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Son 'Disturbed' By Russian Use Of Family Photo Discovered In Mueller Report


Now we're going to hear from someone who was affected by Russian trolls. Ronnie Hipshire is a retired coal miner in West Virginia. His father, Lee, was also a coal miner, and he died of complications from black lung disease. Ronnie learned something disturbing on Page 31 of the Mueller report. Without his family's permission, a Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency had used a photo of his dad for a pro-Trump poster. Ronnie Hipshire is with us from Logan, W.Va., to explain how this unfolded.

Ronnie, welcome to the program. And I wonder if you could first describe this photo to us because I've seen it, and it's very memorable - has a big impact.

RONNIE HIPSHIRE: OK, I sure will. Back in 1974, Earl Dotter, a photojournalist with the MWA, was put with my dad in the Paragon Mine (ph) to sort of shadow him all day long to see in the mines why so many men were getting killed and so many things were happening back in the '70s. And my dad was exiting the mine after the day, and Earl shot this photo of my father coming out of the Paragon Mine. And the picture shows him after a hard day's work.

What I didn't like about seeing this on the Mueller report is them stealing my dad's picture and putting it on a Trump campaign rally. And my dad was one of the most staunch Democrats that you'll ever see in your life. And he never would have even thought about putting his face on something like that. It just was beyond me to see it. I just - it disturbed me big-time because I know what my dad would have thought.

PFEIFFER: How did you learn that it was in the Mueller report?

HIPSHIRE: Earl Dotter sent me an email telling me about it.

PFEIFFER: The photographer.

HIPSHIRE: Yeah, the photographer that took the picture. He emailed me and told me about it, and I looked it up, and seen that, and went and took it up to my sister and showed her about it. And it just went through her, too, you know. It just - she couldn't believe that it was used by the Russians to get someone elected. I guess you would call it a troll like your column, you know. It was something it wasn't supposed to be 'cause it wasn't through the blessing of Earl or us to have dad's picture representing Donald Trump - something I know that he definitely would have never done.

PFEIFFER: Do you think you would feel any differently if the photo had been used to promote a different political issue that you support? So without your family's permission, but an issue that you actually advocate for.

HIPSHIRE: If it was - they would come to me, right? Yes, I believe in that. I believe that dad would have - you know, he was a Democrat. He would love the Democrat Party.

PFEIFFER: What would you like to see happen to prevent this from happening to other people?

HIPSHIRE: I don't know what you would do to keep them from doing it. If they can get in and steal stuff like this, how can they - how could you block the Internet down? I mean, I don't know.

PFEIFFER: Ronnie Hipshire is a retired coal miner from West Virginia.

Ronnie, thank you for talking with us about this.

HIPSHIRE: Thank you. You have a blessed day.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAUL MIRROR'S "TIME AND PLACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.