Russian Election Interference and Race-Baiting

Main Article Content

Darin E.W. Johnson


Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election exposed the nation’s vulnerability to targeted campaign disruption by foreign intelligence actors through social media. The Russian cyber disinformation campaign exploited racial divisions in the United States to undermine public confidence in American electoral processes and institutions, revealing how those divisions can be weaponized. The campaign fed on racial divisions arising from institutionalized state practices that have a disparate discriminatory effect on racial minorities. Successful in their online interference in 2016, Russian operatives continued to stoke these divisions in the 2018 midterm election and have begun to do so in the 2020 presidential election campaign. Russia will continue to stir racial division in future elections, and other states may follow suit. To combat this threat, reframing the manner in which national security institutions address matters of race is necessary.

This Article advocates that national security institutions adopt an explicit “racism as national security threat” framework in place of the implicit “minority race as threat” framework that has previously shaped national security institutions’ behavior. It traces how a minority race as threat framework has historically guided national security institutional action in significant ways. Further, it elucidates how a racism as national security threat framework promotes American antidiscrimination law and international human rights law, and how the strategic retrenchment of policies, programs, and practices that engender racial discrimination will reduce American vulnerability to foreign exploitation. Ultimately, this Article seeks to popularize the understanding that racism subverts American national security, and frame the curtailment of institutionalized racism as a national security priority of the United States.

Author Biography

Darin E.W. Johnson

Associate Professor of Law, Howard University School of Law; J.D., Harvard Law School; B.A., Yale College. Prior to entering the academy, the author worked for over a decade in the United States national security community as an attorney within the Department of Defense and the Department of State. The author would like to thank the Howard University School of Law for a 2018 summer research grant that supported the drafting of this Article. He would also like to thank the participants of the John Mercer Langston Writing Workshop for their helpful comments and feedback. The author would further like to thank his research assistant, Kanysha Phillips, HUSL class of 2019, for her assistance with this Article. He would also like to thank the editors of the Columbia Journal of Race and Law for their thoughtful edits, comments, and suggestions throughout the editorial process.

Article Details

How to Cite
Johnson, D. E. (2019). Russian Election Interference and Race-Baiting. Columbia Journal of Race and Law, 9(2), 191–264.