As Facebook says it was unwittingly used by Russian propagandists seeking to influence the 2016 presidential election, questions have been raised about an entity that used the social media platform to publicize a series of pro-Donald Trump “patriotic flash mob” events in Palm Beach County and across Florida one Saturday during the 2016 campaign.
The Daily Beast this week said that its own“software-assisted review of politically themed social-media profiles” raised suspicions that a now-defunct Facebook community called “Being Patriotic” was linked to Russia.
A Facebook spokesman would not comment on Being Patriotic or whether it was one of the approximately 470 “inauthentic accounts” Facebook shut down this month after determining they probably originated in Russia.
The Being Patriotic group listed “flash mob” events for Jupiter, West Palm Beach and 15 other Florida cities that were scheduled for Aug. 20, 2016.
Veterans of Trump’s 2016 Florida campaign told The Palm Beach Post this week they had never heard of Being Patriotic and didn’t need outside help to generate enthusiasm for the Republican nominee.
“The Trump campaign had more volunteers than any campaign I’ve ever seen or been involved with,” said Susie Wiles, who headed Trump’s Florida campaign during the final months of the general election.
Karen Giorno, who headed the Trump Florida effort until Wiles took over in September 2016, said Trump supporters often acted independently and set up Facebook pages that were not authorized by or coordinated with the Trump campaign.
“I had more people creating organic opportunities to support Trump than any other candidate I’ve ever worked for in five presidential elections,” Giorno said.
“They were not affiliated with us,” Giorno said of Being Patriotic. “There’s no collusion for sure with the campaign. We had no idea.”
The coordinator listed by Being Patriotic for the Jupiter event, Max Christiansen, said he recalls responding to an online request for people to host pro-Trump events. The name Being Patriotic “does ring a bell,” said Christiansen, an attorney who lives in Hobe Sound. He said he never spoke with anyone from the group and saw no indication of any Russian connections.
With only a few days of lead time, Christiansen planned an event at a sandbar in the Intracoastal Waterway where boaters often gather on weekends.
A few boaters displayed Trump flags, Christiansen said, but there were no other signs and no one spoke to the gathering.
“It didn’t get much turnout…It was really a nothing,” he said.
For the West Palm Beach event, which did not list an organizer’s name, a group of Trump supporters walked through CityPlace and engaged in “passive public expressions,” said Carey O’Donnell, president of the O’Donnell Agency, which handles public relations for CityPlace.
Bruce Nathan, a Trump supporter who was running as a no-party candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016, said he read about the CityPlace event on Facebook and went there to hand out his literature in hopes of appealing to Trump backers.
Nathan estimated that about 50 or 60 people showed up for the pro-Trump event, including people in Bill and Hillary Clinton masks calling for the Democratic nominee to be jailed.
“There was nothing linked to Russia there,” said Nathan.
Nathan, who has opened a 2018 Republican campaign for governor, said Florida and the nation should move on from 2016.
“I’m trying to solve the big problems…but we’re talking about Trump and Russia? That’s very silly,” Nathan said.
Being Patriotic also listed three “flash mob” events for major intersections in Broward County. Those sites in Coral Springs, Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood were places where Trump supporters regularly gathered on weekends throughout 2016 to wave signs, said Dolly Rump, who was the Trump campaign’s chairwoman for Broward County.
“I don’t know who these groups are, this Being Patriotic or whatever. It’s the biggest bunch of crap,” Rump said.