Russian agents recruited members of three U.S. political groups to spread propaganda and interfere with elections, federal prosecutors allege.
A new indictment, unsealed Tuesday, accuses four Americans and three Russian nationals of an effort to act as unregistered foreign agents on behalf of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The four Americans are members of the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) and its subsidiary group, the Uhuru Movement. One of those defendants is also the leader of the Black Hammer organization, an alleged cult that is also under fire for accusations of kidnapping, sexual assault, and keeping a teenager’s corpse in its home base.
The defendants are accused of laundering pro-Russian talking points, like support for Russia’s war on Ukraine, through ostensibly left-leaning American organizations. Some of those allegations emerged this summer, following the indictment of one of the Russian defendants, Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov.
The latest indictment further alleges that Ionov and Russian colleagues paid members of the APSP and the Black Hammer party to attend conferences and protests, beginning in 2015. In May of that year, an APSP leader allegedly traveled to Russia and “entered the APSP into a partnership” with the Russian defendants, “knowing that [they] were agents of the Russian government.”
After that all-expenses paid trip, the APSP allegedly acted on Russian agents’ behalf to draft and promote a petition accusing the U.S. of genocide against people of African descent. The Russian agent paid the APSP $500 for the document, according to the indictment.
Larger-ticket donations allegedly followed. Russians are accused of paying APSP members more than $7,000 for a four-city tour to promote the petition.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the APSP allegedly worked with the Russian defendants to promote anti-Ukranian talking points. Ionov spoke at an APSP video conference, where he stated that “anybody who supported Ukraine was also supporting Nazism and white supremacy.”
Ionov is accused of having helped draft the Black Hammer movement and its leader Augustus Romain Jr. (also known as Gazi Kodzo) into the campaign. Romain split from the APSP around November 2018, according to the indictment, and launched Black Hammer. But he allegedly took orders and funding from his Russian connections while leading the Black Hammer group.
In March 2022, Ionov allegedly paid $2,883 to fly Romain and three other Black Hammer members to San Francisco, where they held a protest against Facebook parent company Meta, which was restricting content that called for a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
At one point, Romain appears to have bragged that he was more effective than his former APSP comrades, boasting in messages to Ionov that APSP leader “Omali could never do what I do lmao,” and that “Black Hammer Party is the vanguard.”
During a June 2022 Black Hammer Party demonstration outside the Georgia Capitol building, Romain stated on video that “I’m not ashamed to say that the Black Hammer Party has relationships with the Kremlin.”
But soon after the demonstration, Romain was facing greater worries.
Romain had previously led multiple efforts to establish a communal headquarters for the Black Hammer group. After a failed attempt to build “Black Hammer City” in an undeveloped property in Colorado, Romain established the group in a rental house outside Atlanta.
Members began accusing Romain of increasingly erratic behavior, including forbidding members from leaving the group, and making common cause with far-right organizations like the Proud Boys.
In July 2022, police received a call from the Black Hammer home base, from a person claiming they were being held in the home against their will. When police arrived at the scene, they found an 18-year-old man dead of what they described as “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.”
Romain was subsequently charged with aggravated sodomy, conspiracy to commit a felony, false imprisonment, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and criminal street gang activity. An arrest warrant in the case accuses Romain of ordering followers to hold two victims at gunpoint in a garage so that he could sexually assault at least one of them.
Romain is currently being held without bond in that case.