Extremist forums that applauded the Jan.6 attack on Capitol Hill deteriorated at the rally scheduled for Saturday in Washington, insisting without evidence that the event was a secret government plot to arrest more people involved in the riot.
Users of far-right Facebook groups and extremist forums such as TheDonald and 4chan, which previously hosted photos of streaming users in Washington hotel rooms and even maps of the Capitol Tunnel system in the days leading up to the January 6 riot, largely direct users. away from the upcoming event.
Those who post on these forums say they largely believe the event is a setup for a “false flag” or “honeypot” event, in which they will be trapped and coerced into committing acts of violence by federal agents.
The change offers a window into how the dynamics among some of the most active and extremist online forums changed in the aftermath of January 6, leading to hundreds of arrests. Paranoia drives many conversations and seems to inhibit the ability of some extremists to organize on the open web.
“Now explain how we are supposed to protest without the FBI breaking down your door and ending up in a Washington jail with no court date.” I was at the Capitol on D6, ”wrote one user on TheDonald. “Any protest after D6 is ready to be a false flag. And you also can’t talk about that ‘next level’ here without the federal authorities breaking down your door. “
The “Justice for J6” rally is moderated by Matt Braynard, who worked for Donald Trump’s campaign as chief data and strategy officer in 2016, and his organization Look Ahead America, according to his website. Look Ahead America is also planning rallies in 17 other cities across the country on the same day. He said rumors of “false flag” attacks are sown by opponents who want Trump supporters “to be made to believe that inaction or violent action is the only answer.”
“There are voices left and right that try to discourage American patriots from believing that the electoral system cannot be fixed, that the vote does not matter and that public protests like ours are “False flag attacks” and are futile, ”he said. noted.
The Department of Homeland Security has estimated that around 700 people will attend the event. Law enforcement is preparing for the event by installing temporary fencing and activating an “increased presence” of the Metropolitan Police Department.
Some users on the extremist forums say they plan to attend, with several citing President Joe Biden’s new vaccine mandates as the impetus. Other users believe the event is a trap set by federal agents, but still suggest that their fellow bulletin board users commit violence if they plan to attend.
At least one forum user urged others to engage in violence if they were to be arrested anyway.
Asked about the violent rhetoric surrounding the event, Braynard said his group had “cooperated with the Capitol, Metropolitan and Park police, had a large diplomatic security team and a large number of volunteers trained to prevent any incident from happening. happen “.
Unlike the January 6 rally, Saturday’s event was hardly shared or publicized on mainstream platforms. The most popular public Facebook post on this topic, according to research via Facebook-owned data tool CrowdTangle, has only been liked, shared and commented on 300 times, and has been met wholeheartedly with calls from members. to avoid the event.
The hashtag proposed by the organizers, # JusticeforJ6, was tweeted about 1,300 times, with many criticizing the event.
A Telegram channel for the pro-Trump extremist gang The Proud Boys announced last week: “We (Proud Boys) ARE NOT GOING”, suggesting it was a trap.
Prominent QAnon influencer L. Lin Wood echoed similar sentiments on Monday.
“I think a big rally in DC this weekend is a BAD idea,” he wrote.
Alex Goldenberg of the Network Contagion Research Institute, a group that tracks the reach of extremist groups online, said pro-Trump extremist groups largely focus on anti-vaccine rallies that have been heavily promoted on Telegram and Facebook in cities. of the whole world.
“In July, the NCRI detected over 700 Telegram messages promoting the World Wide Freedom Rally, which were viewed over 2 million times. The majority of the posts promoted material marketing the event internationally, customized for major cities around the world, ”he told NBC News. “This month we have seen the trend grow exponentially with over 3,000 telegram messages accumulating over 15 million views. “
An iteration of the rally in Washington, dubbed the Worldwide Freedom Rally, will also take place on Saturday. The rallies attract anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters, and usually include a march.