The world watched with horror as fanatic Trump supporters stormed the Capitol yesterday in what has been described as a “coup attempt” and “failed insurrection”.
As the unprecedented events unfolded, reports coming out of the US indicated the sheer number of rioters at the scene completely overwhelmed police, rendering them powerless to stop the furious mob that breached the Capitol building.
But the riots – which incoming president Joe Biden has now condemned as an act of “domestic terrorism” – were far from a spontaneous event.
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It turns out that the so-called “Stop the Steal” rally – a reference to defeated US President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that the November 3 election was “stolen” from him via widespread electoral fraud – had been thoroughly planned and even boasted about online for weeks in advance.
Participants took to both mainstream social media sites and niche pro-Trump platforms such as TheDonald and Parler to egg each other on and plot the riots, with many brazenly promising to carry out violence.
According to extensive research carried out by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, conservative extremist groups had co-ordinated the January 6 riots in plain sight by using a slew of alternative platforms.
DFRLab research fellow Jared Holt said the far-right propaganda of these groups was able to reach supporters “in the hundreds of thousands and even millions” and that online chatter regarding impending violence had been increasing since the election.
“In recent weeks, extremists repeatedly stated their desire for chaos and destruction at January 6 protests in Washington,” Mr Holt said.
“Several communities monitored by DFRLab discussed the use of overwhelming crowds to violate laws and enter the Capitol.”
There are countless examples of calls to violence posted online ahead of yesterday’s riots, with many pushing for “war” and bloodshed, and some even calling for the murder of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“I’m thinking it will be literal war on that day … Where we’ll storm offices and physically remove and even kill all the D.C. traitors and reclaim the country,” one Trump radical posted on TheDonald a week ago, according to the Daily Beast.
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Given the volume of online posts regarding the January 6 riots, attention is now turning to how US authorities failed to adequately prepare for the threat.
No clear answer has emerged, and the situation is especially baffling given the increased attention extreme conservative groups have received from intelligence agencies in recent years, with the FBI previously labelling QAnon – a far-right conspiracy theory common among Trump diehards – a domestic terrorist threat.
Speaking with PBS, retired Capitol police officer Larry Schaefer expressed his disbelief at the lack of preparation by authorities witnessed yesterday.
“It’s not a spur-of-the-moment demonstration that just popped up,” Mr Schaefer told the publication.
“We have a planned, known demonstration that has a propensity for violence in the past and threats to carry weapons – why would you not prepare yourself as we have done in the past?”
In the wake of the riots, FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement the FBI was working to “aggressively pursue those involved in criminal activity during the events of January 6”, but did not address how the agency failed to stop the activity in the first place.