Breitbart News landed an election scoop that went viral in August 2016: “Exclusive: ‘Black Men for Bernie’ Founder to End Democrat ‘Political Slavery’ of Minority Voters… by Campaigning for Trump.”
If the splashy, counterintuitive story, which circulated on such conservative websites as Truthfeed and Infowars, wasn’t exactly fake news, it was carefully orchestrated.
The story’s writer—an employee of the conservative website run by Steve Bannon before he took over Donald Trump’s campaign—spent weeks courting activist Bruce Carter to join Trump’s cause. He approached Carter under the guise of interviewing him. The writer eventually dropped the pretense altogether, signing Carter up for a 10-week blitz aimed at convincing black voters in key states to support the Republican real estate mogul, or simply sit out the election. Trump’s narrow path to victory tightened further if Hillary Clinton could attract a Barack Obama-level turnout.Bannon’s deployment of the psychological-operations firm Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 campaign drew fresh attention this month, when a former Cambridge employee told a U.S. Senate panel that Bannon tried to use the company to suppress the black vote in key states. Carter’s story shows for the first time how an employee at Bannon’s former news site worked as an off-the-books political operative in the service of a similar goal.
Carter’s recollections and correspondence, which he shared after a falling-out with his fellow Trump supporters, provide a rare look inside the no-holds-barred nature of the Republican’s campaign and how it explored new ways to achieve an age-old political aim: getting the right voters to the polls—and keeping the wrong ones away.
“If you can’t stomach Trump, just don’t vote for the other people and don’t vote at all,” Carter, 47, recalls telling black voters. It’s the message he says the Trump campaign wanted him to deliver. “That’s what they wanted, that’s what they got.”
The work Carter says he did, and the funds he was given to do it, also raise questions as to whether campaign finance laws were broken.
The group Carter founded, Trump for Urban Communities, never disclosed its spending to the Federal Election Commission—a possible violation of election law. In hindsight, Carter says, he believed he was working for the campaign so he wouldn’t have been responsible for reporting the spending.
His descriptions of the operation suggest possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and his nominally independent efforts. If there was coordination, election law dictates that any contributions to groups such as his must fall within individual limits: no more than $2,700 for a candidate. One supporter far exceeded that cap, giving about $100,000 to Carter’s efforts.