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A ‘Russia Hoax’ or Russian Hopes? How Putin’s Troll Farms are Boosting Nigel Farage’s Campaigns – Again

Islamophobia, the Great Replacement Theory, and GB News are key elements in the Russian propaganda networks supporting the Reform Party

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, on June 28. Photo: Associated Press / Alamy
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: PA/Alamy

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Byline Times has long documented foreign interference in British elections, particularly sophisticated Russian propaganda leading up to the full invasion of Ukraine, and – as a precursor – the intervention of inauthentic or automated accounts during the 2016 EU Referendum.

An investigation by the House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee after the referendum showed that the reach of Russian state media, such as RT and Sputnik, exceeded that of Sky and ITV in 2016. Nigel Farage made regular paid appearances on the Russian state channel, and his Leave.EU campaign directly repurposed RT’s Islamophobic propaganda.

Meanwhile, on social media, the Internet Research Agency, based in St Petersburg, was revealed by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s FBI investigation of interference in American elections to have a budget of $30 million and sophisticated techniques in setting up legitimate-looking English language accounts which distributed thousands of pro-Brexit messages in 2016.

Reform UK Leader Nigel Farage speaking at a meeting in Boston on June 27, while on the General Election campaign trail. Photo: PA Images / Alamy
Reform UK Leader Nigel Farage speaking at a meeting in Boston on 27 June, while on the 2024 General Election campaign trail. Photo: PA/Alamy

The oligarch behind the ‘troll farm’ – essentially a group of internet trolls that seeks to interfere in political opinions and decision-making – Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner paramilitary group, was killed in a suspicious air crash after defying Vladimir Putin last year, but his troll farm operations have been widely emulated. 

During this General Election campaign in the UK, ABC monitored “five coordinated Facebook pages” which, though they appear to have little in common, “have been spreading Kremlin talking points, with some posting in support of Nigel Farage’s populist Reform UK party”.

How Farage’s Campaign Colluded with Putin to Weaponise Hate and Islamophobia

Following Channel 4’s revelations that Nigel Farage’s Leave EU campaign faked inflammatory photos of sexual attacks and staged videos about migrants, Byline Times has evidence of more racist propaganda sourced from the Kremlin.

The often dissimilar pages acted as a network to boost each other’s posts on social media, and disinformation expert Salvatore Romana, head of research at AI Forensics, said the network’s activity, albeit operated out of Nigeria to avoid immediate scrutiny, had the hallmarks of “a Russian influence operation”.

Islamophobia, the Great Replacement Theory and GB News

Two of the Facebook accounts identified as part of this pro-Kremlin network were called Common Sense Britain and UK Patriots – the latter doubly ironic given the account’s likely foreign origins – both of which appear to be big supporters of the Reform Party.

As the sample of screengrabs below shows, Common Sense Britain urges support for Farage and Lee Anderson, who has ended up as a Reform candidate having been a Labour councillor and then Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party.

As happened extensively in 2015 and 2016, when the Syrian refugee crisis was at its height – thanks to the intervention of the Russian Army on the side of the Syrian Government – the propaganda combines both an external threat of migrant ‘invaders’ and false inflammatory information about the size of the British Muslim population.

For obvious reasons, the London Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who was successfully re-elected this year, is a target.

But then Common Sense Britain sneaks in its own more obvious mission, beyond mere division.

Patriotic UK also boosts these themes and reiterates them in its own nationalist style, highlighting both Anderson and Farage and the key message about migrants and Muslims.

But it goes much further in spreading the ‘Great Replacement Theory’, which baselessly claims that there is a deliberate policy by ‘elites’ (often described antisemitically as ‘Jewish elites’) to replace domestic ‘white’ populations in Europe with Muslims.

While these accounts can no longer draw on RT or Sputnik for information, as they have been banned in the UK since Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine began in 2022, both these Russian influence accounts draw heavily on GB News and its presenters.

But again, it’s not long before the strategic reason behind supporting this xenophobia becomes apparent.

Why Farage is the Kremlin’s Favourite

Though both Nigel Farage and Leave.EU donor Arron Banks (who made multiple secret visits to the Russian Embassy during the EU Referendum campaign) dismiss all talk of any Russian ties as a “hoax”, there is little doubt who these influence campaigns are backing.

It has taken a battle between Reform and the Conservatives, and an Australian TV report, to bring these issues of outside intervention in domestic elections to the attention of the mainstream press, and finally some promise of action.

Following the ABC report, Deputy Prime Minster Oliver Dowden told The Sunday Times: “These revelations reveal the real risk our democracy… Malign foreign actors, promoting British political parties, policies and views that fit their agenda is… gravely concerning to see during an election campaign.”

Byline Times needs your help to investigate disinformation and electoral exclusion as we head towards the 2024 General Election.

We’re asking for your help to keep track of dodgy campaigning this election, so if you spot anything that bears investigation, please email us at

The Sunday Times also reported that “the Conservative Party Chairman, Richard Holden, wrote to Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, and Sir Tim Barrow, the National Security Advisor, asking for the claims to be investigated”.

But, after six years of warnings, this is too little, too late.

With a likely new government to be elected on 4 July, Byline Times will be pressing for electoral integrity and freedom from interference from hostile foreign powers to be high on its agenda.

The Five Questions Nigel Farage is Never Asked About Brexit, Trump and Russia

As the media provides the Reform Leader with a prominent platform once more during this general election campaign, Peter Jukes considers all the concerning lines of enquiry that journalists never confront him with

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