, which is the range of days the rocket can launch to reach Mars. It now spans from July 30 to August 15.

Encased in the nose cone that will protect it during launch, the rover and the rest of the spacecraft – the aeroshell, cruise stage and descent stage – were affixed to a ULA Atlas V booster last week at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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According to a release from NASA, that process began when a 60-ton hoist on the roof of the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 lifted the nose cone, 129 feet to the top of the waiting rocket. There, engineers made the physical and electrical connections that will remain between booster and spacecraft until about 50 to 60 minutes after launch, when the two are pyrotechnically separated and Perseverance is on its way.

“I have seen my fair share of spacecraft being lifted onto rockets,” stated John McNamee, project manager for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “But this one is special because there are so many people who contributed to this moment. To each one of them I want to say, we got here together, and we’ll make it to Mars the same way.”

The Atlas V was assembled at ULA’s world-class facility in Decatur, Alabama.

With the mating of spacecraft and rocket complete, the final testing of the two (separately and as one unit) will be underway.

No matter what day Perseverance lifts off during its launch period, it will be scheduled to land in Mars’ Jezero Crater exactly on February 18, 2021. This will come after an approximately seven-month journey spanning about 290 million miles (467 million kilometers).

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of ancient microbial life. It will also characterize the planet’s climate and geology, be the first planetary mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet — which will come through the historic Alabama-powered Artemis program.

NASA is inviting interested members of the public to get involved in the upcoming Mars Perseverance launch here.

RELATED: Aderholt sounds alarm over Fiscal Year 2021 NASA budget

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

16 hours ago

Altimmune COVID-19 vaccine candidate tested at UAB shows positive preclinical results

Altimmune, Inc., a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, has announced positive results from the preclinical studies conducted in mice at the University of Alabama at Birmingham of its intranasal COVID-19 vaccine candidate, AdCOVID.

The studies — a collaboration between UAB and the Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Altimmune — showed strong serum neutralizing activity and potent mucosal IgA immunity in the respiratory tract. The induction of IgA antibody in the respiratory tract may be necessary to block both infection and transmission of the virus to prevent further spread of COVID-19. Based on these findings, AdCOVID is expected to be advanced to a Phase 1 safety and immunogenicity study in Q4 of this year. 

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AdCOVID is designed to express the receptor binding domain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein, a key immune target that is essential for the virus to bind to cells and initiate infection. By focusing the immune response to this portion of the viral spike protein, AdCOVID elicited a strong systemic antibody response against the receptor binding domain in mice, achieving serum IgG antibody concentrations greater than 800 micrograms per milliliter just 14 days after administration of a single intranasal dose. In addition, AdCOVID stimulated serum viral neutralization titers of 1:320 by Day 28, two-times higher than the titer recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for investigational convalescent plasma as a treatment for severe COVID-19.

In a separate study with UAB, a single intranasal dose of AdCOVID stimulated a 29-fold induction of mucosal IgA in bronchoalveolar fluid of vaccinated mice. This level of IgA antibody stimulation is well above that associated with protection from disease in clinical studies of other mucosal vaccines. Frances Lund, Ph.D., lead UAB investigator for preclinical testing of the AdCOVID vaccine candidates, said, “The potent stimulation of mucosal IgA immunity in the respiratory tract may be crucial to effectively block infection and transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, given that the nasal cavity is a key point of entry and replication for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

“Stimulation of immunity at this level just 14 days after a single dose is impressive for any vaccine, and is particularly notable for a potential coronavirus vaccine,” said Lund, the Charles H. McCauley Professor and chair of the UAB Department of Microbiology. The Lund lab did the preclinical testing in collaboration with the labs of Troy Randall, Ph.D., professor of medicine in the UAB Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology; Kevin Harrod, Ph.D., professor in the UAB Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine; and three more UAB Department of Microbiology labs led by Rodney King, Ph.D., assistant professor, Todd Green, Ph.D., associate professor, and John Kearney, Ph.D., professor.

In other details from the collaborative preclinical work, Altimmune announced that the antibody responses were accompanied by a rapid recruitment of CD8+ T cells, CD4+ T cells, dendritic cells and natural killer cells in the respiratory tract. Increases in both germinal center and memory B cells, as well as T follicular helper cells, all associated in prior vaccine development research with the generation of long-lived antibody responses, were observed in regional lymph nodes and the spleen

Preclinical data for the antigen-specific T cell response are expected in coming weeks, along with additional immunogenicity readouts.

The Altimmune–UAB collaboration was announced March 30, and Lund made that work the highest priority for her group. “The goal,” she said in March, “is to get the data to Altimmune as rapidly as possible, so they will use the information gained from the preclinical study to design their clinical trial in people.

Intranasal dosing provides AdCOVID with the potential to be administered rapidly and without the need for needles, syringes or trained healthcare personnel. In addition, AdCOVID’s expected room temperature stability profile may allow for broad distribution of the vaccine without the need for expensive cold-chain logistics, such as refrigeration or freezing.

UAB has extensive experience in conducting clinical studies of vaccines and has participated in studies sponsored by the Vaccine Evaluation and Trial Unit, part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

At UAB, Randall holds the William J. Koopman Endowed Professorship in Rheumatology and Immunology, Harrod holds the Benjamin Monroe Carraway, M.D., Endowed Chair in Anesthesiology, and Kearney holds the Endowed Professorship in Immunology.

(Courtesy of UAB)

17 hours ago

Four officials endorse Carl during last days of AL-01 race

In the waning days of the campaign, Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl has added the endorsements of four prominent elected officials in the southwest Alabama congressional district he seeks to represent.

State Reps. Chip Brown (R-Hollinger’s Island) and Shane Stringer (R-Citronelle) threw their support behind Carl last week, followed by Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood and Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack in the last few days.

Carl faces former State Senator Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) at the ballot box on Tuesday to determine who will be the Republican nominee in Alabama’s First Congressional District that is anchored by Mobile and Baldwin Counties.

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Both Brown and Stringer represent districts in Mobile County; Brown in the south of the county and Stringer in the north.

Brown said in a release that Carl was “a solid conservative who will work to defend the Constitution and the 2nd Amendment.”

Stringer said he knows that Carl “is passionate about south Alabama, and that he will do an excellent job representing us and fighting for us in Washington.”

“I am honored to earn the endorsement of so many local, conservative leaders in our district. As a Commissioner, I have worked closely with Chip Brown and Shane Stringer to fight for south Alabama and make it a better place,” said Carl in a release announcing the endorsements.

Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack endorsed Carl on Saturday, saying “I know Jerry personally and have full confidence that he will take our values to Washington and represent us with integrity.”

Mack is a highly sought after endorsement for both statewide and local Republican officials.

Carl said in response to the endorsement, ” “I am humbled by the endorsement of Sheriff Hoss Mack. He is a rock-solid Sheriff and has earned the respect of everyone around him because of his commitment to law and order and our south Alabama values.”

Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood preceded Mack by one day in his endorsement of Carl.

“Jerry is a Christian conservative who will diligently and effectively serve the citizens of Coastal Alabama, including, the City of Daphne,” said Haygood in a statement released by Carl’s campaign.

Daphne has a population of around 27,000 and sits right across the bay from Mobile in Baldwin County.

“Dane has been a friend of mine for many years, and he has proven himself to be an effective leader for the City of Daphne. We have worked together on many projects,” commented Carl about receiving Haygoood’s endorsement.

The Republican primary runoff election is Tuesday, July 14.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

17 hours ago

AHSAA’s Savarese to lead National Federation of State High School Associations

Steve Savarese, executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA), will lead the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) starting next year.

A Monday release announced that Savarese was elected by the NFHS board of directors to the position of president-elect for the term spanning July 2, 2020 — July 2021. Savarese’s one-year term as president will begin in July, 2021.

Savarese became executive director of the AHSAA in July 2007, after serving as a teacher, coach, athletic director and administrator in the states of Kansas and Alabama for more than 40 years. He is the fourth full-time executive director in AHSAA history.

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Now in in his 14th year in that role, Savarese has emphasized health, safety and sportsmanship throughout his tenure. He developed – through the AHSAA Central Board – a revenue-sharing program that has returned more than $17 million to member schools since its implementation in 2010.

After moving to Alabama, Savarese subsequently served as head coach and athletic director of Birmingham Ensley (three years), Alexander City Benjamin Russell (12 years), Daphne (seven years) and McGill-Toolen (three years). He was even selected as an NFL High School Coach of the Year finalist in 1996-97.

In addition to his service on the NFHS board of directors, Savarese has served on numerous NFHS committees and is currently the chair of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

RELATED: Alabama High School Athletic Association members to see ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ streaming opportunities this year

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn