The extremist forums that cheered on the Jan. 6 Capitol attack have soured on the planned Saturday rally in Washington, insisting without evidence that the event is a secret government plot to arrest more people involved in the riot.
Users in extreme far-right Facebook groups and extremist forums such as TheDonald and 4chan, which previously hosted pictures of users streaming into Washington hotel rooms and even maps of the Capitol tunnel system in the days before the Jan. 6 riot, are largely steering users away from the upcoming event.
Those posting on these forums say they largely believe the event to be a setup for a “false flag” event or “honeypot,” in which they’ll be entrapped and coerced to commit violence by federal agents.
The shift offers a window into how the dynamics among some of the most active and extremist online forums have changed in the aftermath of Jan. 6, which has led to hundreds of arrests. Paranoia drives many conversations, and it appears to be inhibiting some extremists’ ability to organize on the open web.
“Now explain how we’re supposed to protest without the FBI busting down your door and you ending up in a DC jail with no court date. I was at the Capitol on J6,” one user wrote on TheDonald. “Any protest after J6 is primed to be a false flag. And you can’t talk about that ‘next level’ here either without the feds busting down your door.”
The “Justice for J6” rally is hosted by Matt Braynard, who worked for Donald Trump’s campaign as director of data and strategy in 2016, and his organization Look Ahead America, according to its 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 planted by naysayers who want Trump supporters “to be led to thinking that nonaction or violent action is the only answer.”
“There are voices on the left and the right trying to discourage patriotic Americans from believing that the election system cannot be fixed, that voting doesn’t matter, and that public demonstrations like ours are ‘false flag attacks’ and are futile,” he said.
The Department of Homeland Security has estimated about 700 people will attend the event. Law enforcement is bracing for the event by installing temporary fencing and activating an “increased presence” from 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 impetus. Other users believe the event is a trap set by federal agents, but are still suggesting their fellow message board users commit violence if they do plan to attend.
At least one forum user urged others to engage in violence if they were going to be arrested anyway.
When asked about violent rhetoric surrounding the event, Braynard said that his group has “cooperated with the Capitol, Metropolitan, and Park police, have a large diplomatic security team, and a large number of trained volunteers to prevent any incidents from occurring.”
Unlike the Jan. 6 rally, Saturday’s event was hardly shared or hyped on mainstream platforms. The most popular public Facebook post about it, according to a search through the Facebook-owned data tool CrowdTangle, was only liked, shared and commented on 300 times, and was met roundly with calls from members to avoid the event.
The hashtag proposed by organizers, #JusticeforJ6, was tweeted around 1,300 times, many from people criticizing the event.
A Telegram channel for the pro-Trump extremist gang The Proud Boys announced last week, “We (Proud Boys) ARE NOT going to this,” suggesting it was a trap.
Prominent QAnon influencer L. Lin Wood echoed similar sentiments Monday.
“I think a large rally in D.C. this weekend is a BAD idea,” he wrote.
Alex Goldenberg from the Network Contagion Research Institute, a group that tracks the reach of extremist groups online, said pro-Trump extremist groups are largely focused on anti-vaccine rallies that have been heavily promoted on Telegram and Facebook to cities across the world.
“In July, the NCRI detected over 700 Telegram messages promoting the World Wide Freedom Rally which accrued over 2 million views. A majority of the posts promoted material marketing the event internationally, customized for major cities around the world,” he told NBC News. “By this month, we’ve seen exponential growth in the trend with over 3,000 telegram messages accruing over 15 million views.”
A Washington iteration of the rally, dubbed the Worldwide Freedom Rally, will also occur Saturday. The rallies attract anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters, and typically include a march.