Authorities are arresting more and more people involved in last week’s siege on the U.S. Capitol. Online gathering spaces for the far right have either been closed or are sizzling with a flood of new users. And thousands of National Guard soldiers were brought in to protect the nation’s capital.
Amid all this, leaders of far-right and extremist factions are telling their supporters to stay away from protests planned across the country this weekend and on inauguration day.
“We’re going to take a cold pill,” Enrique Tarrio, president of the far-right Proud Boys gang, said in an interview. “I feel like this part of the battle is over.”
Other figures on the far right, who helped draw huge crowds to the capital on January 6, echoed his message to stay away.
“Of course, that should go without saying, but avoid the capital on January 20,” podcaster and far-right provocateur Nicholas Fuentes wrote on Twitter. “They are deploying 25,000 troops for the inauguration and the state of emergency will still be in effect. I’m not going and won’t be going back to Washington for a very, very long time! ”
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Experts on far-right extremism agree that, unlike in the days leading up to the January 6 insurgency, the online ecosystem used by even more outspoken supporters of President Donald Trump has been muted, with little sign that large crowds will gather in Washington or state capitals for planned protests. Sunday and Wednesday, inauguration day.
But, they warned, that doesn’t mean there is no chance of violence.
Federal officials believe the aggressive pursuit of suspects in the attack on Capitol Hill and the first show of force to secure the inauguration may have prompted some extremists to reconsider returning to Washington to engage in violence, an official said on Thursday. close to the investigation.
The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said some suspects who had planned to return had retained a lawyer and surrendered rather than risk joining protests in Washington and elsewhere.
The official warned, however, that the threat level remains high as many extremists are not part of organized groups, such as the Proud Boys, with appointed leaders.
The FBI warned earlier this week that protests are planned in all 50 states, and experts fear state capitals may be softer targets for domestic terrorists, armed paramilitary groups, or simply large crowds of supporters. of angry Trump.
“Nothing is going to happen in Washington, but I am worried about state capitals,” said Daryl Johnson, security consultant and former senior analyst for domestic terrorism at the Department of Homeland Security. “They should increase security.”
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Tackle the insurgents
On Thursday morning, dozens of people who participated in the riot last week were arrested. The Justice Department is said to be prosecuting more than 150 people in connection with the attack.
Security in Washington, DC was tightened immediately after the insurgency. It has reached extraordinary levels, thousands of National Guard soldiers are committed to protecting federal buildings and public spaces.
The message to would-be protesters is clear: unapproved mass rallies and violence will not be tolerated. And it seems to resonate with the far right.
“Even before January 6, I always said it was stupid to come together in Washington,” Tarrio said. “You can’t open a door (a gun) in Washington, so the very idea of a ‘Million Militia March’ was stupid from the start.
He referred to a rallying cry that briefly erupted in the days following the insurgency, when far-right people published on Sunday about the holding of a “Million Militia March” or “#MMM” .
The attack on the Capitol, coupled with digital intelligence, also exposed many agitators to law enforcement, said Jonathan Wackrow, chief operating officer of the consultancy and consultancy Teneo Risk and a former services officer. secrets.
“There are no more surprises,” Wackrow said. “Not only do we know what their intention is, but we also know who the players are.”
A scattered movement online
In the days leading up to the violent rally, far-right figures had a welcoming platform to entice followers to introduce themselves: the short-lived social media site Speak.
Speak has gained millions of new users after the presidential election, many of whom are Trump supporters unhappy with efforts to kick conspiracy theorists and extremists from Facebook and Twitter.
An easy-to-use platform, Parler was perfect for groups announcing their intention to descend to Washington to intercede in congressional certification of Electoral College votes – the last formal step required before Joe Biden could be sworn in as president.
The Proud Boys, promoters of the QAnon conspiracy theory, far-right agitator Alex Jones and others used Speak to post flyers for the rally and urge supporters to attend.
Speak was taken offline on Sunday, preventing far-right extremists from reaching their supporters. In recent days, Twitter has deleted more than 70,000 accounts associated with QAnon. Other sites, such as the DLive streaming platform, have removed far-right activists. Fuentes, who had raised funds on DLive, was one of them.
“You kind of limit their ability to get a broad message out,” said Brian Gerber, co-director of the Center for Management and Homeland Security at Arizona State University. “This creates difficulties in following them, but it also limits their scope of activity.”
Without Speaking, Extremists Have a Hard Time Reaching Their Subscribers Online
Extremists and far-right Trump supporters have been scattered across the internet in less user-friendly forums. On the encrypted messaging service Telegram, a channel initially called “Talking Lifeboat” attracted nearly 16,000 new subscribers in 24 hours.
But Trump supporters familiar with Facebook, Twitter and Talk found themselves floundering on Telegram. It functions less like a discussion board and more like a group chat, with a fire of comments that new users can find overwhelming.
Incoming Telegram users have come face to face with neo-Nazis and white supremacists who have long used the platform. They attempted to spread anti-Semitic and racist propaganda to the influx of Trump supporters.
The “Lifeboat” group has become a confusing mess of conservatives arguing with hard-core white supremacists as they struggle to post and access content on the platform.
Before the darkness:Banned from Facebook and Twitter, pro-Trump extremists hatch inauguration day violence in dark areas of the web
To compound the chaos, potential far-right protesters now lack the guiding light of their movement: Trump’s tweets.
Since Trump was banned from Twitter on Friday, he has been forced to text his followers and post statements on the official White House website.
The president called on his supporters for calm while acknowledging for the first time that Biden will become president next week.
“Deflattering him certainly makes it harder for his supporters to rally around a message he is sending them,” said Gerber.
Violence still possible
While mass protests are unlikely in the nation’s capital, isolated terrorists or small groups could still seek to mark the inauguration.
Johnson, the security expert, is worried about bombs being sent to Washington or even snipers targeting Biden supporters at the inauguration itself.
Wackrow, the former head of the Secret Service, said massive efforts to secure Washington should not create a false sense of security. The volume of online activity accessible to the public by extremists is only a fraction of what is happening in the dark corners of the internet, he said.
“One person with the right means, the opportunity and the right intentions can dramatically change history,” he said. “But it will give the extremists the victory they need.”
A faction of the far-right mob that stormed Capitol Hill last week has, in an odd twist, been encouraged by the heavy military presence in Washington.
Followers of the disproved QAnon conspiracy theory believe that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is plotting against Trump, who will ultimately destroy them in a military action called “The Storm.” They found solace in the build-up of troops, said Travis View, a researcher and podcaster who has studied QAnon.
“These people are delighted with the large number of military soldiers,” said Mr. View. “They think they’re there to stop Joe Biden from taking over the presidency, so they’re like, ‘Enjoy the show, make the popcorn.’”
Contributor: Kevin Johnson