New York CNN Business  — 

Twitter recently took down a covert network of nearly 1,000 accounts it says are tied to the Chinese government. Many, but not all, of the accounts attacked pro-Democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Twitter posted a list of all the accounts it had removed along with the tweets the accounts had posted. CNN Business analyzed the accounts and found at least one that stood out: It was targeting America, not protesters. Its name was @LibertyLionNews.

If Twitter is correct and the account is linked to China, it could signal a provocative change in Chinese propaganda targeting the United States, experts say. But Twitter has been wrong before, falsely claiming in the past that some American accounts were Russian.

Here’s the unusual story of how Liberty Lion News came about.

Mario J. Chavez, an entrepreneur and entertainment promoter in New Mexico, says he had run the Twitter account @MajicoEnt for more than ten years. It was named after his company, Majico Entertainment and Media, and he used the account to promote events around Albuquerque.

In June, Chavez told CNN Business he received an email from Twitter saying the password on one of his accounts had been changed. He started to worry.

Chavez had built up tens of thousands of followers. But soon after he received notice from Twitter that the password had been changed, he was never able to get back into the account. Whoever had taken over the account had also removed Chavez’s email address from it, he said. It had been hacked, he believed.

His efforts to contact Twitter and recover his account were unfruitful, he told CNN.

Chavez then noticed some of his old tweets had been deleted. And then the account seemed to vanish.

But, it didn’t disappear. Sometime between June and late August, CNN Business found, the account’s name changed to @LibertyLionNews, describing itself as “Conservative News from the USA and Abroad. #Catholic Defender of the Constitution of the United States.” Its Twitter biography also included hashtags in an apparent effort to portray itself as a supporter of President Donald Trump, a First and Second Amendment advocate, and a follower of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

According to Eric Ellason, owner of SlickRockWeb, an internet solutions company, after the apparent hack but before its change to @LibertyLionNews, the account appears to have at least one other username, including a username that made it appear it was affiliated with VDare, a white nationalist website. VDare appears to have retweeted some posts sent by that account, according to data from, but it is not clear if the account was affiliated with VDare. VDare did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The database of tweets Twitter released didn’t include some of the more recent tweets Chavez said he had sent.

When asked about the suspended accounts at a press conference on Tuesday, Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, said they were not aware of the specifics of the claims.

If Twitter is correct in its assessment that the account is tied to the Chinese government it would signal an expansion of China’s international propaganda efforts, said Darren Linvill, an associate professor at Clemson University who studies online disinformation.

“Liberty Lion News is not engaging in typical Chinese state propaganda. The account’s messages do not address issues that seem of particular importance to China,” he explained, “This account is much more comparable to disinformation campaigns perpetrated by the former Russian IRA, in that it seems to be pushing extreme ideological views to a US audience as an attempt to make conversations here more divisive.”

The Russian IRA, or Internet Research Agency, is an online troll army linked to the Kremlin that was charged as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election. The group had run a sophisticated network of accounts that posed as real Americans.