- By Frank Cerabino Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
The choir singer from Jupiter and the Leisureville retiree from Boynton Beach proved to be easy marks for the Russian meddlers.
Two summers ago, it wasn’t hard finding Anne Marie Thomas and her politically active, pro-Donald Trump presence though her “Rainbow Angel” Twitter account. So when she got a direct message on that social media site from a group calling itself “March for Trump” and asking her to play a starring role in a pro-Trump rally in Palm Beach County, she jumped at the chance.
“They wanted to do something special,” Thomas recalled. “They sent me a script.”
As for Harry Miller, 71, he too would also be a key player in the August 20, 2016, rally at CityPlace in West Palm Beach. The avid carpenter and active Trump supporter was asked to turn the back of his pickup truck into a rolling jail cell, which would be used during the rally to confine Thomas decked out in a Hillary Clinton mask and prison jumpsuit.
“It was fun,” he said.
Both Thomas and Miller got paid for their participation, roles they thought were being orchestrated by other like-minded American Trump supporters. But it turned out, they were unknowing participants in wholly manufactured rallies conceived and choreographed by Russian trolls “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton,” according to an indictment filed by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“How would I know the guy was Russian?” Miller said Friday. “He had an accent, but I thought he was one of those Muslims, and I figured, he was a new immigrant and I’d work with him because he wants to be involved.”
Thomas got her rally instructions on the phone, and later in emails from a fraudulent account. She thought she was dealing with UCLA students from Texas.
“They were just trying to organize a grassroots rally for Trump,” Thomas said. “I just thought they were two college guys. They sounded like Americans to me, and they didn’t come to the event. They just wanted me to film it.”
Thomas and Miller were bit players in an elaborate Russian pageant that organized existing Florida Trump supporters to create “flash mob” Trump rallies in about 20 Florida cities at 2 p.m. on the same August day.
Thomas said she was paid “five or six hundred dollars” to act out the script, and show up with a Hillary Clinton mask and costume for herself.
“In the script I was supposed to say, ‘Where are my emails?’ and they gave me some jokes,” she said.
She got her boyfriend, Greg R. North, who looks quite a bit like Bill Clinton without a costume, to play the former president in the skit.
“I was supposed to try to grope all the attractive young ladies I could find,” North said. “And Annie had a black-iron skillet in her purse that she was going to use to hit me with.”
Thomas doesn’t consider herself used by Russian operatives.
“They say I was ‘very unwitting.’ But I was very witting,” she said. “I am a creative person.
“I did things that weren’t in the script. I wore a shirt that had prison number 09112012 on it. That’s the date of Benghazi. That was my idea.”
Miller parked his truck with the makeshift jail cell in the handicapped spot in front of the Cheesecake Factory. Somebody with a bullhorn from Miami drove up and handed anti-Clinton, pro-Trump signs to the people there. Then Thomas and North acted out the script.
“We didn’t have microphones so nobody could hear us,” she said. “Then everybody chanted ‘Lock her up! and we got in the cage.”
There was no local news coverage of the CityPlace rally that day. Thomas said it was too bad, because there were about 300 people who showed up.
But Terry Williams, who operates KVJ Nation, a fan club for a local morning radio show on 97.9-FM was in CityPlace that afternoon getting audio for another event. When he saw the caged Hillary rally in the plaza, he stopped by to record some audio in case the hosts of the radio show wanted to use it on a future program.
“There were about 40 or 50 people at the rally,” Williams said. “And the show didn’t want to use the audio, so I probably erased it.”
Thomas and Miller learned about their roles in the Russian operation when FBI agents visited them at their homes a few weeks ago.
Miller recently bought a home in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he and his pickup truck are now.
“The FBI were here for five or six hours,” Miller said. “They said I’m not in trouble, and I said, ‘How could I be in trouble? The guy told me to build a cage and I did it.’”
“We’re not totally stupid,” he said. “We’re partially stupid.”
Looking back on it, Miller said, he now sees that something was off. For example, when the man on the phone offered to pay for the jail materials, Miller suggested he’d just go to the Home Depot, and then call his contact, who could provide a credit card number to the cashier.
“But he said, ‘No, we don’t do that,’” Miller remembered. “He made me go to one of those check cashing places to get the money. He had real problems paying me.”
Miller said he spent about $800 on making the Hillary cage, and received about $500 from his contact on “Being Patriotic,” a social media site that has since been identified as a Russian operation.
“I didn’t do it for the money,” Miller said. “They were the ones that kept pushing the money on me.”
Thomas said she was offered payment in either a MoneyGram or a Walmart gift card. She took the wired money.
“It’s all social media’s fault for not verifying accounts,” Thomas said.
She said she has since given her Hillary mask to a charity to be used as a Halloween mask. And she’s not a fan of the ongoing investigation of Russian meddling in the election.
“I don’t feel like the Russians used me,” she said. “A week after that event I did another one myself at Harbourside Place in Jupiter.”
Miller also thinks the FBI’s Russia investigation is a waste of time and money.
“They’re trying to connect Trump to Russia,” Miller said. “But I was the guy dealing with the Russians, not Trump.”