In its banning of Donald Trump, Twitter cited the claim that the president incited a “secondary attack” on Washington, D.C., and other state capitals as one of the reasons for the ban. Google is suspending the Parler app from being sold in its online store for allegedly hosting posts inciting “ongoing violence.” Indeed, the chatter on those social media sites is uncomfortably similar to posts prior to the mob assault on the Capitol building during the deliberations on counting the Electoral College vote.
Some of it is almost certainly people letting off steam or typical social media bombast. But if recent events have taught us anything, it’s that some people are deadly serious about revolution and insurrection and we need to take them seriously.
Calls for widespread protests on the days leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden have been rampant online for weeks. These demonstrations are scheduled to culminate with what organizers have dubbed a “Million Militia March” on Jan. 20 as Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris are to be sworn in on the same Capitol grounds that rioters overran on Wednesday.
As with the online chatter ahead of that assault on the Capitol, these calls to action have bristled with violent talk and vows to bring guns to Washington in defiance of the city’s strict weapons laws. Twitter cited some of these posts in its announcement stripping Trump of his account and preventing him from creating new ones in the future. Some event listings are openly discussing delivering “justice” for Ashli Babbitt, a rioter and Air Force veteran who was fatally shot by police inside the Capitol on Wednesday.
Prior to last Wednesday’s Capitol attack, the threat of violent action from Trump supporters was only a possibility. Now, it’s a reality. Some people who may have been reluctant to participate in the Capitol assault may very well decide to journey to Washington and take part in pre-inaugural protests after being shown that there are real extremists in America willing to take action against their political enemies. These online posts may spur them to action.
“REFUSE TO BE SILENCED,” said one online post cited by Alethea Group, calling for an “ARMED MARCH ON CAPITOL HILL & ALL STATE CAPITOLS” for Jan. 17, the last Sunday of Trump’s polarizing presidency. Another post calling for action at “DC & All State Capitols” and signed by “common folk who are tired of being tread upon” declares: “We were warned!”
“So much of the conversation right now is the general making of threats,” said Cindy Otis, vice president of analysis at Alethea. “There’s a risk of these particular dates leading to violence because that’s the kind of amped-up conversation we’re already seeing from people.”
There is also apparently a move toward using more private channels of communication between extremist groups so that social media companies can’t ban them. But law enforcement is well aware of these channels and this development has them more worried than they were before the demonstrations last Wednesday.