Pro-Trump activists who promoted the Jan. 6 protests that turned into the fatal Capitol riot are trying to distance themselves from future unrest as politicians and law-enforcement officials prepare for further violence ahead of the inauguration.
Extremism experts have focused on Jan. 17, as well as Inauguration Day and the days surrounding it, as potential flashpoints for violence. One Inauguration Day threat includes a “Million Militia March” that encourages armed Trump supporters to descend on D.C. A flyer circulating online that calls for an “armed march on Capitol Hill and all state capitols” on Jan. 17 has been cited as proof of the protest, although it’s not clear where the flyer originated or how much traction it’s gained on the right.
Capitol Police officials are taking no chances this time around. They briefed House Democrats late Monday about a series of potential threats including plans for the “largest armed protest ever to take place on American soil” and an alleged plot to either block Democrats from reaching the Capitol or kill them outright so that Republicans could take over the government.
Democrats were also warned about a more general threat for violence against politicians and police, according to a person familiar with the briefing, which was first reported by HuffPost and confirmed by The Daily Beast.
So far, however, public online discussions of the purported Jan. 17 protests have been much less visible than the wave of talk in pro-Trump forums that preceded the Jan. 6 riot.
“We are not seeing nearly the same level of online chatter about attending those events,” said Lindsay Schubiner, a program director at the Western States Center, a group that tracks extremists in the Pacific Northwest.
Schubiner added, however, that the discussions about additional protests or violence leading up to the inauguration may have simply moved to less public online venues as social media companies crack down on extremists.
“We are in an extremely dangerous period for political violence, and it’s hard to say exactly what will happen or when it might happen,” Schubiner said. “But everything we’re seeing gives us great cause for concern.”
As thousands of National Guard troops flood into Washington, Trump supporters have suggested, without evidence, that the proposed Jan. 17 rally is a trick meant to entrap MAGA fans.
The Gateway Pundit, a right-wing hoax blog whose owner has been invited to the Trump White House, suggested the Jan. 17 protest was a “deep-state plot” meant to set the stage for mass arrests of Trump supporters. Mark Taylor, a former firefighter who became a star on the far right after receiving a “prophecy” that Trump would be elected, warned his more than 185,000 followers on Tuesday to stay away from the Jan. 17 protests.
“Folks any of these so called peaceful armed protests at all the state capitals and DC Jan 17th is a set up by the left,” Taylor tweeted on Tuesday. “DO NOT go! It is a trap!!”
A number of Trump supporters have claimed that even the graphic design of the flyer, which is illustrated in red with the Statue of Liberty in the foreground, is proof that it’s a scheme meant to hurt Trump and his allies.
“There is no organizer listed and it does not look like anything a Patriotic group would put out at all,” Arizona state Rep. Kelly Townsend (R) tweeted on Tuesday.
That paranoia has filtered down to the state level. A Minnesota group that has recently organized “Stop The Steal” events at the state’s capital issued a Facebook warning to followers about the Jan. 17 event.
“This is an infiltration and set up tactic used to incite violence and blame us,” wrote the group, which organized a Minnesota “Storm the Capitol” event on Jan 6. “DO NOT GO TO THE CAPITOL ON SUNDAY!”
The group told The Daily Beast it advised people to stay home on Jan. 17. On Facebook, the group shared posters for the Jan. 17 event, and suggested that they were an “anarchist” plot. Those posters, however, were circulated in earnest by members of the Boogaloo movement, a far-right and libertarian coalition that lusts for civil war. Although the Boogaloo movement has been promoting the event since last month, at least some members appear to have reassessed after the Jan. 6 riot, with a Boogaloo news site running a statement from the event’s alleged organizers, claiming the D.C. iteration of the rally was cancelled.
Fear that Trump supporters are walking into a trap—or could be implicated in violence—has ramped up as the FBI and federal prosecutors pursue more people allegedly involved in the Capitol riot. On Tuesday, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin said the investigation’s scale was “unprecedented” for the Department of Justice, saying that he had empowered a “strike force” to pursue serious felony charges for sedition and conspiracy.
Still, the days surrounding Jan. 17 are also potential tinderboxes across the country. The Minnesota group that urged followers to stay home on the 17th said it still plans a pro-Trump demonstration at the state capitol on Saturday, Jan. 16.
Those plans coincide with the Jan. 16 event announced last month, in which organizers claim they will “begin the process of exterminating the democrat ideology from America,” “prevent Joseph Biden, or any other democrat from being inaugurated as president of the United States of America,” and “capture and detain all democrat politicians, both current, and former” who played a role in Biden’s victory. The event’s website has since gone offline, but not before users on the now-shuttered social media site Parler seized on it to declare that “any opposing force” to the event “will be classified as an enemy of America, and addressed as such with extreme prejudice, foreign, or domestic.”
In Virginia, long-planned protests for “lobby day” at the state capitol happen to fall on Jan. 18. Last year’s lobby day drew a reported 22,000 gun fans, including members of far-right groups like the Proud Boys and members of the then-embryonic Boogaloo movement. This year, Virginia Capitol Police are reportedly on high alert, citing Wednesday’s riot.
A prominent pro-gun group wrote that it would be organizing caravans to Richmond for the event. “No doubt there will be ‘rumors’ and other scare tactics uses [sic] to keep people home, but we know better,” the group wrote online.
Activists on the left are mobilizing medics and homeless outreach ahead of the Jan. 18 event, in case violence breaks out or the scene becomes unsafe for Richmond’s unhoused population, one local activist told The Daily Beast.
Some of the most prominent figures involved in planning protests outside Congress on Jan. 6 say they’re also not planning to come to Washington. InfoWars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has claimed that the January protests are a “false flag.”
Pro-Trump organizer Ali Alexander, who claimed to be one of the leading “originators” of the Jan. 6 protest, has been banned from financial services like PayPal and Venmo, as well as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in the aftermath of the event. Friends of Alexander are distancing themselves from him and asking him to leave politics entirely, according to one member of his circle.
In an email to The Daily Beast, Alexander said he is urging Trump supporters to stay out of Washington around the inauguration, and groundlessly claimed that the posters promoting events in Washington were Democratic fabrications.
“No one should go to D.C. this month,” Alexander told The Daily Beast.
-Additional reporting by Sam Brodey