‘Miners for Trump’: The story behind the Russian-organized Philly rally highlighted in Mueller’s report
The Russian-backed "Miners for Trump" rally was just one effort Special Counsel Robert Mueller cited Thursday in his report on Moscow's attempts to influence the 2016 election. But the social media push to draw demonstrators to Philadelphia and other Pennsylvania cities appears to have fallen flat.
The announcements on social media all featured the same grim, coal-dust-covered visage of a miner straight from the shafts. The text beneath called on coal workers to turn out in cities across Pennsylvania to show their support for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Reporters were solicited to cover the events. Grassroots organizers and top Republican leaders — including a former governor — were encouraged to lend their support.
But unbeknownst to any of them, the invitations had come from 4,300 miles away.
Those planned October 2016 Pennsylvania rallies — advertised under the slogan “Miners for Trump” — were just one of the efforts highlighted Thursday in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian attempts to use social media to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.
» READ MORE: Mueller report: What we know now
Mueller’s findings made only scant mention of the Russians’ efforts to organize demonstrations in the Keystone State — a lone paragraph in the 448-page tome in a section outlining the well-funded online operation in St. Petersburg aimed at using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to highlight discord, inflame divisions, and spark real-life protests in American cities.
But a 2018 Inquirer report analyzing archived social media postings from several accounts flagged by the special counsel’s team, revealed an active Russian interest in the state — if not a sterling record of success.
“How many PA workers lost their jobs due to Obama’s destructive policies?” read one Facebook post touting an Oct. 2, 2016, “Miners for Trump” rally in Philadelphia’s “Marcony" Plaza. “Help Mr. Trump fix it!”
» FROM THE ARCHIVES: ‘Paint Philly red’: How Russian trolls sought to influence Pennsylvania’s 2016 vote
Unlike in other states targeted by the Russians, like Florida, there is no evidence that the rallies scheduled in October 2016 for Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Wilkes-Barre, and Erie ever took place.
No one applied to City Hall for a permit on the date the Philadelphia rally was supposed to have taken place. No news reports appear to have been published. And a search of social media from the time uncovered no photos or posts depicting such an event in any of the targeted Pennsylvania cities.
Still, the Russians’ apparent failure wasn’t for lack of trying.
Just hours before the purported rally was to take place in Marconi Plaza, at Broad Street and Oregon Avenue, @March_for_Trump tweeted: “Guys, we’re looking for a coordinator for our event In Philly. If you’d like to help, just DM us! #TrumpPence #MAGA.”
Days earlier, former Gov. Tom Corbett had been asked to spread the word. “Please share,” @March_for_Trump, an account later identified as one controlled by Russians, tweeted on Sept. 26, 2016.
The state Republican Party also got a solicitation. “Please DM us,” @March_for_Trump said in a tweet sent to the official Twitter account of the Pennsylvania GOP. “We’re organizing some rallies in support of Mr. Trump in your state.”
Neither Corbett nor his party appear to have responded to the entreaties.
The account’s attempts to garner attention from the media also appear to have fallen flat.
According to the archived postings, @March_for_Trump contacted nine reporters in the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre media market — all employees of WNEP-TV and WBRE-TV — a day before the planned rallies.
“Our community is holding a ‘Miners for Trump’ rally tomorrow if you’re interested in covering it,” the messages read.
They garnered only one response — from WNEP reporter Clay LePard, who wrote in reply: “Thanks for letting us know!”
Neither Philadelphia GOP Chairman Mike Meehan nor Dave Majernik, vice chairman of Allegheny County’s Republican Committee, were able to recall any such rally in their cities when interviewed in 2018.
“It seems like they just created a presence on the internet without anything actually happening,” Majernik said.
Staff writer Andrew Seidman contributed to this article.