Capitol riots: What are far-right Trump supporters saying?

After initial calls from some Trump supporters for armed protests in the lead-up to inauguration day, many are now warning others not to take part – and claiming that the events are “a trap” set up by authorities.

Some of these discussions are happening on less popular and less public online platforms, where many Trump supporters from far-right and conspiracy groups have migrated after being kicked off Facebook and Twitter after the Capitol riot on 6 January.

One flyer shared on Gab, a Twitter-like platform popular with far-right groups, called for armed protests in Washington and 50 state capitals ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration. The plans prompted a warning from the FBI to national law enforcement officials.

But in recent days, other posts have pointed to a change of heart.

Posts on The Donald, a website full of extreme, violent content and pro-Trump conspiracy theories, have urged people not to attend rallies, describing them as “a set up… by those trying to destroy us.”

Its members are, unsurprisingly, furious about the president’s second impeachment, reserving particular anger for the 10 Republicans who voted in favour of it.

On messaging platform Telegram, the far-right, anti-immigrant Proud Boys group, some of whose members were identified among the crowd at the Capitol riot, issued a similar warning.

“If you see anyone dressed as a Proud Boy out at one of [the protests],” one post read. “They’re either a fed [FBI] or Antifa.”

However, another post urged supporters to “fight back against tyranny” and stated: “there is no political solution”.

Many of Trump’s extreme supporters are convinced that the Capitol protests were staged by militant left-wing Antifa protesters, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

There’s also an increasing sense of paranoia. Groups on alternative platforms that openly called for violence on 6 January now worry aloud that they have been infiltrated by government agents or left-wing activists. 

Owners and moderators of right-wing social media platforms have posted messages asking members not to post incitement to violence.

A smartphone screen featuring a number of messaging apps
image captionPro-Trump supporters banned from mainstreams apps are finding alternative online homes

But violent threats against House speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, and Republican Vice-President Mike Pence, whom the groups had hoped would overturn the election result, remain widespread.

The move away from mainstream platforms poses a risk, according to Mina al-Lami, jihadism specialist at BBC Monitoring, who sees parallels with Islamist militant groups who have been subject to similar crackdowns.

“Members of the fringe far-right may now slip under the radar into closed spaces which use end-to-end encryption,” a very secure method of exchanging messages, she says. “Their radicalisation goes unchecked and unmonitored.” 

And what about the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, which has been blamed for radicalising so many and whose members were among those that stormed the Capitol? 

The social media giants acted to purge QAnon groups after the violence in Washington, but they have quickly rebuilt themselves elsewhere. 

On Gab, one group dedicated to QAnon now has more than 165,000 users. A similar new channel on messaging platform Telegram has more than 50,000 subscribers. 

Believers of the theory are still convinced that something big will happen on inauguration day that will overturn the election and allow Donald Trump to stay in power and to vanquish his enemies in the “deep state”. 

A Trump supporter wears face paint at a protest in Washington, DC
image captionInfluential QAnon figures were among those who broke into the Capitol

Meanwhile, accounts spreading conspiracy theories and potentially inciting violence have emerged in surprising places. TikTok, the short-form video platform hugely popular among young people, has seen a flood of clips from pro-Trump militia groups.

TikTok videos from militia groups are concerning, says Ciaran O’Connor of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank focused on extremism and hate groups. 

Users have been sharing footage of members preparing firearms, and promoting false claims that President Trump has activated the Insurrection Act, a rarely used 1807 law that allows the president to deploy military forces inside the US. 

Extremist supporters have been taking advantage of TikTok’s slow moderation process, which means that videos can stay online for long periods of time before they are deleted for violating the network’s terms of service, Mr O’Connor says.

Some of the more violent and conspiratorial pro-Trump groups may have been scattered across the internet following purges at mainstream platforms, but that doesn’t mean they’ve gone away. 

They realise they’re under close scrutiny from the US authorities, but they’re preparing to dig in for a long fight.

By Alistair Coleman

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