Federal authorities charged four Americans on Tuesday with roles in a malign campaign pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda in Florida and Missouri — expanding a previous case that charged a Russian operative with running illegal influence agents within the United States.
The FBI signaled its interest in the alleged activities in a series of raids last summer, at which point authorities charged a Moscow man, Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, with working for years on behalf of Russian government officials to fund and direct fringe political groups in the United States. Among other things, Ionov allegedly advised the political campaigns of two unidentified candidates for public office in Florida.
Ionov’s influence efforts were allegedly directed and supervised by officers of the FSB, a Russian government intelligence service.
Now, authorities have added charges against four Americans who allegedly did Ionov’s bidding through groups including the African People’s Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement in Florida, Black Hammer in Georgia, and an unidentified political group in California — part of an effort to influence American politics.
Authorities said Ionov sought to use the groups to promote Russia’s occupation of part of Ukraine, and the eventual invasion of that country in 2022.
The charged Americans are African People’s Socialist Party leaders Omali Yeshitela, Penny Joanne Hess, Jesse Nevel and Augustus C. Romain Jr., all of whom reside or used to reside in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“Russia’s foreign intelligence service allegedly weaponized our First Amendment rights — freedoms Russia denies its own citizens — to divide Americans and interfere in elections in the United States,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said in a written statement. The Justice Department, he said, “will not hesitate to expose and prosecute those who sow discord and corrupt U.S. elections in service of hostile foreign interests, regardless of whether the culprits are U.S. citizens or foreign individuals abroad.”
The charges filed in federal court in Tampa accuse Ionov of running the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, which U.S. officials say is funded by the Russian government and directed by FSB officers Aleksey Borisovich Sukhodolov and Yegor Sergeyevich Popov.
The three Russians and four Americans are charged with conspiring to have U.S. citizens act as illegal, unregistered agents of the Russian government.
The Russian embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When the FBI searched the homes and offices of some of the suspects last year, a member of the group said they were being targeted “because of our relationship with forces internationally who support the anti-colonial struggle,” adding that the group was being used “in a propaganda war against Russia.”
Separately Tuesday, the Justice Department filed another Russian influence case in the nation’s capital, accusing Natalia Burlinova, a Russian citizen, of conspiring with the FSB to recruit U.S. academics and researchers to travel to Russia as part of a public diplomacy program called Meeting Russia. The program, authorities say, was funded by the Russian government and designed to promote Russian national interests.