​Capitol Breach Preceded by Widespread Calls for Violence on Pro-Trump Social Media 

Pro-Trump protesters breached the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021, and broke this window on the east side of the building. Photo by Adele M. Stan for Right Wing Watch

On Wednesday afternoon, after watching President Donald J. Trump deliver a conspiracy-laden speech to a hard-right gathering at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., pro-Trump forces made their way to the Capitol building where they clashed with police, fighting their way inside the Capitol building, leading to an eventual evacuation. ​The president himself had promised to walk to the Capitol with them, but apparently did not.

In the days leading up to the certification process halted by Trump forces storming the Capitol, research from ​the nonprofit research group Advance Democracy shows a troubling number of social media posts calling for violence on Jan. 6, which has been portrayed among some pro-Trump forces, conspiracy theorists, and far-right groups as the last chance to save the presidency ​of their leader. They frequently refer to the present moment as being akin to 1776​, when the first shots were fired in the American Revolution. These social media posts are also in keeping with some of the more extreme messaging ​pushed by the ​so-called Stop the Steal campaign led by political operative Ali Alexander.

Posts from Jan. 1 to Jan. 4. on Twitter, Parler, TikTok, and The Donald—a former reddit thread spun off into a website pushing far-right material—call for violence. Some accounts pushing these messages were related to the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, which has been labeled a domestic terrorist threat by the FBI. According to ADI, on The Donald forum alone, posts with calls for violence had more than 40,000 engagements as of early evening Monday. 

While Stop the Steal organizers and speakers have suggested that Democrats have stolen the election, created a boogeyman out of Black Lives Matter and anti-fascist activists, and increasingly mentioned civil war and alluded revolution, these conspiracy-laden social media posts echoed their claims and upped the ante with their blatant calls for violence.

One account claimed that anti-fascist activists, Black Lives Matter, and Democrats, “plan to KILL Trumpians on Jan 6” and “declare War,” to which another QAnon-linked account advocated that someone “gets rid of them.”

Citing Lin Wood, a pro-Trump attorney, conspiracy theorist, and Stop the Steal activist, one Twitter user said, “No wonder the President said January 6 in DC was going to be wild.@LLinWood just  told us many of our  politicians are raping and killing children. They won’t be able to walk down the street.” This is a central claim of the QAnon conspiracy theory movement, whose followers believe that there’s a global cabal of pedophiles made up of high-ranking ​Democratic politicians, and that only Trump can bring this cabal down. QAnon followers have committed violent acts, including kidnappings, car chases, and a murder.

A Jan. 4 post on Parler by a QAnon adherent called for Nancy Pelosi, John Roberts, and Pence to be “dispatched,​and was adorned with a gif of a noose. That came just days after Wood called for Pence and others to be “at top of list” when “arrests for treason begin” and called for execution of Pence.

A number of ​right-wing social media posts encouraged users to stock up on guns. “Make sure You Adopt one of these Lonely Guns Before Jan 6th. Independence Day,” read another tweet with an image of numerous guns and ammunition. 

In one TikTok video, a man seems to reference Trump’s directive to the Proud Boys to “stand back, and stand by,” suggesting that the time for standing by is over. Speaking about another TikTok user who encouraged people not to bring guns to the capital–where it is illegal to carry without a special permit–the user said, “[Does he] realize the police force is not going to try to stop 4 million people with sidearms and rifles? We’re called there for a reason. We’re called there as a show of force,” adding, “We’ll be civil, we’ll be safe, but take your motherfucking guns.” That video received over 5,500 views.

Another TikTok user said that pro-Trump protesters “want to shoot as many liberals as they can” with accompanying text that read: “Awww, now y’all are scared. Maybe y’all should have thought about that before you looted burned our cities and beat and harassed innocent Trump supporters !!! GTFOH !!!”

And on The Donald, a far-right internet messaging board, replies to top posts from Jan. 4 featured unmoderated calls for violence. One reply called for those heading to D.C. to “Travel in packs and do not let them disarm someone without stacking bodies.” Another framed it as a battle between patriots and traitors and advocated for violence against D.C. police: “It is about the number of Patriots v. the number of Traitors. … 10,000 people in a block with weapons v. the entire DC police department; who will win? 

These messages are in keeping with the rhetoric of the Stop the Steal movement. Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes called for “bloody war” if Trump didn’t invoke Insurrection Act at a Dec. 12 Stop the Steal rally; his far-right anti-government militia group is also in D.C. today, along with Three Percenters, another far-right anti-government militia group, and scores of Proud Boys.

And at yesterday’s pro-Trump rally at Freedom Plaza, Ali Alexander, standing in front of a sign emblazoned with the words, “MARTIAL LAW NOW,” led the crowd in chants of “Victory or death!” As Right Wing Watch’s Peter Montgomery reported, it wasn’t the only such call for violence.

Arrested on charges of private property destruction Monday,​ Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was also apprehended​ and charged with possession of two high-capacity firearm magazines​, a felony in Washington, D.C. The chairman of the chauvinist neo-fascist group had come to town as part of Trump loyalists’ efforts to keep the outgoing president in power. 

Tarrio claimed he was selling the two high-capacity firearm magazines, which were embossed with the Proud Boys logo, but if the incident indicated anything, it was that some protesters were arriving to the capital city armed and ready to put up a fight.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the rally at which Stewart Rhodes called for “bloody war” was held on Dec. 12, 2020, not Dec. 14.