Russia is attempting to tear America apart, and its creativity in trying to do so knows no bounds.

The Senate Select Intelligence Committee held hearings that revealed new information about the ridiculous saga of Maria Butina, a reported Russian agent who fashioned herself into a gun rights activist in America; Butina is now under indictment by the federal government.

Russia has no real gun rights, so Butina’s ruse was apparently a means to get close to American political leaders and curry favor for the Russian government.

Clearly, the scam exemplifies how Russia is willing to blatantly break new ground in sowing discord among its enemies.

So President Donald Trump’s administration deserves credit for recently bringing together five top security directors to comment on America’s efforts to stop the Russian interference campaign.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats acknowledged that Russia has an ongoing campaign to weaken the U.S. And Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said American “democracy itself is in the crosshairs.”

Here’s just one example of Russia’s invasive, unsavory efforts to disrupt civil society in our country:

The Russians have been linked to a disinformation campaign that featured an online troll with the fictitious name of “Jenna Abrams.” This online ghost started off drawing some attention from harmless tweets about celebrities — but little by little the tweets began to drift into more divisive fare: defending slavery and racial segregation, mocking Black Lives Matters and supporting the Confederate flag. And gradually these darker tweets gained extensive exposure, not only on the blogosphere but in mainstream publications like The New York Times.

They stirred up a hornet’s nest across America, which was the point.

Eventually, congressional investigators were able to track down the source of this toxic nonsense: a Russian-financed troll farm called the Internet Research Agency.

What the Russians have been doing is “weaponizing” the First Amendment by poisoning the information universe with false, misleading and divisive information. If there is a crack in the nation, the Russians seek to open it wider to divide the United States.

Phil Howard, the director of the Oxford Internet Institute, told the Senate committee that the Russians are packaging false political content as news and spreading misinformation on social media.

The goal is to polarize voters — or discourage them from voting.

The Russians also are targeting their misinformation to specific groups, like veterans.

John Kelly, CEO of Graphika, a social media intelligence firm, said the first solution is to detect the disinformation campaign and call it out in the early stages. So far, however, that has not worked.

The second phase is to decide what to do about it.

One answer should be obvious: the federal government needs to keep prosecuting the Russians who are seeking to influence the American political system — and online platforms like Facebook and Twitter need to start blocking the Russians trying to set up phony accounts.


A version of this editorial originally appeared in the (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, a sister paper of the Daily News with Gatehouse Media.