Harris: Russian Bots Started Kaepernick Controversy

‘It was actually not a thing,' until Russian bots amplified message, Harris alleged

July 12, 2019

Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) suggested the controversy over Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem protest would not have occurred without the assistance of Russian bots sharing the story on social media platforms. 

Harris was asked about whether she had concerns that the Russian government would try to interfere in the 2020 election as they did during the 2016 election. 

She pivoted to discussing how Russian social media trolls tried to amplify divisive messages to the American people specifically in regards to racial tensions. 

"Remember the heat that ended up around the bend the knee and Colin Kaepernick?" Harris said during the interview with the hosts of The Breakfast Club. 

"Many smart people have said it was actually not a thing," she continued. "The Russian bots started taking that on." 

During his final year in the National Football League, Kaepernick began protesting the National Anthem and the United States flag by kneeling during the playing of the anthem. 

President Donald Trump strongly critiqued Kaepernick and other players who chose to kneel during the anthem while on the campaign trail in 2016 and 2018. 

"I think it's a terrible thing, and you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him, let him try, it's not gonna happen," Trump said in August of 2016. The President has also praised NFL owners who have sought to stop or prohibit players from protesting the anthem. 

Kaepernick’s protest drew headlines across the sports and political world and the issue would eventually appeared in campaign ads from Republican candidates and committees during the 2018 midterm elections. 

A poll from August 2018 showed a majority of Americans (54 percent) including 57 percent of independent voters felt protests like Kaepernick’s were inappropriate.  

Federal prosecutors have alleged Russian social media bots did try to "inflame passions on a wide variety of topics" including on the Kaepernick protest but it’s not clear to what extent this effort forced the issue to the forefront of a national discussion about the protest. 

Harris, who has been surging in recent Democratic presidential primary polls, also indicated during the interview she believes her campaign is being targeted by Russian internet trolls.