Russian Election Interference and Race-Baiting

Johnson, Darin E.W.

Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election exposed the nation’s vulnerability to targeted campaign disruption by foreign intelligence actors through social media. The Russian cyber disinformation campaign exploited racial divisions in the United States to undermine public confidence in American electoral processes and institutions, revealing how those divisions can be weaponized. The campaign fed on racial divisions arising from institutionalized state practices that have a disparate discriminatory effect on racial minorities. Successful in their online interference in 2016, Russian operatives continued to stoke these divisions in the 2018 midterm election and have begun to do so in the 2020 presidential election campaign. Russia will continue to stir racial division in future elections, and other states may follow suit. To combat this threat, reframing the manner in which national security institutions address matters of race is necessary.

This Article advocates that national security institutions adopt an explicit “racism as national security threat” framework in place of the implicit “minority race as threat” framework that has previously shaped national security institutions’ behavior. It traces how a minority race as threat framework has historically guided national security institutional action in significant ways. Further, it elucidates how a racism as national security threat framework promotes American antidiscrimination law and international human rights law, and how the strategic retrenchment of policies, programs, and practices that engender racial discrimination will reduce American vulnerability to foreign exploitation. Ultimately, this Article seeks to popularize the understanding that racism subverts American national security, and frame the curtailment of institutionalized racism as a national security priority of the United States.

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Columbia Journal of Race and Law

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October 31, 2019