The supporters of President Donald Trump who rioted in the US Capitol building on Wednesday had been openly planning for weeks on both mainstream social media and the pro-Trump internet. On forums like TheDonald, a niche website formed after Reddit banned the subreddit of the same name, they promised violence against lawmakers, police, and journalists if Congress did not reject the results of the 2020 election.
In one interaction four days ago, a person on TheDonald asked, “What if Congress ignores the evidence?”
“Storm the Capitol,” said one reply, which received more than 500 upvotes.
“You’re fucking right we do."
On pro-Trump social media website Parler, chat app Telegram, and other corners of the the far-right internet, people discussed the Capitol Hill rally at which Trump spoke as the catalyst for a violent insurrection. They have been using those forums to plan an uprising in plain sight, one that they executed Wednesday afternoon, forcing Congress to flee its chambers as it met to certify the results of the election.
“This is America. Fuck D.C. it's in the Constitution. Bring your goddamn guns.”
“Extremists have for weeks repeatedly expressed their intentions to attend the January 6 protests, and unabashedly voiced their desire for chaos and violence online,” said Jared Holt, a visiting research fellow with DFRLab. “What we've witnessed is the manifestation of that violent online rhetoric into real-life danger.”
“The earliest call we got on our radar for today specifically was a militia movement chatroom talking about being ‘ready for blood’ if things didn't start changing for Trump,” Holt said.
Law enforcement, however, appeared unprepared for the scale of the violence on Wednesday. Capitol police were quickly overwhelmed, dramatically outnumbered by Trump supporters. While thousands of National Guard troops were posted throughout Washington, DC, during Black Lives Matter protests, the DC National Guard was not deployed Wednesday until well after the Capitol’s perimeters had been breached.
Hundreds of extremists' posts discussed bringing firearms in violation of Washington, DC, law. Nevertheless, people displayed weapons that they had brought with them.
“All this bullshit about not bringing guns to D.C. needs to stop,” read one post from Tuesday with more than 5,000 upvotes. “This is America. Fuck D.C. it's in the Constitution. Bring your goddamn guns.”
According to Advance Democracy, a nonprofit research organization, all corners of the social web were signaling imminent violence in the days leading up to the riot.
“On TheDonald, more than 50% of the top posts on January 4, 2021, about the January 6th Electoral College certification featured unmoderated calls for violence in the top five responses,” the organization found.
“ARMED WITH RIFLE, HANDGUN, 2 KNIVES AND AS MUCH AMMO AS YOU CAN CARRY,” one post on the website said.
This was also the case on Parler, ADI found. One account, with the name No Trump No Peace #GoTime, posted a GIF with a noose and a caption that said, “Who would you like to see 'dispatched' first? 1) Nancy Pelosi 2) John Roberts 3) Pence 4) other (please name) I was leaning towards Nancy, but it might have to be Pence.” (Two days after that post, a livestream of the violent mob standing outside Congress showed them chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”)
Even on mainstream social media channels like Twitter and TikTok, calls for violence were easy to find. According to Advance Democracy, more than half QAnon-related accounts on Twitter — about 20,800 — mentioned Jan. 6, although the majority of the posts didn’t explicitly call for violence.
“No wonder the President said January 6 in DC was going to be wild.@LLinWood just told us many of our politicians are raping and killing children. They won’t be able to walk down the street,” a post said.
Calls for violence could even be heard the night before the protests. “Tomorrow — I don’t even like to say it because I’ll be arrested — I’ll say it. Tomorrow, we need to go into the Capitol,” one man said on a livestream by white supremacist Baked Alaska, a far-right internet troll whose real name is Tim Gionet and who once briefly worked for BuzzFeed. The next day, Gionet was sitting in a Senate office, having stormed the building as part of the mob.
On Facebook, a group called Red State Secession gathered nearly 8,000 members. The group sent people to a website that offered travel routes to DC and provided memes to post on social media.
There was no channel that seemed more important than The Donald.
“I’m thinking it will be literal war on that day,” said one commenter, according to the Daily Beast. “Where we’ll storm offices and physically remove and even kill all the D.C. traitors and reclaim the country.” A Jan. 4 post on the website featuring an image with the words “Pepe army” and “stop the steal” gathered 5,500 upvotes. “Stop the steal and execute the ‘stealers,’” the top comment read.