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The Curious Case of the Russian Flash Mob at the West Palm Beach Cheesecake Factory

Tuesday, February 20, 2018 - 01:53 AM


We don’t do breaking news. But when Robert Mueller released his indictment a few days ago, alleging that 13 Russian nationals colluded to disrupt the 2016 elections, we had a lot of questions. Who are these Russian individuals sowing discord? And who are these Americans that were manipulated?? Join us as we follow a trail of likes and tweets that takes us from a Troll Factory to a Cheesecake Factory.

This episode was produced by Simon Adler and Annie McEwen with reporting help from Becca Bressler and Charles Maynes. 

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Produced by:

Simon Adler and Annie McEwen


Charles Maynes


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Comments [49]


I can’t put my finger on it but as of a little while back, possibly as far back as when the power shifted hands from the left to the right but pardon me I cannot fully “fact check” it I’m just going based on listeners’ comments and past show content, what used to be the most interesting all-around science podcast started to sound like a “we’re just curious ‘s all” soft-propaganda media outlet. Coming from a communist country and being interested in the mechanics of such a system it smells a little like new oil that’s been added to a dormant machine and the gears have been cranked. Again I’m probably very wrong and it may just be that science news, new theories, mysterious phenomenon simply dried up and Radiolab has to talk about something so might as well be un-fact checked, “mental-institution-type dark long corridors with tiny rooms on either side” stories from blue haired Russians - “not that there is anything wrong with that”.

Please return to what you do best. And leave manure to the politicians. I’m a doner.

Mar. 16 2018 01:41 PM
sarah latimer from Boston, MA

It is always chilling to me to hear how we humans do back-flips in order to avoid taking responsibility for our actions. The same diffusion of responsibility is at work in most great acts of evil. The failure of most of those interviewed to gain any wisdom, or any insight into their manipulation, or to reflect on any way to prevent such manipulation in the future is stunning.

Mar. 14 2018 11:51 AM
Robert from New York City

This was an interesting episode! Do an episode on the persecution of whites in South Africa next.

Mar. 12 2018 02:45 PM
Marena Melnyk from Pennsylvania

Dear Radiolab: I like your show. But you really are out of your depth. Calling the war in Ukraine a "civil war" is a value judgment and an editorial decision which is contrary to the facts on the ground. It also follows the Kremlin playbook 100% -- because of course Russia has nothing to do with it, just like it had nothing to do with election interference in the US.

Was the annexation of Crimea a "civil war"? And what exactly makes a conflict "civil" rather than international? Do Radiolabbers even know? Did you do even minimal research? International tribunals have already termed it an international conflict. The fact that locals are participating in it makes them proxies and collaborators. It doesn't make the conflict a civil war. If you don't do politics, guys, either do your homework or stay out of it.

Mar. 12 2018 10:05 AM
Aj from Louisiana

Thank you for NOT making the trump supporters sound foolish or ignorant. I found your reporting on this episode perhaps exceeding your always high standards

Mar. 12 2018 01:20 AM
objdb8tr from Memphis, TN

You gotta be kidding me! As one of the last bastions of objective journalism you have indeed fell victim to the echo chamber! I am sorely disappointed, and from the looks of this comment board, many others are as well.

Mar. 09 2018 12:36 PM
Tonya from CA

Funny how the episode about Russia basically Catfishing Americans has the most comments about radiolab jumping on bandwagons.

If you are reading these comments wondering what wrong with people?
Wonder who’s commenting... the internet is Faceless.

Can we go back to not allowing comments cause Im frankly sick of reading propaganda disguised as everyday people online.

Mar. 06 2018 03:45 PM
Hugh Person

They're downright stupid. These people are a disgrace. Russians have a common assumption that Americans are generally dumb. Here's a perfect illustration of that. Good luck to all of us.

Mar. 05 2018 12:28 PM
Chris from Seattle

I've been listening to Radiolab since it started and have loved every episod but this one was so disappointing. I lost a lot of trust with them.

They have jumped onto the bandwagon with the rest of the media, fallen for this convient distraction, this absurd idea that Russia had something to do with the outcome of our election. Shame on you for continuing this false narrative. You are misleading your listeners by avoiding the reality that is right in front of us. Radiolab, do you honestly think Russia is to blame for why we have Trump? Holyshit guys I thought you were better than this.

As a side note, your team has always had good interviewing etiquette but this time it just felt like the interviewers were prodding the interviewees into saying what they wanted them to say. I don't think ill be coming back to radiolab :(

Mar. 02 2018 03:51 AM

If this rally wasn’t staged unwittingly, then it would have been staged for anyone, which is exactly what these people in West Palm Beach did.

Feb. 28 2018 02:39 PM
Reg from NY

Ok no way is Florida a real place, it has to be a mass hallucination or something.

Feb. 27 2018 02:25 PM
Same Person

“It's easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled.”

The lady who played Hillary is living proof of this. Her ego cannot handle the fact that she was duped by the Russians.

Feb. 26 2018 11:30 AM
Jeff from Minneapolis, MN

As others have pointed out it would have been interesting to get one more perspective of liberals who were pawns of the Russians in creating animosity between Americans. Even in Mueller's indictment on page 23, there were a couple of anti-Trump protests created by these Russian agents (yes, after the election but it shows their intent was to sow discord not necessarily support a single individual):

Defendants and their co-conspirators, through another ORGANIZATION-controlled group, organized a rally in New York called “Trump is NOT my President” held on or about November 12, 2016. Similarly, Defendants and their co-conspirators organized a rally entitled “Charlotte Against Trump” in Charlotte, North Carolina, held on or about November 19, 2016.

These events were widely covered in the media, here:

It would have been far more significant to talk to the reporters and protesters who were participating/reporting in/on these anti-Trump events created by the Russians who were indicted. That has a LOT more impact when national news networks are reporting on an event (broadcasting to millions) versus what was in this episode with a dozen people meeting in a parking lot in Florida with zero media coverage and maybe a few thousand shares on social media. Yep, if you only had the third part of this story with an attempt to reflect on the fact that some of the outrage against Trump was fomented by the Russians, maybe we're still being influenced today. These are facts, real reports and it's right in the indictment but much of the media goes out of their way to ignore these facts because it's politically inconvenient. It's shame Radiolab went down that same path.

Feb. 24 2018 01:09 PM
Anton from Paris

To the Radiolab team and listeners,
I appreciate your sincere (as it looks like to me) concern regarding the important news that are surfacing right now. I believe, the full ramifications of these events are still to be fully determined. But anyway, I understand your willingness to spread the information on this subject. I also understand that it must me quite a hard task to produce a high-quality well-informed piece of radio withing this narrow timeframe. However, I was extremely appalled when I heard Radiolab produces falling prey to the propaganda machine. I've been a fan of the show for years now. As my fellow Ukrainians already tried to explain here, there is no such thing as a "civil war" in Ukraine. Neither there are "rebels" who are being "supported" by the Russian state. Using these terms to describe the conflict means helping malicious actors to undermine western democracy. I know, that this could come across as a stretch to some, but it's important to understand the full scope of the issue.
To put the events extremely briefly, there would've been no military action anywhere in the country, if it hadn't been for our neighbor. No major separatist movements either existed or exists now in the country. Nothing about Russia trying to undermine ukrainian democracy and sovereignty, and make it its puppet state is new in history. Today, however, it can have consequences for the whole world. If the West closes its eyes on this one, if they do not stand to defend their supposed ideals of freedom and human rights, there'd be no reason for them not to do so next time. And it'll be even easier the following one. Freedom and democracy comes through action and fight. A thing that Ukrainians are very well aware of.
Just in case I have to clarify: of course, I am not blaming the russian people, but the fascist autocratic state they are unfortunate to have. I've lived in Russia for a while, I love the people I know from there and the Russians I see leaving in Europe. They are patriots and this is great, this does not mean they have to find excuses for any crimes their government commits.

P.S. Even though it's a radio program, I couldn't help by notice you referring to the Ukrainian capital as "Kiev" (/kee-jev/). This word has nothing much to do with anything Ukrainian. This, if fact, is a russian transliteration of the name of the city. How often to you translate a name in one language to a random other language and then to yours? Except here it's not totally random. It serves a purpose of making Ukraine "more russian", at least subconsciously. Sure, it's not only your fallacy, Radiolab. I've yet to see a major western outlet using the correct spelling on the regular. At least some american congressmen are waking up to it. By the way, the proper spelling is Kyiv (pronounced a bit like /ky-їv/).

Feb. 24 2018 07:45 AM
Zsolt from Hungary

As warned by Jad at the beginning, this episode may have been released a bit premature. I love Radiolab and have been a faithful listener since the beginning. I don't understand why you'd want to release an episode on a fast-track that directly reflects on current politics. I don't see this matching with Radiolab's DNA.

An episode about the impact of media, including how everyday news and advertising influences our thoughts and behaviors would be interesting. This story could be part of such an episode. An article I was reading just this week on FT may also be interesting in the context of fake news and manipulation: "AI experts warn of new types of threats".

Please stay clear of politics.

Feb. 24 2018 04:13 AM
Tired of politics from California

I find it funny how Russians funding political activism is so shocking yet multinational companies do it directly to our polititions in the leagal and accepted form of lobbying.

Feb. 23 2018 04:40 AM
Matthew from Virginia

Huge fan of your show and I often find it extremely interesting and eye-opening. After listening to this episode I feel like I did gain some insight into this matter; however, you mentioned that several groups, including liberal demonstrators, fell victim to these tactics. While I tend to lean left in many matters, I found the second half of this story to be lacking in objectivity. I would have really enjoyed hearing the same responses from liberals who were in the same position. I'm a little disappointed that politics may have played a role in this production.

Feb. 22 2018 08:15 PM

I was aware of Russian trolls for quite some time.
I was also aware of Obama meddling in Israeli election, as well as Obama colluding with Russia and Iran. Do you know that Ted Kennedy asked Russia to interfere with US election?
As for effect, just look at the money: $3,000 vs milliards spent by Hillary. Besides, I know only one of my fb friend whose posts were full of nostalgia, etc. The rest of them cited Jewish sources, Breitbart, etc.
In short Russians didn't make me vote for Trump, Hillary did.
Obama vs. Trump: Who Really Colluded with Russia?
Obama DOJ Bombshell, FOIA Lawsuit Reveals Multimillion Dollar Campaign To “Replace The Government”(Israel's)

FLASHBACK: Democrat Ted Kennedy Asked Russia To Intervene In 1984 Election To Defeat Reagan

Shooting Survivor Quit CNN Town Hall After Refusing to Ask ‘Scripted’ Question

Feb. 22 2018 06:52 PM
Jamie from Las Cruces NM

The woman you interviewed didn't seem to realize that if she wasn't "unwitting," then she was complicit in the attempt by a foreign power to undermine the United States. If she was "witting," I would fully support her being charged with treason or espionage.

Feb. 22 2018 05:43 PM
Jay from WY

I am, or was a big supporter of Radio Lab. This episode however was confusing. I realize that the people creating Radio Lab are Liberals, but they are really reaching on this story. So you think Trump won the election with help from Russia, and they masterminded a Trump victory using a bunch of hicks from Florida to do a flash mob in front of a Cheesecake Factory, that most of America never even got a chance to see? Those sneaky Russians! Lol get the hell out of here with this BS! Ok back to the science please.

Feb. 22 2018 02:25 PM
Phil from Kearney, NE

Where is Vitaly Bespalov today, Feb. 20, 2018? In mid November 2017 he was reportedly working in St. Petersburg at the website Three months later is he still undetained and working there? Possibly the Kremlin is thinking that having Vitaly mysteriously disappear would lend credence to the truth of his story, that his public humiliation in sanctioned Russian media would be sufficient. The Kremlin being the Kremlin, however, this policy might change at any moment. Would have been nice if Radiolab staff had given us some sort of followup on Vitaly's current status. I, for one, am concerned for him.

Feb. 22 2018 01:12 PM
Doug from USA

Maybe it’s just me but those Floridians seemed a bit too clueless to be real people.

Feb. 22 2018 11:33 AM
Tired of poor work from Los Angeles

You eliminate your credibility when you fail to present both sides. Perhaps it was your hurry to get on the air quickly, but this podcast more than suggests the Russians were trying to get Trump elected, and fails to present a true investigative piece about the full scope of what was going on. It breaks my heart to think that even Radiolab has become more of the same. Cancelling my regular donation.

Feb. 22 2018 10:05 AM

So this episode stops early on and won't play - this has happened to other episodes. If I try listening at a later time sometimes I am able to hear the episode. I don't have this problem with any other podcasts. Ideas?

Feb. 22 2018 09:59 AM
Lindsay from New York

I do believe that NPR tends to have a very leftist opinion, but I thought this segment was very fair and respectful of their guests views. I enjoyed it. We don't all have to agree but we need to be considerate of one an others opinion.

Feb. 22 2018 09:56 AM
Bonnie from Iowa

Where can I get a transcript of this show? I would like to see the spelling of of the name of the Russian interviewed...Natali? Vitali? Balluf?

Feb. 22 2018 06:10 AM
Dmitry from Moscow

Decent episode... I ,for one , am glad radiolab is referring to the conflict in Ukraine as a civil war as that what it actually is. Russia is supporting one side, but not invading. If Russia invaded Ukraine, the poor country would cease to exist the same day.

Feb. 21 2018 11:43 PM
DT Anderson from Frustration

I’m confused with what this has to do with Natural Science

When will Ira Glass start hosting Radiolab?

Feb. 21 2018 04:29 PM

Radiolab NEVER DISAPPOINTS AT BEING CLUELESS LEFTISTS. Biased much? Where was your interview with Michael Moore and his involvement with the Russians? FYI, I never attended any Trump rally or movement for Trump but at the end of the day I still voted for him because I am far more disgusted with Leftists like Radiolab than I can ever be with Russians or Trump. Apparently, a lot of Americans agree with me. Get over your loss. You will lose again.

Feb. 21 2018 03:50 PM
Paul from Vancouver, WA

Nice podcast. (1) Australia allows foreign influence in elections. If Congress did make a law against it, they would not have to enforce it. (Congress has these government shutdown crisis because they created a law. They have other laws tht allow government to continue with automatic funding at the end of an effective time period of the law) (2) Russia/USSR has been influencing European elections for decades. Let us get used to it. (3) An interesting election influencing story is how Macedonian teenagers write fake election news with the help of British teenage copy editors. They not only make more than 10 times the nation’s annual income in one month, but while sitting at their computer they have the bonus of thinking they influenced the elections and changed just enough votes to determine the winner of the United States.

Feb. 21 2018 11:58 AM
Jay from Carlisle, PA

So I will first start off by saying that I have thoroughly enjoyed RadioLab for the better part of 5 years and hope that you continue to push out new content.

I think enough people, especially Ukrainian listeners, have expressed their frustration hearing statements like "Ukrainian Civil War." The U.S. Government, under President Obama, knew immediately that this was a result of Russian destabilization operations and subsequent occupation of Crimea. The U.S. Government and the Military knew that Russian Soldiers and agents were aiding Ukrainian "Rebels" to further destabilize the country. This is not an isolated incident, rather something Russia is doing to all the former Soviet Union countries. They embed agents to sow discord and foment conflicts which will eventual boil over and then use occupation as a means to "protect Russian ethnic people." By just letting this happen and not pursuing a means to end this conflict, the Obama administration set the stage for what occurred in the 2016 election. This in no way validates or removes the nefarious, and quite honestly horrible, actions taken by certain individuals but shows how our government failed to protect its citizens.

Furthermore, there needs to be more intellectually honest journalistic reporting on this subject. Deputy Director Rosenstein also stated that the actions of Internet Research Agency provided pro-positions for Bernie Sander's Campaign as well as the Anti-Trump "Not my President" demonstration at the Trump tower in NYC. If you are going to portray one side as ignorant/divisive and supporting discord, then the same should be done for the opposing viewpoint which fell for and continues to push false narratives. In the end Trump is not the enemy, Schumer is not the enemy, these crazed Americans retweeting memes and false stories are not the enemy; it is the Russian Government.

Feb. 21 2018 11:14 AM
Alexander from New York

Owwww my ears. Audio is glitched from 0:00 until 32 Mins in.

Feb. 21 2018 11:14 AM
Trillion from PA

The file seems to be corrupted. It won’t play. Maybe it’s being tinkered with by Russ ion trolls?

Feb. 21 2018 10:57 AM
Matt from 97404

After listening to this episode, I had the funny feeling that we were in an alternate version of “ Wag the Dog” or “ Citizan Cane”

Feb. 21 2018 10:25 AM
Erik from Sweden

@Zac: His name is Vitaly Bespalov / Виталий Беспалов

Feb. 21 2018 03:27 AM
Yoav Moran from Israel

Why did you think it's such a funny matter? Joking with the American guys about how they betrayed their country...
I felt sick to my stomach after hearing the American part, and how the woman still didn't get she was a pawn. But hey, at least they feel patriotic in their everyday life!

Feb. 21 2018 02:01 AM
Brigitte Pavich from Los Angeles

It is informative that even within this podcast the success of the troll factory is apparent since there is no such thing as a Ukrainian Civil War, but rather a Russian occupation of the Ukraine. We are ALL vulnerable to dis-information, no matter how smart we think we are. We are victims of what we want to believe. What a frightening time we live in.

Feb. 21 2018 12:07 AM

Anne Marie was stunningly ignorant and painfully sure of herself. Odd how the dumbest sounding interviewee, was the most capable of self-reflection and shame.

Feb. 20 2018 10:07 PM
Anatoliy from Ky

First of all I've been a huge fan of your show since 2010. Secondly I am Ukrainian living in the US and have been following the Maidan and all supervening events very closely.

It was sad to hear Russian invasion of Ukraine being called "Ukrainian Civil War" now on your show. It is simply inaccurate. we ukrainians have been dealing with Russian propaganda and actual hot war for 4 years now. The part of the Russian information campaign was to mislead and misdirect the entire world into thinking that this conflict wasn't a conflict between Russia and Ukraine and was only an internal Ukrainian dispute. I am glad that the United States is now slowly waking up to the fact that the flow of information around the world is greatly distorted by countries like Russia where the Distortion of truth is a state-sponsored activity. We (ukrainians) can speak and understand Russian language well, which enables us to see the kind of information they are spreading within Russia and outside of its borders. As was correctly stated in the show, Ukraine was and still is being used as a test ground for all that is new in Russia's informational Warfare toolbox, but since the quality of their initial propaganda wasn't always best we learned to recognize it in Ukraine. And as they improved the quality all of their propaganda we became better at recognizing it. Now the entire population of Ukraine are sadly the experts on fake news. I hope it never gets to this point here in the US and I wish you all the luck in dealing with the Trump thing, but please don't call the Russian invasion of Ukraine a Ukrainian Civil War.

Anatoly Sikorsky.

Feb. 20 2018 08:20 PM

I checked out Anne's twitter feed - pretty sure she's still blithely retweeting russian disinformation posts.

I keep trying this thought experiment where I reverse the political allegiances and put myself in their shoes, and in none of the test cases am I as unconcerned as they are about being used by an antagonistic foreign government against my own country.

Feb. 20 2018 04:25 PM
Joey from Denver

Feels like a missed opportunity that this piece wasn't titled "Useful Idiots."

Feb. 20 2018 04:02 PM
Gill from Boise

Terribly disgusted by this lady "Anne". She was simply incapable of putting two and two together. Even in the face of near incontrovertible evidence, she continued to hold on to her misinformed and ignorant opinions, all the while her delusion personified by her comment that "I'm usually never wrong" (sic). Comes as no surprise that her hero is Trump.

Feb. 20 2018 03:41 PM
F Toro from A Cage w/ an Infinite Number of Monkeys and an Typewritters

This was a deeply disturbing and horribly depressing episode.

It doesn't register *at all* with these people that what they did is problematic in any way. Jesus.

Feb. 20 2018 02:18 PM

The is no such thing a "Ukrainian civil war" is it simply Russian occupation

Feb. 20 2018 01:36 PM

What was the name of the song at the very end of this episode ?

Feb. 20 2018 09:48 AM
Stan from Austin, TX USA

Bogdan, Thanks for your comment. I was wondering about it when I heard "Ukrainian civil war."

Feb. 20 2018 09:29 AM
Ryan from Indiana

I wasn't aware that the undermining of our democracy was a funny subject.

Feb. 20 2018 09:22 AM
Zac from Philadelphia, PA

What was the name of the Russian guy interviewed? Vitale something?

Feb. 20 2018 09:19 AM
Bogdan T. from London

Dear Radiolab,
First I must say that I love your show and may be a little biased towards you guys. I think you appreciate that words are important. At the beginning of your latest podcast about Russian manipulations during US 2016 elections you tell your listeners about events in Ukraine in 2014 and I was disappointed to hear that you repeatedly referred to them as the "civil war in Ukraine".
Later in the show you referred to the examples of Russian manipulations in the US as a sign of "interstate"struggle (if I remember correctly).
As a Ukrainian and as a journalist working in Europe but closely following events in Ukraine I would like to emphasise that the war in Ukraine started with Russian military occupation of Crimea at the time when antigovernment protests in the Ukrainian capital were violently suppressed by Russia supported (all! of them escaped to Russia) and in some isntances by Russian proper elements (the investigation is still in progress). Soon armed groups leaded by the Russian nationals from Russia and with many Russians as their soldiers captured local government institutions and started the war in Eastern Ukraine that lead to more than 10 000 dead and millions displaced.
Calling events in Ukraine "a Ukrainian civil war" is not only misleading. It also does the job that the Russian "Troll factory" did and probably still does - to deny Russian government responsibility for international crimes.

Feb. 20 2018 08:21 AM

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