The Slatest

Republican Congressman Says Russia Helped Fan Flames of Racial Tension in Charlottesville

 White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" exchange insluts with counterprotesters as they attempt to guard the entrance to Emancipation Park during the Unite the Right rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” exchange insluts with counterprotesters as they attempt to guard the entrance to Emancipation Park during the Unite the Right rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A Republican member of Congress who represents Charlottesville claimed Saturday that Russians played a key role in fanning the flames of racial divisions at the deadly Unite the Right rally last year. In an interview with CNN, Rep. Tom Garrett, said FBI officials told him about the role Russia played in the deadly clashes last year.

“I sat in a closed session briefing—probably two months ago—about Charlottesville, with the director of the FBI among others, and asked if Russian intermeddling had do with fomenting the flames of what happened in Charlottesville,” he said. “I was told, ‘Yes, it did.’ I was asked if this was classified, they said, ‘No, it is not’.”

It’s unclear why Garrett waited until the weekend marking the one-year anniversary of the deadly rally to reveal this information. But he used it as an example of how Russia seeks to sow divisions among Americans. “The Russian intermeddling is seeking to pit Americans against Americans, to undermine confidence in Western-style democracies,” Garrett told CNN. “They use events like this divisive racial fight, which really ignores the commonality that we as Americans have with one another regardless of our race or ethnicity or religion.”

BuzzFeed carried out an analysis of almost three million tweets from accounts tied to the “shadowy” Internet Research Agency based in St. Petersburg and found that Russian trolls went into overdrive in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville last year. “They were already busy before white supremacists gathered a year ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, for the Unite the Right rally,” notes BuzzFeed. “But after the event erupted into conflict, culminating in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer on Aug. 12, the trolls fanned the flames, blaming the violence on Antifa and Black Lives Matter.” A few days later, the accounts went silent, presumably because Twitter banned them, although the company won’t confirm that.

Garrett, a first-term congressman, has said he won’t seek reelection amid numerous ethics investigations. Garrett said he wants to focus on getting treatment for alcoholism.