United States election officials say ‘unprecedented’ spread of misinformation has eroded trust in voting system.
The far-right movement instrumental to last week’s US Capitol occupation hopes to cause more violence across the United States ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, anti-hate group Southern Poverty Law Center warned during a Friday news conference.
Fringe groups, including white nationalists, militias and conspiracy theorists, have been unified by the desire to keep President Donald Trump in office and perceived censorship following Trump’s suspension across social media platforms and the de-hosting of right-wing Twitter replacement Parler.
These groups are gathering online, planning armed demonstrations in all 50 state capitals. “They’re sharing tactics and lists of targets, they say they’re ready to fight and kill in Trump’s name. And there’s every reason to take them at their word,” SPLC President Margaret Huang said at the news conference.
The crowd of rioters that breached the Capitol on January 6 after a Trump rally was thought to have bought into a debunked theory, repeated by the president and his allies, that election fraud caused Biden’s win at the polls.
The rioters stormed the Capitol as legislators certified Biden’s victory in a joint session of Congress. This gave an initial impression that Trump supporters went too far after the president “incited” an insurrection, according to legislators who impeached him a second time.
But as details emerge, it appears there were more planning and lethal goals. Federal authorities now allege the rioters planned to kidnap legislators and harm Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump has disavowed violence and claimed those who engaged in the riot could not be his supporters.
Five died as a result of the riot and more than 80 have been arrested.
Amid increased scrutiny, far-right groups are increasingly moving to encrypted messaging apps to air their views and plan, Michael Edison Hayden, an investigative reporter and spokesperson for SPLC, said in the news conference.
Hayden said he has seen “ratcheted up rhetoric” in the wake of the Capitol riot.
Neo-Nazi groups and members of the far-right are employing rhetoric similar to that of armed groups like al-Qaeda or ISIL (ISIS), “talking about how [they] should be comfortable leaving their bodies behind”, Hayden continued.
Some rhetoric Hayden encountered warned people from attending demonstrations in Washington, DC, where they would face “huge obstacles not present on January 6”.
New: Extremists face obstacles in mounting an attack similar to 1/6 and are spreading out their potential targets.
The most concerning trend is that rhetoric has grown more heated and different factions are uniting over shared grievances.
— Michael Edison Hayden (@MichaelEHayden) January 14, 2021
The National Guard has deployed more than 20,000 troops in the US capital amid threats of violence ahead of Biden’s January 20 inauguration and federal authorities are involved in a nationwide investigation to apprehend those involved with the violence.
Still, the possibility of political violence in Washington, DC and across the country is still a concern, Hayden warned.
Hayden also discussed the situation at state capitals: “There is a real groundswell of
chatter around showing up at these places.”
Hayden saw maps of state capital buildings with “little marks” on encrypted apps as a way to “broadcast” to the types of people who would attend armed, pro-Trump rallies, that “they are ready for them”.
But the rhetoric is not limited to encrypted services, according to Media Matters for America, a nonprofit that monitors untrue claims across media.
Media Matters found evidence of a growing conspiracy theory on TikTok, a popular video-sharing social media platform, that martial law would be declared across the US.
Martial law is rule by the military, of which Trump is currently the commander in chief. Some of the videos featured in Media Matters’s report on the theory contain pro-Trump slogans.
Since the Capitol occupation, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms have permanently suspended Trump’s personal accounts. Amazon stopped hosting Parler, the “free speech” platform for conservatives, on Monday.
Amazon lawyers claimed in court hearings the site featured calls to assassinate Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, members of the media and others.
There is an unprecedented level of cooperation between myriad far-right groups and increased support from politicians, who are able to rally under the perceived grievance of being censored after suspensions by social media giants, Hayden explained.
Further, the idea that the election was stolen from Trump “parallels” to the white nationalist idea that liberal elites are stealing white America, he said. White nationalist groups, many of which disavowed Trump after his election, have started recruiting Trump supporters on encrypted apps.
Adherents of QAnon believe a broad set of conspiracy theories that centres on the belief that Trump was chosen to defeat a cabal of liberal elites, including politicians, who harvest the blood of trafficked children to keep themselves young.
These theories have been given credence by elected officials. Other officials touted voter fraud conspiracies, which have been subsumed by QAnon adherents and other fringe groups.
There is an “anti-Democratic, hard-right sector of the GOP, which is difficult to quantify”, Hayden told Al Jazeera during the news conference. “They’re in bed with white nationalists, but they may not be white nationalists. That combination is really scary.”
Hayden hoped members of the Republican party would do what is necessary to stop a unifying far-right.
“It’s going to require some very aggressive actions on the part of the politicians who have helped enable this, or at least the people who enabled those politicians,” Hayden concluded.