Far-right online forums are seething with references to potential violence and urging supporters of President Trump to bring guns to Wednesday’s protests in Washington — in violation of local laws — as Congress meets to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Talk of guns and potential violence is rife on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, the conservative social media site Parler and on thedonald.win, an online forum that previously operated on Reddit before the company banned it in June after years of racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism and calls for violence.
Trump’s tweet last month pushing baseless fraud claims and promoting the “big protest” on Jan. 6 — “Be there, will be wild!” — has become a central rallying cry. It was the top post on thedonald.win Tuesday morning, and anonymous commenters saw it as a call to action: “We’ve got marching orders,” the top reply said.
Discussion in the thread followed about how most effectively to sneak guns into Washington, laced with occasional references to using them. D.C. has some of the nation’s strictest gun laws: Openly carrying guns is banned, concealed-carry licenses from other states aren’t recognized, and all firearms in the District must be registered with local police.
Of carrying guns in D.C., one poster in the thread wrote, “Yes, it’s illegal, but this is war and we’re clearly in a post-legal phase of our society.” Wrote another: “LIVE AS A FREE AMERICAN AND BRING YOUR ARMS!”
More than half of the top 50 posts on thedonald.win’s homepage Monday related to Wednesday’s certification featured calls of violence within the top five comments, according to research by Advance Democracy, a group headed by former FBI analyst and Senate investigator Daniel J. Jones, who led the review of the CIA’s torture program.
The group said thedonald.win had more than 18 million visits in November, and the recent posts with calls for violence had more than 40,000 engagements. One particularly troubling post said protesters should travel in groups that should “not let [anyone] disarm someone without stacking bodies.” It added that protesters should be “ARMED WITH RIFLE, HANDGUN, 2 KNIVES AND AS MUCH AMMO AS YOU CAN CARRY.”
In one thread promoted by moderators Tuesday morning, titled “GOOD LUCK PATRIOTS, THE EYES OF THE WORLD LOOK UPON YOU NOW!!!,” posters shared tactical guides on how to avoid police blockades and D.C. gun laws, including: “If you plan on carrying concealed, don’t tell anyone you have a gun.” One commenter responded, “We The People, will not tolerate a Steal. No retreat, No Surrender. Restore to my President what you stole or reap the consequences!!!”
Moderators for thedonald.win did not respond to requests for comment.
Researchers expressed concern that the roiling political atmosphere is being fueled by Trump’s unfounded claims about the integrity of the election that have swirled on far-right online forums for two months.
“You have what disinformation researchers have worried about for years, which is people becoming motivated to action by lies,” said Joan Donovan, the research director at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
References to guns and potential violence also have become routine on Telegram and Parler, according to the Coalition for a Safer Web, a nonprofit group that advocates for technologies and policies to remove extreme content from social media. It cited a Parler post from last week, by an account touting the QAnon conspiracy theory, that said, “To all the Patriots descending on Washington DC on #jan6 ....come armed....”
A number of posts on Parler and thedonald.win voiced anti-police messages and slammed “Coptifa” — a combination of “cop” and “antifa,” the far-left protest movement. “WE THE PEOPLE … are through with you,” said one expletive-filled post on Parler. “To all our enemies high and low you want a war? Well your asking for one. … To the American people on the ground in DC today and all over this great nation, be prepared for anything. … Now we are here. Now they get what they want.”
Parler’s chief operating officer, Jeffrey Wernick, declined to comment.
The arrest of Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio on Monday, for charges related to the burning of a historically Black church’s Black Lives Matter flag in a protest last month, has further inflamed far-right conversations online, said Eric Feinberg, vice president for content moderation for the Coalition for a Safer Web.
“You don’t know who’s going to get radicalized by this,” Feinberg said. “The next three days, I’m really worried about what could happen.”