Talk of guns and potential violence is rife on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, the conservative social media site Parler and on thedonald.win, an online forum that previously operated on Reddit before the company banned it in June after years of racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism and calls for violence.
Trumpâ€™s tweet last month pushing baseless fraud claims and promoting the â€œbig protestâ€ on Jan. 6 â€” â€œBe there, will be wild!â€ â€” has become a central rallying cry. It was the top post on thedonald.win Tuesday morning, and anonymous commenters saw it as a call to action: â€œWeâ€™ve got marching orders,â€ the top reply said.
Discussion in the thread followed about how most effectively to sneak guns into Washington, laced with occasional references to using them. D.C. has some of the nationâ€™s strictest gun laws: Openly carrying guns is banned, concealed-carry licenses from other states arenâ€™t recognized, and all firearms in the District must be registered with local police.
Of carrying guns in D.C., one poster in the thread wrote, â€œYes, itâ€™s illegal, but this is war and weâ€™re clearly in a post-legal phase of our society.â€ Wrote another: â€œLIVE AS A FREE AMERICAN AND BRING YOUR ARMS!â€
More than half of the top 50 posts on thedonald.winâ€™s homepage Monday related to Wednesdayâ€™s certification featured calls of violence within the top five comments, according to research by Advance Democracy, a group headed by former FBI analyst and Senate investigator Daniel J. Jones, who lead the review of the CIAâ€™s torture program.
The group said thedonald.win had more than 18 million visits in November, and the recent posts with calls for violence had more than 40,000 engagements. One particularly troubling post said protesters should travel in groups that should â€œnot let [anyone] disarm someone without stacking bodies.â€ It added that protesters should be â€œARMED WITH RIFLE, HANDGUN, 2 KNIVES AND AS MUCH AMMO AS YOU CAN CARRY.â€
In one thread promoted by moderators Tuesday morning, titled â€œGOOD LUCK PATRIOTS, THE EYES OF THE WORLD LOOK UPON YOU NOW!!!,â€ posters shared tactical guides on how to avoid police blockades and D.C. gun laws, including: â€œIf you plan on carrying concealed, donâ€™t tell anyone you have a gun.â€ One commenter responded, â€œWe The People, will not tolerate a Steal. No retreat, No Surrender. Restore to my President what you stole or reap the consequences!!!â€
Moderators for thedonald.win did not respond to requests for comment.
Researchers expressed concern that the roiling political atmosphere is being fueled by Trumpâ€™s unfounded claims about the integrity of the election that have swirled on far-right online forums for two months.
â€œYou have what disinformation researchers have worried about for years, which is people becoming motivated to action by lies,â€ said Joan Donovan, the research director at Harvard Kennedy Schoolâ€™s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
References to guns and potential violence also have become routine on Telegram and Parler, according to the Coalition for a Safer Web, a nonprofit group that advocates for technologies and policies to remove extreme content from social media. It cited a Parler post from last week, by an account touting the QAnon conspiracy theory, that said, â€œTo all the Patriots descending on Washington DC on #jan6 ….come armed….â€
A number of posts on Parler and thedonald.win voiced anti-police messages and slammed â€œCoptifaâ€ â€” a combination of â€œcopâ€ and â€œantifa,â€ the far-left protest movement. â€œWE THE PEOPLE â€¦ are through with you,â€ said one expletive-filled post on Parler. â€œTo all our enemies high and low you want a war? Well your asking for one. â€¦ To the American people on the ground in DC today and all over this great nation, be prepared for anything. â€¦ Now we are here. Now they get what they want.â€
Parlerâ€™s chief operating officer, Jeffrey Wernick, declined to comment.
The arrest of Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio on Monday, for charges related to the burning of a historically Black churchâ€™s Black Lives Matter flag in a protest last month, has further inflamed far-right conversations online, said Eric Feinberg, vice president for content moderation for the Coalition for a Safer Web.
â€œYou donâ€™t know whoâ€™s going to get radicalized by this,â€ Feinberg said. â€œThe next three days, Iâ€™m really worried about what could happen.â€