Feb 20, 2018

The Curious Case of the Russian Flash Mob at the West Palm Beach Cheesecake Factory

We don’t do breaking news. But when Robert Mueller released his indictment a few days ago, alleging that 13 Russian nationals colluded to disrupt the 2016 elections, we had a lot of questions. Who are these Russian individuals sowing discord? And who are these Americans that were manipulated?? Join us as we follow a trail of likes and tweets that takes us from a Troll Factory to a Cheesecake Factory.

This episode was produced by Simon Adler and Annie McEwen with reporting help from Becca Bressler and Charles Maynes. 

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate

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JA: Jad Abumrad

SA: Simon Adler

AM: Annie McEwen

CM: Charles Maynes

VB:Vitaly Bespalov

AT: Anne Marie Margaret Thomas

HM: Harry Miller

GN: Greg North


JA: Hey this is Jad from Radiolab. So we were not planning on releasing a podcast today, but then, Friday happened.


NEWS CLIP: The federal government tonight outlining an elaborate, expensive, and

extraordinary assault on US democracy.


NEWS CLIP: Thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies accused of a

massive effort.


JA: Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three days, you have probably heard that special counsel, Robert Mueller, guy that Trump keeps accusing of being in a witch hunt, he has handed down some indictments.


NEWS CLIP: The defendants have allegedly conducted what they call ‘information

warfare’ against the United States


NEWS CLIP: They say the Russians were right here in the US too


NEWS CLIP: The indictment says the Russians tried to create chaos, going so

far as to travel to key states


NEWS CLIP: The Russians allegedly sent operatives to America, travelling throughout nine states


JA: You know the picture that you get from the indictment is that there was this sort of like shadowy network of Russian nationals that had infiltrated the country with the idea of sowing chaos in the run up to the 2016 election, and we just sort of wondered, very simply like, who are these Russians and who are these Americans who were manipulated? How did -- how did it work? How do they feel about things? Now? So, uh, what we decided to do for this podcast, just ‘cause we were curious, and just ‘cause, you know, it’s fun for a podcast like ours to do fast turnaround stuff on occasion, we decided to see what we could find out. Producer Simon Adler takes it from here.




SA: Hey Charles, are you there?

CM: Good hey how are you Simon?

SA: I’m doing alright, little sleepy, but other than that I’m good.


SA: So, not too long ago I got in touch with this uh radio producer-reporter based in Moscow by the name of Charles Maynes

CM: Do you want to do video...just say hello uh?

SA: Yeah that’d be great. Uh I’m in uh sort of my pajamas, yeah

CM: That’s fine pajamas *Russian*


SA: It was like, three in the morning New York time. But, but anyways, the reason I got in touch with him was to have him help facilitate and interpret an interview with this guy.


VB: Uh, hi. My name is Vitaly Bespalov. Um I’m from Russia, I’m from St, St.

Petersburg. I’m sorry, I’m uh, really bad speak English.

SA: Oh no don’t worry about it that’s why that’s what we got Charles for.

VB: Yes yes yes thank you Charles translating.

SA: Okay, great uh yeah. So yeah let’s just start with like, where are you from

orginally? I’m just curious like a little bit about who you are.

VB: Speaking in Russian.


SA: Well, so, Vitaly Bespalov, I mean he-he’s a kid from a small town in Siberia


VB: Speaking in Russian


SA: A small town near Kazakhstan. And he said from an early age it was clear that he uh just didn’t really fit in up there.


VB: Speaking Russian


SA: He had blue hair for a time, dressed like a Goth


VB: Speaking Russian


SA: And to be this kind of alternative character in Siberia is not an easy thing. I mean he’d tell these stories about walking down the street


VB: Speaking Russian


CM: These kind of tough guys with short haircuts were calling him faggot


VB: Speaking Russian


CM: And so when gets a chance to get out, he does


SA: He moves to St. Petersberg, considered one of the most liberal cities in Russia, and he moves there uh, not looking for just any job, specifically to be a journalist.


VB: Speaking Russian


SA: Which he really felt was his calling


VB: Speaking Russian


SA: He refers to journalists as like superheros, or Batman


CM: So you know so he heads to St. Petersberg and he thinks he’s all set up. He’s got uh a job with a local website he’s gonna do some editing for them, maybe a little writing. But right away with-within short order I believe the story is their business dried up and so did the newspaper and suddenly Vitaly is out of a job.


VB: Speaking Russian

CM: And so it’s kind of a crisis moment

VB: Speaking Russian


CM: So he starts looking around, and as he describes it he gets up every day, he starts sending out all these resumes


VB: Speaking Russian


CM: You know doing searches, just find anybody who will do anything that will let him use his writing skills, just trying to find something to do with text


SA: Until finally after almost a month of this


CM: He comes across this one ad that’s, it’s not really clear what they’re offering or who’s offering it, but uh it mentions that there’s some copy editing to be done, some writing, and uh the-the pay scale seems a lot higher. It’s--they’re promising double the money that uh most people are offered for working in journalism in Russia. And--and right away he just thought this was just weird, but you know, of course he’s interested. Um how could he not be?


SA: Yeah


CM: And so he--he places a call

SA: Now it’s worth noting everything that is about to happen to Vitaly we--we weren’t able to fact check 100% uh but that being said, it--it does line up squarely with what others have reported. So, anyway, fast forward a couple days. He ends up having an interview and they offer him the job, uh which he accepts. All the while, still not really knowing uh what the heck it is that he will be doing


CM: Exactly. It’s just not really clear what--what it is.


SA: Okay so tell me about that first day, like--

VB: Speaking Russian


CM: He goes in, and he describes initially just going in to the, entering into the foyer of the building to the entrance


VB: Speaking Russian


SA: The building itself is cement, uh four stories tall and the security is, is oddly strict. Like, when he went up to them they required him to hand over a bunch of documents like his passport uh just to get in.


CM: That’s his first impression


VB: Speaking Russian


SA: Eventually his boss shows up, uh, this woman uh named Anna. She walks him down the halls and he says the whole place had like the feel of a hospital


VB: Speaking Russian


CM: Long corridors with little rooms to the left and right, people behind, uh, keyboards working on computers


SA: And it’s almost completely silent. Except for the tapping of fingers on keys. Anyway eventually they-they duck into a room. Ana shows him his desk. And this is finally when he gets a sense of what exactly is going on. Ana sits him down and says


CM: We’re doing news about Ukraine, um, we just want you to write articles. It was twenty articles a day he had to do, sort of massage the text for.


SA: But the thing is, these didn’t have to be brand new articles. Um, instead he was told


CM: Essentially take this article that’s been already written, somebody else’s article, and uh add to it and then change the contents so that it’s seventy percent original.

SA: So um what’s important to know here, is uh, this was 2014 and uh




SA: Ukraine was in the early days of war


NEWS CLIP: The apocalyptic scene in central Kiev tonight

NEWS CLIP: This morning Kiev again awoke to the sound of gunfire


SA: A civil war that Russia wanted to influence the outcome of. And to do so they started experimenting with this new form of propaganda


CM: That’s right. What you saw was this you know campaign that was going on on two fronts. On the one hand you had state media, you know, this pro-government media here


SA: Being broadcast from Russia uh into Ukraine uh spinning the narrative for those watching it


CM: But then you have a certain amount of the population that perhaps doesn’t watch state media and this is where you get into this effort to kind of plug the holes in this story uh online


SA: And this


VB: Speaking Russian


SA: Is what Vitaly had been hired to do


CM: To, you know, to seal that story


VB: Speaking Russian


CM: You know, they told him to take an article that was about Ukraine


SA: For example, uh, according to Vitaly there was an incident in which a group of pro-Russian rebels had taken over a school in Ukraine. Essentially holding the kids hostage. And when the pro-Ukrainian soldiers--when they, when they stormed the school, children died


VB: Speaking Russian


SA: Now this actually happened and was covered by Ukrainian media


CM: But Ana, as I recall her name is


SA: Ana, Vitaly’s boss


CM: Says like look your goal is to


SA: Take this real news story and rewrite it, leaving out the fact that there were ever any pro-Russian troops there, creating the impression that the pro-Ukrainian troops had--had stormed the school and massacred these children for no reason at all


VB: Speaking Russian


SA: And so, once he had re-written this article, and made these small changes


VB: Speaking Russian


CM: He would create a website with a dot UA address, this is a Ukraine address


SA: A site that looked like a local online Ukrainian newspaper


CM: Ostensibly written by Ukrainians, for a Ukrainian audience


SA: So he’s being asked to write about Ukraine as if he was writing from Ukraine


CM: Yes, exactly. Exactly


VB: Speaking Russian


CM: And Vitaly, the way he describes it, while he’s working on his newspapers involving events in Ukraine, pretending to be a Ukrainian journalist, he’s citing blogs that are written ostensibly by Ukrainians and he’s pretty sure that blogger’s upstairs in the next level up inside this building in St Petersburg. So it’s a feedback loop.


SA: Mhm


VB: Speaking Russian

SA: Well and uh so I’m presuming on day one, you’ve shown up there with these

high-minded journalistic ideals, and you have to realize that you’ve gotten yourself into

something that uh in no way lives up to those ideals. How on earth did that feel?

CM: Speaking Russian

VB: Speaking Russian


SA: This is where he gets to this really important moment where he’s trying to decide what to do. And he says to himself he had kind of two thoughts, which is I--A you get out of there and never come back, or B you do go back and you find out more--what, what’s going on there? And he gets this idea that you know what, maybe I’ve got a scoop here. Maybe I can do an investigation


CM: He sort of assigned himself to be kind of an undercover agent


SA: Exactly




SA: Okay, uh just to, just to zoom out here for a second, the job that Vitaly had taken was with an organization known as


NEWS CLIP: The Internet Research Agency

NEWS CLIP: Something called the Internet Research Agency

NEWS CLIP: The internet research agency


SA: The Internet Research Agency


NEWS CLIP: The shadowy Russian organization


SA: Which we’ve heard so much about in these past seventy-two hours. It’s a private company established in 2013 by a Putin ally named


NEWS CLIP: Yevgeny Prigozhin


SA: Yevgeny Prigozhin


NEWS CLIP: A Russian businessman with close ties to Vladimir Putin


SA: Who, along with being the bearer of a rather strange nickname

NEWS CLIP: Dubbed chef to president Vladimir Putin


SA: Is also one the Russian nationals mentioned in the Mueller indictment. Now in the early days when Vitaly was working there, uh, it was his impression that there were roughly a couple hundred people working at the internet research agency. But at its peak, the organization grew to uh to employ as many as a thousand people

NEWS CLIP: With an annual budget of millions of dollars, headed by a management group, and arranged into departments, including graphics, search engine optimization, information technology, and finance departments


SA: Now as Vitaly told us it was hard to know exactly what happened in this place because everyone was so silent, but over his time there he--he was able to make sense of some of it. The first floor was filled with people just like Vitaly, writing fake articles for fake sites. Second floor was known as the social media department, and these folks were responsible for pumping out memes, like the one where Hillary Clinton is shaking hands with the devil. The third floor was filled with people writing fake blogs, the same blogs that Vitaly would pull quotes from. And on the fourth floor you’d find the YouTube and Facebook commenting trolls, along with the cafeteria.


VB: Speaking Russian


CM: This was a twenty-four-seven operation. They never, they never stopped making news they never stopped generating content.


SA: Well and who were your coworkers?

VB: Speaking Russian


CM: There were quite a few people from other towns of Russia that moved to St Petersburg. There were some people he said were frankly, you know, activists in the opposition. But there were a lot of people that, you know, they check in they check out for work they just punch the clock and uh for them it was just like mopping a floor or you know taking out the trash


SA: Did you feel some guilt, or misgivings about what you were doing?

VB: Speaking Russian


CM: Yeah, he--he describes being stressed out during this whole period, ‘cause while he was... on the one hand I suppose he’s gathering good material for what will hopefully be some, you know, grand expose that he will write, on the other hand he just felt like he was just living this lie


SA: Eventually, after three and a half months, Vitaly did quit. And as he tells it, he’d had enough and just didn’t feel like he could learn anything else. And so with his months of research he went on to write an article in Russia that really didn’t make a splash at all. In part because the internet research agency was already a pretty well-known organization in Russia at that time. Essentially, other journalists had just beaten him to the punch. But then




SA: In the wake of the 2016 election, with accusations of Russian meddling beginning to swirl

NEWS CLIP: Tonight, a look inside Russia’s disinformation campaign, with twenty-six year old Vitaly Bespalov


SA: The American media took notice, and Vitaly got a call from NBC

NEWS CLIP:   Is this it? This is the building?

Yes yes yes, yes of course

The troll factory


SA: With his eyebrow pierced and a pink sweater on, uh, Vitaly answered questions for this brief evening news segment

NEWS CLIP: Did you create fake accounts?

VB: Speaking Russian

Yes, he says

So you believe this operation was backed by the Kremlin

VB: Speaking Russian

Absolutely, he says. Bespalov also believes it’s still up and running. The

Kremlin denies it, suggesting reports the factory even existed might be fake.

VB: Speaking Russian


SA: And from that moment on he really became to go-to guy if you wanted to talk to somebody who had been inside. Journalists from all over the world started reaching out to him


VB: Speaking Russian


SA: Asking for interviews or comments. And, keep in mind, these were all international journalists, none of them Russian, until one day not long after all this


CM: Yeah, yeah so he gets a call from this national television channel saying basically in an hour we’re gonna run a story about you and we really want you to come on our talk show


VB: Speaking Russian


CM: And he said, look I’m busy I’m working I can’t do it, so they run with this piece

NEWS CLIP: Russian news broadcast


SA: In this TV studio on this set that looked like a cross between sort of the family feud and an evening news broadcast um

NEWS CLIP: Russian news broadcast

SA: The hosts just start picking Vitaly apart and flashing images of him on this giant screen behind them

NEWS CLIP: Russian news broadcast


CM: And what they’ve got is they kind of mine his online persona, they’ve got you know him hanging out in a, in a club making funny faces with the camera

NEWS CLIP: Russian news broadcast


CM: They start kind of digging through his political views the fact that he’s a supporter of the liberal opposition

NEWS CLIP: Russian news broadcast


CM: You know and they just make him out to be this kind of freak and they’re all laughing at him and, you know, it’s--it’s just an absolute public flogging, a total public humiliation


SA: Wow, um, well he got caught in his own little misinformation uh loop there at the very end


CM: Yeah, yeah that’s right



VB: Speaking Russian


CM: You know what, what’s interesting is that Vitaly, you know the way he describes is that you know in some ways when he was there, it was, they were just starting to figure out the mechanisms, it was getting sophisticated and as he’s leaving, his time is ending at the Internet Research Agency, he says that there was just about this time that he started seeing these posts for vacancies um in other languages


SA: Including English


VB: Speaking Russian


CM: So in a way, for him, it’s this moment he sees the troll farm, the troll factory, suddenly turning outward


SA: Well, now, three years later, uh we know a bit more about this English initiative


NEWS CLIP: In 2014, the company established a translator project focused in the

United States. In July of 2016 more than eighty employees were assigned to the

translator project


SA: And many of those employees apparently took some of the moves from their Ukraine infowar playbook and used them, pointed them, at the US

NEWS CLIP: The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in

political activities, promote political campaigns and stage political rallies. The

defendants and their co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists.


SA: In fact I spoke to one reporter who told me about this incident in Houston, uh when there were two protests happening at the same time. On one side of the street a white nationalist protest, and on the other, a group of Americans for Muslims. Turns out both protests were covertly organized by Russians connected to the Internet Research Agency.


NEWS CLIP: According to the indictment, the americans did not know that they were

communicating with Russians


SA: And it was this phrase, out of all of the ludicrous revelations of the indictment, that really got us thinking. Who were these unknowing Americans? How did they end up at these fake protests, and how do they think about it now? So producer Annie McEwen and I uh we started calling around, and we found three people at the center of one of the more famous fake protests uh mentioned in the indictment, the so-called Florida flash mob


JA: We’ll hear all about that after the break. This is Radiolab, we’ll continue in a moment.

Florida Hacking v3.mp3

TC 20:26 on podcast


SA: Simon Adler

AM: Annie McEwen

JA: Jad Abumrad

AT: Annie Thomas

GN: Greg North

HM: Harry Miller

RR: Rod Rosenstein


SA: Alright you can hear me?

AT: Yes, I can hear you fine

AM:: First up a woman named

AT: Anne-Marie Margaret Thomas

AM: Who lives in Florida

WT: I live in Jupiter, Florida currently

AM: Ann is in her 50;s, she works as a real estate agent.

AT: Oh Shannon Do, I long to see you. I’m here, longing for.

AM: A singer

SA: Wow, Beautiful

AM: She’s also a huge Trump fan, very active on Twitter. And in early August 2016 she was contacted first on Twitter, then on phone, by two guys

AT: 0:38: Joshua and Matt. UCLA Students. They said they were working on…they said they were working with Hollywood producers.

AM: Matt and Josh. These are two people from Hollywood?

AT: Probably the film school, I don’t know, they didn’t give me that much information

AM: But on the phone, Anne though Joshua’s voice sounded familiar.

AT: And I better not, I shouldn’t say who I think it is

SA: Who did you think it is , Come on. I’m really curious *laughter

AT: Who do I think it is? John Christopher.

AM: Who’s that—yeah who’s John Christopher?

AT:10 His real… His stage name is Yanni

*epic sounding music*

AT: Yanni the musician

*epic music*

JA: Wait this is Yanni, the like orchestra new age piano god guy?

AM: Yeah, yeah, but I think she’s just guessing. There’s no actual evidence linking Yanni to any of this.

SA: What was the organization that they were working with?

1:30 AT: Uhh they, this was the March for the Trump group and they were a grassroots organization started in the United States, Texas and California.

SA:  What did they ask you? Or what did they say when they contacted you?

AT:: Well they were -- they said they were wanting to do rallies and the Hollywood people wanted to hire. they actually wanted to hire three actors—one to play Trump, one to play Bill Clinton, and one to play Hillary

SA:: Interesting

JA: 1:56: They basically told her that they wanted to put on some performance art theater protest kind of thing. Around the same time that she was talking to this guys, uhh

AM: Now at the same time she was talking to these guys, on the other side of Palm Beach County

2:03 HM: I’m Harry Miller. I’m retired, I’m active on Twitter, to a point

JA: Another Trump fan, a guy by the name of Harry Miller who had a pretty big following

HM: 60-70 thousand, somewhere in there

JA: He also got contacted on Twitter, and over the phone

HM: There was a conversation about the desire to put on a… something like a flash mob or something in supporting Donald Trump

2:24 SA: Sorry, who was it that contacted you?

HM: Uhh I believe his name was Matt

JA: And what did Matt say in his original sort of communication?

HM: This is extremely paraphrased because I don’t have a distinct memory of all of it. And initially I was very suspect of him. And the reason I was suspect is because he had a uh strong accent and at the time there was a lot of commotion about Muslims. And I thought he was a Muslim of some kind trying to set something up

2:58 AM: What did his voice sound like?

HM: *sigh* It wasn’t like you, or you know like an American, wasn’t articulate. It was broken.

SA: And, and so he—he said he wanted a flash mob and what did he—what did he say he wanted you to do?

3:15 HM: he was asking me about making a trailer with a jail type of thing on it.

AM: Essentially the guy with the accent told him ‘I want you to stage an event where you have a cage. you’re gonna need to build this cage but, you’re gonna have this cage and at the event and there will be a Hillary Clinton impersonator and Bill Clinton impersonator and I want you to put them in the cage, like you’re putting them in jail. And you should do this outside so lots of people can see you so people can chant “lock her up” and you should take a whole bunch of pictures and video and you should send it to us.’

3:41 HM: And I did eventually say yes because he had an elaborate website and he told me in was part of a big group of people and I went there–

JA: Do you remember the name of the website?

HM: Being Patriotic. It’s dismantled according to the FBI now. In fact I even tried to pull it up and I can’t get it either. What was odd was that they insisted on paying me.

4:02 SA: How did they end up paying for it?

HM: They sent me, [sigh] to a check cashing place

AM: And how much money was it?

HM: I found an estimate – and I had written an estimate around five hundred and five dollars for it. But it did come from out of the country, I do recall that

4:20 SA: Can you describe what this, uh, once the construction was complete, what your truck looked like?

HM: Yeah I have an S350 Ford pickup truck

SA: Big truck

HM: Yeah and uh I built a chain-link fence, three sides and then one side with a gate. and on the four corners I had the American flag, of course. And there was a lot of talk about who was going to go in the cage

4:50 : AM: Uh, hu

AT: And he, he said oh we’ll hire some actors.

AT: No one would play Trump. No one would play him.

JA: Anne says, quote, the two UCLA guys said that she play Hillary and she agreed

5:08 AT: And I made the costume, I made the costume out of a nurse’s outfit and on the back it said “inmate.” (laugh) So I went to the Hollywood mask store and bought a full-head mask of Hillary

SA: And so what were like you’re told to, like what were you told? Show up at this place at this time, at this date, and you just did it?

5:23 HM: I don’t know if you know Palm Beach, but it’s City Place in front of Cheesecake Factory where this happened.

JA: Harry was told to show up August 20th, 1 PM, outside the Cheesecake Factory. That’s where this is gonna go down

5:34 HM: That was another thing I kept asking, are you gonna be there? Who’s gonna run this thing? Where do I go? Oh just go to City Place you’ll know

5:45 JA: So he shows up in front of the Cheesecake Factory with his truck, with the big cage he’d built on that back and sure enough there were people there

SOT: chanting, “Lock her up”

JA: Including Anne, dressed up as Hillary Clinton

5:59 AT: We were given a script

SA: What were your lines, do you remember?

AT: I was supposed to… well let me see. I was supposed to talk about my computer tablet and my emails. And then I was supposed to tell some jokes.

6:19 JA: She was there with her really good friend Greg who she had convinced to be the Bill Clinton impersonator

GN: Um, I uh sort of needed the money at the time, so

SA: What did you do Greg, to prepare to play the part of bill Clinton?

GN: I uh I had to shave.

AM: You had to shave?

6:35 sSA: Do you normally have like a mustache or something?

GN: I had a shaved once, back in the 70s, and I shaved once when Jerry Garcia died and then I shaved when I had to play Bill Clinton

SA: Wait, wait, you’ve shaved like three times in your life?

GN: Uh that’s about it

6:52 SA: how did it feel to be in this cage along with Ann and be this sort of strange actor in this moving play?

GN: Uh well first off, it was hot. And I was in a dark blue suit, and it was August, and it’s Florida so it’s like 94 degrees and all I could think of was I wanted a beer.

7:20 AM: That makes sense

GN: And I just wanted it to be over.

AM: So you didn’t have very much fun or—

GN: No it wasn’t a whole lot of fun. It was just work

AM: Right. Was Annie having fun?

GN: Yeah, I guess she was

AT: Bill was supposed to find a lady, that would be like standing around, like a news lady, and try to flirt with her.

SOT: Hey Bill, don’t look now but I think I see Monica!

7:42 AT: And they put us in jail

SOT: She was in the State Department

AM: And they sat in the cage for awhile

AM: What you see in the Facebook live video is a few dozen people in the parking lot outside the Cheesecake Factory, just standing around the cage with Annie inside of it, who was pretending to be sad about being locked up

7:59 GN: She was pretty good. She could have been an actress. You know, she looked exasperated and you know all that. We spent the day doing that. Took a lot of pictures, had a good time

8:JA: Pictures of course ended up on social media, and, according to Harry

HM: That thing on Twitter got over 500,000 hits over 24 hours you know

SA: You’re aware that much of the mainstream media at the moment is reporting that this was a Russian… like how does this make you feel that there is now this possibility that you were

8:30 AT: Oh yeah, the FBI came here to talk to me about it, okay

SA: When did you speak with the FBI?

AT: Oh they came to my house

SA: Oh how long ago?

AT: Last week

SA: What did they ask you?

AT: Well, they discussed with me pretty much what you were discussing with me but not in as much depth as you did. The young guy was kind of unexperienced. He was cuter than Christian Bale too!

8:56 AM: Cuter than Christian Bale!

AT: He was a young guy

AM: We reached out to the FBI. They responded with no comment.

SA: Are you concerned that you may be part… like that you may have been used as a puppet by people in St Petersburg?

AT: No, I wasn’t used as a puppet

SA: But would you have done it if they had reached out to you in the first place?

AT: Well, I wanted to help Trump

SA: But, this is a situation where our own federal government is telling you that this is essentially become an inter-state conflict where people in Russia intentionally manipulated people. Do you find that troubling?

9:28 AT: Well, we’re not all that stupid. Harry Miller and me, and his wife, a veteran. No we’re not that stupid. You know, this whole thing is being investigated and I’m like known as the unwitting real American.

AM: So, she’s referring to a word that [Deputy] Attorney General Rod Rosenstein used in the press conference when he announced these indictments. He said that these Russians:

SOT: RR: They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans.

AT: Unwitting? I’m the one whose idea it was to put the date of Benghazi on the prison uniform. I’m not unwitting. And I’m not a Russian. I’m an American. And I decided that I didn’t want to vote for Hillary.

SA: Well yeah I guess I’m not saying you’re stupid at all I guess what’s interesting here is that I don’t think you or Greg North or Harry Miller… I think that you all had really good intentions, I think that you believed in this man and you wanted to go out and support him. I think what gets complicated here now is that we find out you supported this man, and maybe at the end of the day you helped him win, that there was some nefarious work going on behind the scenes that lead you to do this. And I have complicated feelings about that. I’m just trying to figure out whether you do or don’t.

10:10 AT: I don’t think it’s true

SA: I’ve got an article up here in front of me, and in the indictment they refer to Matt Skilber, who I think is the Hollywood man that I think you talked to, they refer to him as uh

AT: No, he was from Texas and he went to UCLA, he was—

10:27 SA: Uh okay sorry

AT: He was involved at some point and then he said he was going home

SA: Yeah I’m looking at a document right here that says Matt Skeeber is an invented person

AT: I, well maybe that’s an invented name, but I, he was a young guy he sounded like what he said he was. maybe he did give me a bogus name.

10:47 SA: But you don’t believe he was working for Russia?

AT: Well I don’t know because if he lied about his name, who knows. that’s what he told me. He said his name was Matt and he was a UCLA student and the email that I had was this Josh, um, Josh Milton

11:06 SA: I’ll let you know that, um, Josh Milton they’re saying is also a made-up person

AT: No, but I might be wrong. but I’m not always, I’m not usually wrong.

HM: I think it’s all hilarious, I really do, because it’s obvious what happened from what I gather from this is I was the one dealing with the Russians, not Trump. How about that one

11:33 AM: what do you think about that, how does that make you feel?

HM: I think it’s silly, you know because I I don’t think I’m stupid but I don’t see a real motive here or how this could change any votes they’re claiming it disrupted the election…Where does this interfere with our elections? I don’t know. I don’t know how that could be, I really. Then again, had they not contacted me, I never in my life would have been up on that corner with a cage saying “Lock her up”

12:09 AM: And what Harry says he understands is what the invisible men on the other end of the phone seem to want is to create a visual stunt that they could then take on a tour

HM: They wanted me to go to New York

AM: Oh wow they wanted you to bring the cage to New York

HM: I told them I would too, I was not adverse that.

12:23 AM: And the whole thing to him was…It just didn’t matter if they were Russians or not. But Anne’s friend Greg, the guy who played Bill Clinton, he thinks about the whole thing very differently

12:25 GN: I, well,  had I known that I was working for the Russians, I would have asked for a lot more money. But I have never felt good about the thing because I might have had a little bit of influence on Donald Trump being elected and I think that was a mistake for America. Annie doesn’t feel that way. but I do

13:09 SA: So is the feeling almost a sort of guilt?

GN: I’m, I’m not… I don’t feel guilty. but I find it a little irritating. nobody likes to be used.

13:20 AM: Irritating to me feels like a bit of a mild word for how I might feel

GN: Well… I don’t know… I’m thinking this might be played on the radio so I can’t you the words that I’d like to use um, sigh, ehh. I’m pissed as shit.

13:47 SA: Well and it sounds like you and Anne have very different interpretations of whether Russia was involved or not… does that get in between your relationship?

GN: Well, let’s see. Do I love Annie? Yes I do, very very much. Do we see eye to eye on everything? No we don’t

14:05 SA: We all do crazy things  for love. Even dress up like Bill Clinton, shave our beards, and go in a prison cage.

GN: Well I’ve done crazier things than that, but I feel…duped as an American. Not by the Russians but by my fellow Americans. The Russians can’t come here and vote. We voted the way we wanted to vote. and I don’t know if I’m making any sense or not.

14:34 SA: Yeah it sounds a little bit like you’re saying that uh what’s frustrating is the fact that uh it wasn’t actually Russia that started the fire, they were just blowing on it and making it a little worse. but the truly disheartening fact is that the fire was ignited here, without Russia

14:53 GN: Yeah, yeah that’s exactly what I’m trying to say. I mean… sigh… I can’t, I can’t, I can’t talk about this anymore. Call back sometime


15:24 GN: Just call back sometime I’ve got something to say about everything. I’m an old man

AM: Okay good, well we’ll make use of that

SA: Alright Greg.

GN: Alright

SA: Thank you very much.