BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
On Sept. 20, 2016, an African-American Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year Black man. Officers say Scott brandished a handgun as he got out of a parked vehicle but refused to drop it when ordered.
The fatal shooting sparked two nights of violent demonstrations as thousands of people, predominately Black, took to the streets of the Queen City in protest.
However, according to a young social activist named Conrad James, he was asked to come to Charlotte and hold an angry rally protesting the shooting. The riots and the heated controversy in the police aftermath, it turns out, was tailor made for a Russian backed conspiracy to suppress the Black vote in North Carolina in the 2016 Presidential election.
Thanks to the recently released indictments by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference into the 2016 elections to help Republican candidate Donald Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton, it is now known that Russian operatives, in an effort to sour Black voters on the Clinton campaign, sponsored “Down with Hillary” rallies, and would invite unwitting American activists to take part.
However, while that was true in other parts of the nation, according to Conrad James in an exclusive interview right after the Mueller indictments were revealed, that was not the case in Charlotte and in Greensboro. Instead of “Down with Hillary,” anger at the police, per the Keith Lamont fatal shooting, was the vehicle used to encourage specifically young Black prospective voters to express their general anger and frustration with “the system” and “police brutality,” by not voting at all.
The logical calculation, according to James, who was asked by an allegedly Russian backed group called “BlackMattersUSA” to come to Charlotte and lead an angry rally designed to further stir up community tensions, was that because Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, depended on the Black vote and young people to win the presidency, her electoral effort in North Carolina would almost exclusively suffer.
James, 25, says he was a member of a multiracial demonstration group called “Living Ultra-violet,” best known in July 2016 for taking to the streets in Raleigh and peacefully protesting the fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La. and Philando Castile in Minnesota, as well as the murders of five police officers in Dallas, Texas.
James was interviewed by Raleigh TV station WTVD during that demonstration, where he stated that his group “…rallies around the Black Lives Matters movement to uplift [people of color].” James also noted that the group had no hatred towards law enforcement or White people.
James says a woman saw him on television, and contacted him three days later about coming to Charlotte and speaking at a protest rally there. Because he didn’t know much about “BlackMattersUSA,” he was impressed with their apolitical factual rhetoric and online following. However, they had no framework for the rally.
James countered that he’d come, but only if he could coordinate the rally himself (James saw it as a golden opportunity to promote his own nonprofit group). The woman agreed.
However, when the young Raleigh activist arrived in Charlotte in October 2016, based on who he met (two “Black kids with a White dude behind them…who didn’t say anything”), and what he heard and saw, it was clear that BlackMattersUSA had an agenda far different from his own. James was committed to peace and constructive engagement, but what he was seeing were attempts “…to add fuel to the fire,” designed to increase anti-police tensions, frustrations and distrust, and ultimately cause those attending the rally to socially and civically disengage.
James told ABC News recently that people with “BlackMattersUSA” “…were definitely trying to stir up trouble.”
In Oct. 2017, a Russian investigative journalist named “Andre,” tracking Russian connections, contacted James through Facebook, and informed him of the group’s Russian ties and funding.
“He completely blew my mind,” James recalls.
James was eventually asked to testify before a Congressional committee but declined. If subpoenaed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, James says he would have no choice but to testify but wouldn’t be happy about it. Based on what he saw and heard, there’s little doubt in his mind now that what he witnessed was a Russian attempt during the 2016 campaign at Black voter suppression.
Conrad James says that, given his experience, he looks over his shoulder now, not knowing whether friend or foe is lurking near, and yes, he does believe that the Trump Campaign was well aware that the Russians were doing something to help the businessman get elected.
As for Hillary Clinton, she lost North Carolina – a state that Barack Obama won in 2008 by just 14,000 votes– by 177,000 to Trump.
According to NPR, the Black vote for Clinton was six points fewer for her than Pres. Obama’s Black support in 2012. If it had been the same, she would have won the North Carolina by 191,000 votes and secured North Carolina’s 15 electoral college votes.