Proper-wing extremist chatter spreads on new platforms as risk of political violence ramps up
The diffuse, chaotic nature of online chatter has created a climate of fear. Prior to Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, the FBI reportedly warned law enforcement agencies across the country to be on high alert over the next few weeks about potentially violent protests in all 50 states and gathered information about an armed group planned to Travel to DC to start a riot on inauguration day. The Pentagon has now authorized up to 15,000 National Guardsmen from across the country to deploy to DC on and before January 20 to assist local law enforcement agencies.
MP Conor Lamb (D-PA) announced Tuesday morning that he and other lawmakers had been informed of possible plans related to the inauguration. “They spoke to over 4,000 armed ‘patriots’ to surround the Capitol and prevent any Democrat from entering,” he said. “They put out rules for getting involved, ie when to shoot and when not to. So this is an organized group that has a plan. They are determined to do what they do because I think in their minds, you know “You are a patriot and speak of 1776. That is now a will.”
Efforts to contain extremism are made difficult by the decentralized and chaotic nature in which it spreads. Countless posters – few of which are directly linked to publicly known extremist groups – have spread through extremist channels and social media, listing dates, times and specific places where people could gather to protest violently against the so-called “stolen” elections . especially on state capitals and federal monuments.
TikTok videos of influencers wearing the Three Percenters logo and referring to the anti-government militia movement spark future protests – and even go so far as to post videos of collecting ammunition and weapons while doing doctorate. Play audio suggesting Trump wants them to target his Vice President Mike Pence.
Mysterious videos of military personnel walking through American cities have also gone viral on Gab and Telegram, two fringe networks frequented by white nationalist and other extremist groups. Social media users wondered whether such activities were part of support for Donald Trump’s presidency or government efforts to curtail people’s constitutional rights.
Various movements have emerged in this milieu: the Militia Millions March with a flag that sanctifies the QAnon supporter who died last week in the storming of the Capitol; Patriot Action for America, which called on tens of thousands of “patriots” to prevent Democratic lawmakers from entering the Capitol on the 16th and 17th; or just a general march to retake America, with participants free to fill in the blanks as they see fit. The concern among extremism watchers is that, similar to the Stop the Steal rally, a magnet for militiamen and conspiracy theorist groups has become – even without the express encouragement of the event organizers in the MAGA professional activist class – these events too.
Celebrities, pro-Trump conservative corporations and figures have become aware of the advertisement for the events which has given a number of responses including skepticism that it may be a false flag operation carried out by Antifa and other left groups get organized.
Much of the online confusion has been caused by large social networks limiting themselves to the most extreme material that appears on their websites. Along with the ban on Donald Trump, Facebook and Twitter blocked numerous right-wing extremist hashtags from the trend and removed numerous posts that promote potential violence before the inauguration on January 20.
With no major social media networks to rely on, far-right activists first turned to Parler, the conservative app, to vent their anger and frustration and possibly plan further action. The digital platform was used to organize some of the violence linked to the January 6th riots on Capitol Hill and became a focal point for Trump supporters, who after an online review was still on Election fraud claims from the November elections believed contributions from POLITICO.
However, after last week’s violence, Google and Apple quickly banned Parler from appearing in their app stores, and Amazon – whose cloud computing business underpins how many digital services work – kicked the company off its servers. Parler then filed an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon.
In this void, many marginalized groups turned to TikTok.
Since the Jan. 6 riots on Capitol Hill, pro-militia groups have flooded the Chinese-owned video-sharing service, promoting conspiracy theories of electoral fraud, and accusing Pence of betraying Trump by, according to Ciaran O ‘ supervised the certification of the votes of the electoral college. Connor, a disinformation researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based think tank that tracks online hate speech.
Several TikTok users posted audio clips of Trump that were treated to create the impression that he was criticizing the current vice president. Often the posts were labeled “Mike Pence is a traitor”. Viral images of the recent riots in Capitol Hill, including flashes of violence imminent, quickly generated massive amounts of online views on the site.
Other TikTok users went even further, claiming the president was about to implement martial law. The hashtag InsurrectionAct currently has a total of more than 4.4 million views on the social media platform in relation to false claims that Trump had already phoned the military.
“TikTok acts as an echo chamber for people’s complaints,” said O’Connor. “Much of this material is created to promote the activities of Three Percenter or the militia.”
In response, TikTok said it was reviewing posts flagged by POLITICO and adding that content or accounts that incite or promote violence would be removed.
However, the app is far from the only place where these groups and individuals gather and post. Many feared being checked by law enforcement agencies and have gone dark. As early as November, hardcore extremist groups withdrew to pure message boards and encrypted messaging apps like Telegram to organize events to protest Trump’s loss. The growth of CB apps – named after CB radio, the informal frequencies truckers use to communicate with one another – has made it easier for them to coordinate activities in real time.
Although fewer people outside of these networks can be radicalized by invitation-only boards, it is more difficult for extremism researchers to track these groups. They expressed the hope that law enforcement – with their ability to execute warrants and superior technology – is still focused on these companies.
“Most of those exploring this space are in favor of the distance because we don’t want to usher in the next generation of supremacists [simply] because we wanted to monitor it, ”said Joan Donovan, director of research at the Harvard Shorenstein Center, which studies and monitors the spread of disinformation and extremist ideology online. “There are tradeoffs in any research area, but this is an issue that requires real action.”
It is possible that the sudden surge in law enforcement interest will deter potential participants from attending state and national protests. After FBI officials and other federal agencies managed to arrest and arrest those attending last week’s event at the Capitol – even to put potential suspects they found on social media on no-fly lists as they leave Washington – it became clear to the wide world of MAGA supporters that they risked serious consequences.
Some militia groups have tried to distance themselves from their own events.
The Boogaloo Bois, an anti-government far-right militia, tried to cancel an event they had organized for the 17th. But even when they warned that “mainstream headlines” had drawn too much attention to their march, they found that anyone who wanted to protest that day could bring weapons if they wanted: “If you can legally carry, you can wear it. “
In an ironic twist, right-wing media, professional MAGA influencers, and pro-Trump social media groups are now warning their members to avoid these events, albeit with their own conspiratorial twist: that these are acutely false flag operations, the either created by the government in an attempt to silence conservatives and strip their rights under the Second Amendment, or by left-wing anti-fascist conspirators hoping to make the MAGA movement look bad, or even by the Chinese government in collaboration with the elite.
“Do not go into the capital armed, do not take part in the demonstrations on January 20th. It’s run by the globalists, ”warned Infowars’ Alex Jones on Tuesday. “There is no secret plan to overthrow things, so Trump wins. All you do is cement things as domestic terrorists so Biden can cement a new Patriot Act and comply with you. ”
Natasha Bertrand contributed to this report.
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