Last month, a one-time campaign helper from former President Donald J. Trump was posted on Facebook, Twitter, Gab, and other social media sites. For the first anniversary of the January 6th riot in the US Capitol, he wrote, candlelight vigils would be held in 20 cities on Thursday to honor those who stormed the building.
“January 6th was America’s Tiananmen Square,” Matt Braynard, former Trump campaign aide and founder of Look Ahead America, a right-wing organization, said in a post on Gab. “Make this lie with us with # J6vigils from coast to coast.”
The answers were sparse. 78 people liked the news and 21 people shared it.
The post was an example of what right-wing groups and supporters of Mr. Trump are discussing in commemoration of January 6th: dispersed, local, and most likely small gatherings. According to a New York Times review of recent posts by far-right groups on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Gab, and Gettr, online chatter about anniversary celebrations and rallies has increased in recent weeks, but the posts haven’t attracted much and sums of money it seems unlikely that there will be any major real-world effort on Thursday.
Much of the online conversations instead focused on gatherings for specific groups in places like Dallas and Phoenix. In Miami, a local association of the far-right Proud Boys announced, according to a post in the messaging app Telegram, that it would hold a protest on Thursday in honor of those arrested after the storm on the Capitol. In Beverly Hills, a group protesting mask mandates told Telegram that they were planning a rally to rename January 6th thereafter Ashli Babbittwho was killed by federal officials when he stormed the Capitol.
There is little mention of violence and weapons in the posts. The groups have mainly focused on positioning the January 6 rioters as heroes and martyrs, and encouraging people to move local political leaders to a far-right agenda. The language used in the contributions is also muted and encourages supporters to think about long-term goals such as the elimination of mask and vaccination requirements.
Efforts to organize an anniversary protest in Washington on Thursday also seem to have little resonance online, according to The Times.
“Stay away from Washington, it’s nothing more than a setup,” wrote a member of the Proud Boys from Ohio on Telegram on Monday. “Federal agents will be there in disguise, waiting to arrest anyone who shows up.”
Understand the January 6th investigation
Both the Justice Department and a House Special Committee are investigating the events of the Capitol Rising. Here they are:
Another member replied, “What is the point of DC? Better stay local, make a difference in your hometown.
The lackluster and scattered conversations underscore how far right-wing extremist groups have been fragmented on the Internet since then President Biden was inaugurated last january. While the groups were once united under the banner of Mr Trump’s White House and featured on mainstream platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, many have since been and are booted from the sites more active on site rather than national.
“Right now there is a lot of change going on and we can see all of these different groups discussing and promoting online through January 6th events,” said Heidi Beirich, a founder of the nonprofit Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. “They are on different platforms, with different messages.”
All of this is a long way from a year ago when right-wing groups and Mr Trump’s supporters fueled the stop-the-steal movement – which falsely implied that the presidential election had been stolen from Mr Trump – on Facebook and other mainstream social media sites. Tens of thousands of Mr. Trump’s supporters showed up in Washington on January 6th and more than 700 were later arrested in connection with the uprising.
The Proud Boys and Mr Braynard did not respond to requests for comment. Telegram did not respond to a request for comment.
Yet while right-wing activity in mainstream social media media seems to be more subdued now, it hasn’t stopped.
On Tuesday, the Tech Transparency Project, an industry monitoring group funded by philanthropic organizations of billionaires like Pierre Omidyar and George Soros, published a report This shows that Facebook’s recommendation algorithms continue to distribute pages related to militia organizations and the Three Percenters, an anti-government movement. The activity also took place afterwards Facebook cracked down on it in 2020 through groups related to QAnon, a far-reaching conspiracy theory, as well as on US militia sites.
Katie Paul, a director of the Tech Transparency Project, said she created a Facebook account in July that is solely tracking pages from militia groups to see how the social network recommended content to certain users after the January 6 events.
One page that showed up on their test account featured a banner image of a snake wrapped around a semi-automatic rifle overlaid with a Three Percenter logo. In other cases, she said her account came across Facebook ads trying to recruit her to join local militias.
Key figures from the January 6 inquiry
“Are you ready to train and prepare for everything that awaits us in 2022?” Read an ad in December that was seen less than 1,000 times by Facebook users according to the measurements of the social network. “The 6th Battalion of the 1st Missouri Volunteer Infantry is actively looking for new members in your area.”
Since the report was published, Facebook has blocked some of the militia’s sites. The company that renamed to Meta, said it had “taken steps to combat harmful content”.
“We have strict policies that we continue to enforce, including banning hate organizations and removing content that praises or endorses them,” said Kevin McAlister, a meta spokesperson.
On the occasion of the anniversary on January 6th, he added, the company is in contact with law enforcement authorities and will “continue to actively monitor the threats on our platform and react accordingly”.
Twitter also said it plans to monitor its service for calls to violence on Thursday, adding that it has an internal group ready to enforce its rules if violent content is spread.
Social media companies could have an easier time Thursday than a year ago, as conversations about the anniversary were muted on January 6 on Facebook, Telegram and other channels. In some of the posts reviewed by The Times, commentators said they couldn’t attend anniversary rallies but wished others well.
“Honor our brothers, honor our friends,” wrote a member of the Proud Boys from Ohio in a Telegram group. “Carry on the fight on their behalf.”
Another member wrote, “I can’t keep track of what’s happening, where … can we put together a group calendar?”
Kate Conger Reporting contributed.