Angry Far-Right Extremists Seek to Overshadow Biden Inauguration, Amid Growing Scrutiny
Facing mounting pressure from law enforcement and obstacles in the form of tech companies pushing fringe websites and prominent social media accounts offline, far-right extremists have embraced a more diffuse, chaotic response to Joe Biden’s inauguration than the concentrated mob attack that engulfed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Hatewatch found calls for action staged in Washington, D.C., and in cities around the country, intermingled with more generalized rhetoric advocating violence, or expressing a belief that traditional politics cannot assuage the grievances felt by President Trump’s supporters.
Extremists have proposed or hinted that different events will begin on Saturday, Jan. 16, and run until Jan. 20, when Biden will be sworn in as president. The following is a summary of what Hatewatch has observed from far-right extremists in the runup to Biden’s inauguration. Hatewatch is omitting details specifying exact times, places or web addresses in an effort to warn the public about the potential for further violence without amplifying specific plots.
Pro-Trump extremists in D.C.
Authorities are still determining what level of coordination extremists employed in attacking the Capitol on Jan. 6. Whether they will be able to build upon that effort remains an open question among researchers of the far right. Hatewatch’s review of publicly available internet conversations suggests that, at the very least, the desire to mount a similar display of violence is palpable, even if some stated plans appear quixotic in nature, or challenging to achieve. Hatewatch observed plans that would require not only tens of thousands of people willing to risk jail time or death, but also a staggering degree of group discipline. Far-right extremists would have to achieve those goals amid intensifying scrutiny from law enforcement and ramped-up security measures across the D.C. area.
One example of a large-scale call to action in D.C. asked for 15,000 “patriots” to assemble in that city on Jan. 17. The anonymous person who wrote the call described the gathering on their website as being one composed of different extreme far-right groups, including the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer and the Oath Keepers. These groups would spread out into different locations in D.C. in the aftermath of this new siege on the Capitol, according to the online flyer Hatewatch found. The participants would then block Democrats from entering the area and force a situation wherein Trump could be kept in office. The plan has already hit snags: The proprietor (or proprietors) of the website chose to hype it on the right-wing social media website Parler in the runup to Jan. 6. Parler is also no longer online, and those extremist groups have not demonstrated any apparent willingness to endorse this specific plan – at least in any communications that were publicly visible to Hatewatch.
A website affiliated with the so-called Boogaloo movement, which sometimes unifies white supremacist and antigovernment ideologies, also published a call to action for Jan. 17 in the aftermath of Trump’s loss. The site posted a description of a planned event, referring to an “armed takeover” of the Capitol, and listed out a series of grievances related to the media and America’s mainstream political parties. In the aftermath of Jan. 6, the site put up a note in red font suggesting that they had canceled their plans. Despite this statement, the group left their list of grievances visible to the public. Someone then took the website down altogether on the morning of Jan. 13.
Security ramps up in state capital cities
Another plan far-right extremists have circulated on such apps as MeWe and Telegram appears in the form of a Google map with markings placed in different state capital cities throughout the country. Hatewatch also found a virtual flyer with numerical map coordinates of areas surrounding state capitol buildings. The flyer listed out alphabetically on a state-by-state basis. Government officials appear to have already taken note of these images or at least chatter about state houses, based on statements they have made assuring the public that such facilities are being secured.
The office of Josh Shapiro, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, tweeted on Jan. 12 that his state was working to ensure the safety of their Capitol. Extreme far-right protesters focused acutely on Pennsylvania both in the runup to the 2020 election and its aftermath, when Biden’s victory there delivered a fatal blow to Trump’s election chances.
“My office is working in close coordination with the Pennsylvania Capitol Police and Pennsylvania State Police to ensure the safety of our Capitol and commonwealth facilities. As law enforcement, we must be aware, be prepared, collaborate and share resources, including intel,” Shapiro’s office announced on Twitter.
Hatewatch found online ads promoting events at state capitol buildings in such places as Alabama and Utah. Pro-Trump activists posted those ads in Facebook groups, but the site appears to have removed them in recent days. Officials have also made proclamations about increased security in such states as Florida, Illinois and Oklahoma in advance of Biden’s inauguration. Extremists targeted the state house in Michigan during so-called lockdown protests in 2020, bringing firearms with them to push back against restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. Michigan Liberty Militia, an antigovernment group, also showed up at the state Capitol building on Jan. 6, according to a story in the local publication City Pulse. Michigan passed a new law on Jan. 11 banning the open display of firearms inside the Capitol building.
Heated rhetoric stays hot after crackdown
Hatewatch has long reported out the correlation between terroristic rhetoric and real-world violence. Far-right extremists have increasingly embraced language indicating an abandonment of political solutions after Joe Biden won the 2020 election, and following the violence on Jan. 6, such rhetoric has only grown more explicit. This heated rhetoric emerges in the face of social media companies deplatforming some extremist users and tech companies collaborating to remove some websites altogether, which is an issue that propagandists have aggressively attempted to exploit.
Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin wrote a post on his website the Daily Stormer about the response to social media companies clamping down on far-right extremism on their platforms. Anglin’s carefully constructed language appeared to suggest that extremists should be prepared to die for their political beliefs.
“It is your decision which way you go,” Anglin wrote on Jan. 13 in a post about deplatforming. He continued:
Focus on what’s real: you were not made for this world, you are not of this world. You were made for the world beyond, and that is where your eternal home lies.
All of this – all of your experiences on this earth – they are all simply part of your journey home, to where you belong.
Anglin has written appreciatively in the past about terrorism committed by those who adhere to a white supremacist worldview. Matthew Q. Gebert, a State Department official that Hatewatch identified as being a recruiter for the white nationalist movement in August 2019, wrote on Twitter on Jan. 12 that events following Jan. 6 had left him “on fire.”
“I’m on fire...and I’m a grounded, sober person. What are tens of millions of wilder white Americans thinking right now?” Gebert wrote through a Twitter account advertising his hate podcast.
Far-right extremists and conservatives have flocked to Telegram, an encrypted messaging app that also enables users to publish public facing messages in the form of a feed. Telegram feeds look and act similar to someone’s social media homepage and serve roughly the same purpose. Telegram seldom undergoes any content moderation, which is why it is popular with the far right. Telegram began taking down right-wing extremist channels this week after the Jan. 6 insurrection. On Telegram, neo-Nazi groups like National Justice Party expressed feelings of solidarity with Trump supporters, seeking to build recruitment bridges with them.
“For once, the voices of those people most despised by the ruling class of the United States were heard in the halls of Congress,” a post circulated by that group on Telegram stated. “The politicians who have lied, betrayed and sold out the American people for decades were forced to cower in fear and scatter like rats from the roused spirit of the long-suffering public.”
So-called accelerationist channels on Telegram, which aim to collapse society in the hopes of building an alternative, fascist government, adapted to current events and an influx of new users by training their hateful, pro-violence words and imagery on matters related to the alleged suppression of free speech. One video Hatewatch found glorified violence against leftists, media figures and politicians, tying typical neo-Nazi grievances into the pro-Trump, QAnon conspiracy theory. Social media companies have aggressively attempted to rein in the spread of that conspiracy, which imagines prominent Democrat politicians brought to justice on invented charges of corruption and child abuse.
Rhetoric appearing to advocate violence is hardly exclusive to neo-Nazis on apps such as Telegram and has also carried over to social media influencers who are popular with Trump’s base. Twitter suspended on Jan. 10 Ali Alexander, a notorious disinformation poster and the leader of the so-called Stop the Steal protest movement, which sought to delegitimize Biden’s victory with unfounded allegations of fraud. Alexander responded that night by livestreaming on Periscope, an app owned by Twitter to which he still had access. Alexander made vague threats of revenge against his perceived adversaries on the stream.
“I will unleash a legion of angels to bring hell to our enemies,” Alexander said, pointing his finger into the camera. “So, rest assured in this. You know, the lord says vengeance is his. And I pray that I am the tool to stab these motherfuckers.”