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Last month, a one-time campaign aide to former President Donald J. Trump posted to Facebook, Twitter, Gab and other social media sites. For the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, he wrote, candlelight vigils would be held in 20 cities on Thursday in honor of those who stormed the building.
“January 6 was America’s Tiananmen Square,” Matt Braynard, the former Trump campaign aide and founder of Look Ahead America, a right-wing organization, said in a message to Gab. “Join us in highlighting this lie with #J6vigils coast to coast.”
The responses were sparse. Seventy-eight people liked the post and 21 people shared it.
The post was an example of what right-wing groups and Trump supporters are discussing in commemoration of the 6th anniversary: scattered, local and most likely small gatherings. According to a New York Times review of recent posts by right-wing groups on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Gab and Gettr, online chatter about anniversary celebrations and gatherings has increased in recent weeks, but the posts haven’t attracted much buzz and it seems unlikely that this will translate into massive real-world efforts on Thursday.
Many of the online conversations instead focused on group-specific gatherings in places like Dallas and Phoenix. In Miami, a local branch of the far-right Proud Boys said it planned to hold a protest Thursday in honor of those arrested after the storming of the Capitol, according to a report on the Telegram messaging app. In Beverly Hills, a group campaigning for mask mandates protested on Telegram said they had planned a rally to rename January 6 to Ashli Babbitt, who was killed by federal officers while storming the Capitol.
There was little mention of violence and weapons in the reports. The groups have mainly focused on positioning the January 6 rioters as heroes and martyrs and encouraged people to push local political leaders towards a far-right agenda. Language in the posts has also been muted, calling on supporters to think about long-term goals, such as ending masks and vaccine mandates.
Attempts to stage an anniversary protest in Washington on Thursday also seem to be gaining little traction online, according to The Times review.
“Stay out of Washington, it’s nothing but a set up,” an Ohio member of the Proud Boys wrote on Telegram on Monday. “Federal agents will wait there in disguise to arrest anyone who shows up.”
Understand the Jan 6 survey
Both the Justice Department and a select House committee are investigating the events surrounding the Capitol riot. Here they are:
Another member replied, “What’s the point of DC? You’d better stay local, make a difference” in your hometown.
The lackluster and scattered talks underscore how far-right groups have largely spread the internet since President Biden was inaugurated last January. While the groups were once united under the banner of Mr. Trump’s White House and had a significant presence on mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter, many have since booted from the sites and operate more locally than nationally.
“There’s a broad shift happening right now, and we can see it in the way all these different groups are discussing and promoting events online around January 6th,” said Heidi Beirich, a founder of the nonprofit Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. . “They’re on different platforms, with different messages.”
All of this is far from a year ago, when right-wing groups and Mr Trump’s supporters fueled the Stop the Steal movement — which falsely suggested that Mr Trump’s presidential election was stolen — on Facebook and other mainstream social media. media sites. Tens of thousands of Trump supporters showed up in Washington on Jan. 6, and more than 700 were later arrested in connection with the riot.
The Proud Boys and Mr. Braynard did not respond to requests for comment. Telegram did not respond to a request for comment.
But while right-wing activity on mainstream social media appears to be more muted now, it hasn’t stopped.
On Tuesday, the Tech Transparency Project, a watchdog group funded by billionaire philanthropic organizations, including Pierre Omidyar and George Soros, released a report showing Facebook’s recommendation algorithms related to militia organizations and the Three Percenters, an anti-government movement. The activity happened even after Facebook cracked down on groups associated with QAnon, a broad conspiracy theory, in 2020, as well as on US-based militia pages.
Katie Paul, director of the Tech Transparency Project, said she created a Facebook account in July that solely followed militias’ pages to track how the social network recommended content to certain users after the January 6 events.
A page that popped up in her test account featured a banner image of a snake wrapped around a semiautomatic rifle, atop a Three Percenter logo. In other cases, she said, her account ran into Facebook ads trying to recruit her into local militias.
Key figures in the January 6 survey
“Are you ready to train and prepare for what’s coming our way in 2022?” read an ad from December, which was seen less than 1,000 times by Facebook users, according to the social network’s measurements. “6th Battalion of the 1st Missouri Volunteer Infantry is actively seeking new members in your area.”
Since the report’s publication, Facebook has removed some militia pages. The company, which has been renamed Meta, said it had “taken steps to address malicious content”.
“We have a strong policy that we will continue to enforce, including banning hate organizations and removing content that praises or supports them,” said Kevin McAlister, a Meta spokesperson.
For the January 6 anniversary, he added, the company was in contact with law enforcement agencies and “continued to actively monitor threats on our platform and will respond accordingly.”
Twitter also said it plans to monitor its service for calls to violence on Thursday, adding that it had an internal group willing to enforce its rules if violent content spreads.
The social media companies may face an easier time on Thursday than a year ago, as talks about the January 6 anniversary were muted on Facebook, Telegram and other channels. In some of the posts reviewed by The Times, commentators said they couldn’t attend the anniversary rallies but wished others well.
“Honor our brothers, honor our friends,” one Ohio member of the Proud Boys wrote in a Telegram group. “Continue to fight in their name.”
Another member wrote: “I can’t keep track of what’s happening where… can we make a group calendar?”
Kate Conger reporting contributed.