On the website that was the epicenter of plans for the violent insurrection at the US Capitol Wednesday, some of President Donald Trump’s most loyal followers, who had for months shamed, silenced, and banned anyone who criticized the president, grappled with a new feeling after the riot ended: betrayal.
For months, the forum TheDonald has been a gathering place for people planning to try to overturn Trump’s election defeat. But when its users actually broke into the Capitol, as they had promised to do for months, the site tried to rapidly change course, saying it would “follow President Trump’s lead” and would not allow “organizing, or calling directly for, violence of any kind.”
The reversal, which moderators hinted was made under pressure from the site’s hosts, left some Trump loyalists in disbelief that they had done anything wrong: They were, they said, only following the president’s orders.
“I don’t understand the thinking,” said one popular post on the forum. “Trump told us to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. We listened to the president. They should be thanking us.”
"For weeks people were saying how ready they were to fight. The moment it happens everyone starts pearl clutching," read another popular post.
For some, Trump’s video Thursday night, where he acknowledged for the first time that he had lost the election, only intensified the feelings.
“Wow, what an absolute punch in the gut,” one post with more than 100 upvotes said. “He says it’s going to be wild, and when it gets wild, he calls it a heinous attack and middle fingers his supporters that he told to be there. Unbelievable.”
The turmoil at the organizing hub of the pro-Trump internet mirrored many users’ feelings toward the president — who, after refusing for hours to call for the riots at the Capitol to end, eventually recorded a video telling rioters that they were “very special” but should “go home.”
TheDonald has built a rabid, insular culture in large part by silencing anyone who expressed negative feelings about the president — or, in recent months, anyone who doubted the fact that he would be inaugurated as president on Jan. 20.
But in the wake of the insurrection at the Capitol, for the first time since the election, TheDonald was inundated with doom — and anger at a president who many users believed had abandoned them in the middle of a battle that he himself had ordered them to fight.
One post, with some 250 upvotes, read: “He calls people to descend on DC for what, 9 hours, then instructs them to go home? People have lost time, money, family, potentially careers and even their lives over this … and a ‘Thanks for coming, go home now’ is what people are instructed to do?”
“Exactly. Trump betrayed us,” a popular reply said. “He should have asked us to occupy the city. Unless they got him, and it’s not really him speaking.”
“I just want to save the country,” said another post, with nearly 150 upvotes. “I don’t care who we follow, but I’m beginning to doubt that person is DJT.”
Many of TheDonald’s users saw the riots Wednesday as an ultimate failure, frustrated that supporters had complied with orders to leave the Capitol and had not instigated armed conflict with police. “There is a time to be disruptive and a time for actual violence. Today was the time for focused violence, and nobody came armed and ready to commit,” one user lamented.
But as some Trump allies in Congress, like Rep. Matt Gaetz, began to lie that the rioters were orchestrated by left-wing antifa activists, TheDonald’s users spoke up to defend themselves.
“It’s sickening seeing people give Antifa the glory of fed-up Americans,” one popular post wrote.
Another user called on everyone to “flame” those who claimed the insurrection was carried out by left-wing protesters: “WE took the capitol building.”
As they watched Trump’s concession Thursday, which many supporters had vowed would never come, some TheDonald users remained in denial that he had actually conceded, analyzing his every word for shreds of hope. But others quickly turned to despair.
“I just threw up in my mouth while watching this video,” one post, with more than 80 upvotes, read.
“I’m kind of in shock right now,” someone replied. “I feel so empty.”