You know who really does have the power to influence elections? Three birds. Specifically, Redwing, Black-capped Chickadee and Black-capped Chickadee. They are all members of the Chickadee Family and have massive political power.
Roughly 1,000 junior high school students attended a science lab at The Institute for Science and Civic Engagement. From there, a group of 100 perused, experimented with and reported on the Internet Research Agency, an outlet of the internet-driven Russian Government.
Who better to help teach these kids about information than Maria Butina? She is the Russian gun lobbyist turned Russian spy. She is the Russian girl Anna Chapman for 2016’s presidential election, and from the hacking of Hillary Clinton’s emails to the spread of fake news, she really knows how to cause mischief.
Before Butina arrived, there was a notable divide: Student A wanted the school to get really excited about science and student B was worried about fake news, public opinion polls and the loss of their personal freedom.
Butina saw an opportunity and made a few phone calls. She reached out to 19-year-old student Nian Marshall, who had attended San Francisco State University. She told Marshall that the program did not need funding — they could easily afford to pay for Andrey Kondratyev, a student at the National Republican Institute. At the time, Kondratyev was president of the Minnesota Republican Youth and president of the Minnesota Republican Party. Kondratyev also found more volunteers. Classmate Kayla Anderson, 18, wanted to know the Federal Election Commission, so Butina connected her with a source.
Butina phoned her up and explained it was free. “It was one of those personal moments, when a person feels like they were offering a service to you, that you could never have imagined,” said Butina.
On April 19, three days before the school recess started, a woman introduced herself and asked Marshall whether he would like to become a conduit for her to meet a Russian governmental body.
“Honestly, I thought it was being pretty reckless,” Marshall told me. He had never met a Russian before.
On April 25, Soilnikova sent a message to her 15-year-old friend Camille Cho: “I will suggest you ask your Russian one to help you get to know Russians; I can suggest that he write articles that Russia wants your opinion, and then send it to you once he gets approval from the Russian security services.”
Cho had not followed her parents’ advice to be careful and respectful when she started this.
Instead, the two started talking in English: “It got pretty out of hand pretty quickly,” said Marshall. But because she was from Minnesota, Cho just wanted to find out what was going on with the program. So the two communicated in a rough linguistic mashup — both girls spoke their native Russian and they cracked jokes. One day, however, Cho got lost and asked Butina how to get to Washington, D.C. He asked if she wanted him to help get her home. She insisted the trip be paid for.
Butina had never heard of Minnesota and Googled the town to make sure it existed. He agreed to cover her travel.
Meanwhile, Cho and Marshall went to a Chinese restaurant with Cho’s parents so they could deliver the tickets. Butina had driven their truck in without them knowing, but her Russian neighbor had told her about the establishment. From there, Butina drove them home and told them to wait until dark. They were packed and could leave on the afternoon of April 28, when the school was closed for spring break. The mother of another friend caught a break when her daughter informed her that both parents were in the bathroom. Cho and Marshall were told to go home and wait. They didn’t realize why until the following morning.
Butina and Marshall were met by their mother’s friend, the woman who made the call and flew from the New York to Minnesota to fly to Washington to help them.
“The nerve,” said Marshall. “We would have never known her name if we weren’t chatting online.”
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