Rev. Heber Brown III, a local pastor and community organizer, raised questions about the social media accounts for "Blacktivist," which is now being linked to Russia, in 2016, when the group attempted to organize a march for the one-year anniversary of Freddie Gray's death.
This morning, after news about the account's Russian origins started spreading, Brown reshared a post from April 15, 2016 that included a screenshot from Twitter conversation he had questioning if the march's organizers were actually from Baltimore.
It shows the person running Blacktivist trying to find common ground, only to have Brown respond: "But this is not the way to organize. You should have started with the conversations before you organize an event here. The way you're going about this is deeply offensive to those of us who are from Baltimore and have been organizing here all our lives."
The operator of the Blacktivist account apologizes.
"Post a public apology," Brown recommends. "Cancel the event and take your cues from those working locally."
A report on CNN revealed that Blacktivist was one of 470 Facebook accounts and 200 Twitter accounts linked to Russian groups trying to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.
"The Blacktivist accounts provide further evidence that Russian-linked social media accounts saw racial tensions as something to be exploited in order to achieve the broader Russian goal of dividing Americans and creating chaos in U.S. politics during a campaign in which race repeatedly became an issue," CNN says.
The Twitter account has been turned over to Congress, and the Facebook account will likely be turned over in the coming days. The accounts currently appear to be suspended on both platforms.
Reached by phone this afternoon, Brown says he was suspicious of the group because its page didn't have a profile picture—at the time, they used a picture of Gray's face—and nobody in local activist circles had heard of the organization.
During the Baltimore Uprising and since, there's been an increasing number of outside "people and groups trying to take advantage of our misery and pain," he said.
"You don't have a right to do this," he recalls thinking at the time. "You're using Freddie Gray's face to promote your group and event."
So he confronted them.
"I didn't care for the apology, either," says Brown.
At the time, Brown says he figured the account was run by someone trying to become a social media celebrity, not a foreign agent. Some of the responses do seem like they are in broken English, such as "Actually we are open for your thoughts and offers" and "This must be really wrong."
Brown says he hopes this incident will remind people and groups advocating for social justice to remain vigilant.
"And don't be afraid to challenge people who up who saying they want to help you," he says. "Everybody who says they want to help you doesn't necessarily want to help you."