Anonymous, pro-Russian accounts pushed anti-U.S. propaganda and spread misinformation about the recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, by using verified accounts on Twitter, according to an Associated Press analysis, complementing criticism by some Republican lawmakers of the Biden Administration’s response to the incident.
The accounts, identified for the AP by the London-based nonprofit Reset, made claims that authorities were lying about the impact of the train’s chemical spill, provoked concerns about possible health effects and compared the derailment to the U.S. government’s support for Ukraine, according to the Associated Press.
Other posts by the accounts—each of which featured a Twitter Blue verification mark—include a conspiracy that environmental scientists traveling to East Palestine were killed in a plane crash and a claim that the derailment will increase fatal cancers in the area.
One account with 25,000 followers tweeted: “Biden offers food, water, medicine, shelter, payouts of pension and social services to Ukraine! Ohio first! Offer and deliver to Ohio!”
Other accounts offered their support for the Russian government, spread claims that the U.S. was stealing Syrian humanitarian relief supplies (donated by China), and reposted videos and articles from Russian state media.
The Associated Press noted it had attempted to reach out to several of the accounts identified by Reset, though only one responded: “Shut up.”
Yevgeny Priogzhin, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s confidants and the head of the Russian state-backed mercenary company Wagner Group, said last year that Russia is “interfering and we will continue to interfere” with elections in the U.S. An arrest warrant for Prigozhin was issued by the FBI in 2018 after he was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and had used social media accounts to sway public opinion.
The response to the East Palestine derailment by the Biden Administration has spawned criticism by Republicans of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. The House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into Buttigieg’s response last month, as Republicans—including Reps. James Comer (Ky.), Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.)—say Buttigieg was too slow to respond. Buttigieg later said he should have visited the site “sooner” after having defended his decision to wait three weeks to visit as following “the norm.” Former President Donald Trump visited the site and said President Joe Biden should “get back from touring Ukraine” to visit the area—though Biden has not visited in the month since.
Nearly 40 rail cars on a Norfolk Southern train fell off the tracks in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3. The crash caused a fire and spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of hazardous chemicals into the surrounding area. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention arrived late last month to investigate the possible health risks stemming from the derailment, after some locals expressed concerns that the released chemicals could cause cancer or harm their health, though the EPA has stated there was no health risk.
CDC Workers Canvass East Palestine To Investigate Health Risks From Train Derailment (Forbes)
House Republicans Launch Probe Into Buttigieg’s East Palestine Derailment Response (Forbes)