The proud Texan who never was
A simple tweet, sent when a nation is in shock, is an effective way of provoking outrage. That’s what @SouthLoneStar discovered after rebuking British Muslims in the wake of the Westminster terrorist attack in March.
After the attack, the tweeter shared a photograph of a young Muslim woman walking along the bridge using her phone, and wrongly accused her of ignoring the injured. It was swiftly picked up in the media – and the depiction of the incident became a minor cause célèbre.
SouthLoneStar appeared to be a fairly conventional member of the American “alt-right” taking a sudden interest in London. For days after, the tweeter was gleefully sharing press clippings. “Wow … I’m on the Daily Mail front page! Thank you British libs! You’re making me famous,” he said, referring to an article that appeared on MailOnline and which still bore the tweet at the time of writing. A day later: “I’m on The Sun! Thank you again, British libs! Now I’m even more famous!”
But there was a hidden – and disturbing – dimension to the incident: the tweeter was part of a Russian disinformation campaign. Until his Twitter account was suspended this summer for its Russian links, @SouthLoneStar sought a different identity. With a bio that proclaimed him a “proud TEXAN and AMERICAN patriot”, hashtags showing his support for gun rights and opposition to abortion, and an avatar of a young man in a cowboy hat, he might have been any one of millions of Donald Trump-supporting Americans.
He was, naturally, a vociferous opponent of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, attacking them for “creating Isis under Obama’s rule”. “I don’t think it is possible to beat Isis while its cofounder Hussein Obama is living in the White House,” he tweeted on Boxing Day, before celebrating on New Year’s Day that the “traitor-in-chief leaves the White House in 18 days”.
Eclipsing his interest in US politics, however, was LoneStar’s obsession with Islam. World news was filtered through that lens: terror attacks in Europe were a regular focus, as were links to stories on far-right news websites about “jihadi training camps” in UK prisons, images of Muslims burning American flags outside the US embassy, or a picture of men chanting “Allahu Akbar” while receiving sentences for child abuse.
Yet spread throughout his 4,000-odd tweets, delivered by the end of his two years on the site to 50,000 followers, was little personal detail. Twitter has concluded he did not exist. The site suspended the account and decided SouthLoneStar was the creation of the Internet Research Agency, a Russian “troll army” based in St Petersburg.
Although Twitter discovered and closed @SouthLoneStar in the summer, its Russian affiliation was only made public this month, when the company handed Congress a list of 2,700 accounts involved in US political discussion and suspected of being run by the Russian group.