It is no secret that the words and actions of President Donald Trump contributed to the Capitol Hill riots on January 6. However, the President wasn't the only one using his public social media accounts to fan the flames of insurrection. Researchers have found that threats to storm the Capitol steadily increased in the weeks leading up to January 6.
Jared Holt of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab found that "conspiracy theories, disinformation and outright lies about the results of the election" filled alt-right sites like Parler, TheDonald and Gab following the election. On the day of the riots, traffic on the Gab and TheDonald hit record highs. Gab CEO Andrew Torba said that the site's traffic went up 40% on Wednesday. More than 80% of the posts on TheDonald that discussed the riots were met with further calls for violence. Calls for chaos were not limited to alt-right sites, they also spread to mainstream platforms. Advance Democracy found nearly 1,500 tweets from QAnon related that contained threats of violence involving the Capitol.
Tensions began to rise as the President doubled down on his various conspiracy theories. Things took an unprecedented turn as Vice President Mike Pence attempted to separate himself from the actions of his former running mate. With the Trump administration falling out, online users started plotting attacks on the Capitol and Black Lives Matter protesters. However, the lack of large, public Black Lives Matter protests redirected anger toward the Capitol.
"There was discussion specifically of overwhelming police with large crowds and doing that in order to violate laws against carrying weapons and against entering federal buildings," Holt said.
"[There were] discussions to do exactly what we saw [Wednesday]. This was an idea that was fomenting and spreading and shared approvingly between users in these extremist communities that we've been watching."
With the Inauguration set to take place in less than two weeks, local and federal officials are preparing for the worst to happen.
"We're obviously concerned. I think we as Americans have to ask ourselves, is this going to be a new normal in America?" Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser asked.
In addition, the FBI is looking into a number of crimes that were committed on Wednesday. The Capitol Police Department is also making changes to its leadership.
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