Far-right forums thrive after Capitol attack but stumble over legacy of Trump and riots
A year after members of far-right groups rioted on the US Capitol, online extremist forums that telegraphed the January 6 brutality are still harboring violent rhetoric.
But they also point to a different reality: disparate groups that once united around a common goal are now struggling to agree on many issues, including what happened on January 6 and how to interpret the former President Donald Trump’s support for Covid vaccines.
Calls for violence in these online forums have become less specific, although experts warn they are still of concern.
A report released Thursday by Advance Democracy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that conducts public interest research and investigations, found that “although explicit calls for violence are no longer as prolific, misinformation about the voter fraud and conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election continue to be prominent” and that “a number of users continue to use violent rhetoric”.
This is a distinct change from the days leading up to January 6, 2021, when users of TheDonald.Win, an extremist forum that was moved on an independent website after being banned from Reddit, posted pictures of munitions in their hotel rooms and maps of the tunnels under the Capitol.
Major posts on that same forum in recent weeks have lamented Trump’s support for Covid vaccines and reminders, as users widely assumed he hadn’t received them and was against them. They also expressed disillusionment with Trump, who they say has failed to adequately defend those they call ‘J6 prisoners’, or those who have been sentenced to prison for participating in violent crimes. during the Capitol Riot.
That disappointment only grew after Trump canceled his scheduled Jan. 6 press conference at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday.
A post on Patriots.win said Trump had a whole army, “but he just won’t use it.”
TheDonald was renamed shortly after the attack to Patriots.Win, as the original owner feared legal issues in the weeks following the attack.
Extremists largely avoided pushing events on the anniversary on Thursday, apart from several small “vigils” planned for Ashli Babbitt, the rioter who was shot and killed by a police officer in the Capitol as she tried to break into the chamber of the House of Representatives.
QAnon adherents, anti-vaccine activists and Trump supporters instead turned their attention to an anti-vaccination march on Washington on Jan. 23, which was promoted by Steve Bannon’s War Room and anti-vaccine influencers.
The Advance Democracy report comes as far-right extremism remains under intense scrutiny from US law enforcement and watchdog groups. Some groups that went silent in the months following the Jan. 6 riot have recently reemerged to focus on local politics, focusing on school and county health boards.
And although extremist web forums are quieter than a year ago, they are active – and still trying to cope with the riot. The Patriots.Win posters remain widely divided on the merit of the attack, as do members of the QAnon movement.
Mike Rothschild, who studies the QAnon movement, said most adherents generally believe a conspiracy theory advanced by Fox News host Tucker Carlson that the riot was a setup by federal agents to entrap Trump supporters, while others still celebrate violence.
“I don’t think you’re getting the open, planned, no-attempt-to-hide conspiracy that you got before January 6,” Rothschild said. “They don’t do that. And we would know if they did that, because they made no effort to hide it.
The Advance Democracy report found no similar direct planning on the same forums in the run-up to the Jan. 6 anniversary, but found disillusionment with the former president for not using his “army.”
Other violent threats remain. Rothschild has in recent days pointed to a cartoon popular among QAnon supporters by pro-Trump illustrator Ben Garrison, which showed Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, hanging from a lamppost.
“The violence in the rhetoric is as blatant as ever,” he said.