January 6 was entirely predictable — it was planned in broad daylight
Everyone knows how the day unfolded: Trump’s speech in which he urged “if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Swarms of incensed rioters at the Capitol, police officers and rioters killed and injured, and so many other details of that day that will remain etched in the memory of those who lived through it. It was the ultimate, real-life manifestation of the Far Right 2.0’s uninterrupted online activity, with each corner of the movement represented in some way or another as they converged in D.C. There were shirts, flags and hats with QAnon mantras like “Trust the Plan” and emblems of militia movements like the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers. There were Confederate flags and rope nooses. Inside the Capitol building, a man with a shirt reading “CAMP AUSCHWITZ…WORK BRINGS FREEDOM” stormed through the halls beside another individual in a TRUMP 2020 hat, helping hold up a broken piece of a nameplate reading, “SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE NANCY PELOSI.”
And with the United States still sifting through the rubble of that day, we watched the same maddeningly familiar script play out once more.
Many unanswered questions about the January 6 Capitol siege remain: Why were the Capitol Police so severely unprepared? Why was the National Guard so delayed in being deployed?
But one thing is certain: this didn’t come out of the blue. All the planning that went into the January 6 riot—the zip ties, the incitements, the movement-wide sense of direction, the coordination—happened in broad daylight on sites like TheDonald.win. As the Wall Street Journal reported in the siege’s aftermath, “The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist groups, sent more than two dozen alerts between Dec. 23 and Jan. 7 noting the rising risk of violence related to the coming gathering.” Those alerts went to all of our law enforcement partners. And that was just from us; other monitors were also raising red flags. The government’s lack of preparation was not a failure of intelligence, as some said of 9-11 at the time. This was a failure to act on available intelligence—one far worse than any I’d seen in decades of sharing intelligence.
This was a failure to act on available intelligence—one far worse than any I’d seen in decades of sharing intelligence.
Sure, some coordination happened on apps like Facebook Messenger, but TheDonald.win, Parler, 8kun, and the like is where the real mobilization took place. Posts on TheDonald.win indicate that this was where many seemed to have found their way into the private chats to begin with.
It was the same story of an internet-fueled terrorist catastrophe we’d been following in recent years. Only on a much larger scale.
On January 8, amid new public scrutiny on Parler’s role in the Capitol siege, both Apple and Google delivered ultimatums to the company for “moderation improvement” plans.
Parler CEO John Matze wasn’t having any of it.
“We will not cave to pressure from anti-competitive actors!” he wrote on the platform. “We will and always have enforced our rules against violence and illegal activity. But we WONT cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!”
The next day, Apple and Google removed Parler from their app stores, citing an “ongoing and urgent public safety threat” and the company’s lack of “adequate measures” to address it. The same day, Amazon Web Services announced it would be cutting off its services to Parler on January 10, claiming that the platform “cannot comply with our terms of service and poses a very real risk to public safety.” It marked the first such move against Parler by Amazon, whose two years of hosting services to the platform reportedly evolved into a $300,000-a-month source of revenue.
The Far Right 2.0 needed a new home: somewhere with appealing features and a proven track record of little to no moderation. You may have already guessed where I’m going with this.
“Telegram is the only viable alternative at the moment,” wrote popular white nationalist activist Nick Fuentes, known for starting the America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC), for which at least one banner was seen during the Capitol siege. Far-right 4chan users likewise wrote the day after Parler’s removal, “COME TO TELEGRAM NOW” while listing far-right channels. QAnon users said the same, writing that “patriots need to gather under one banner on Telegram.”
So began yet another mass-online migration to Telegram by users too extreme for other mainstream social media platforms. In November 2020, a Proud Boys-associated chat group had less than 2,000 members. But after branding itself as “Parler Lifeboat” when the platform was removed, the Telegram chat group reached well over 13,000 members by the end of January 2021. Similar surges were seen across all the Far Right 2.0’s overlapping submovements after Parler went down. A QAnon group chat with 468 members in late December 2020 similarly shot up to over 4,000 by late January. The overtly white nationalist Proud Boys: Uncensored Telegram channel went from 16,000 subscribers at the beginning of January to nearly 45,000 by the end of the month. With that, this increasingly influential channel directed fellow white nationalists to cater to these new Parler refugees pouring into Telegram:
“Parler being shut down has sent tens of thousands (or more) of people to telegram. All of them are seeking refuge and looking for answers since their Q-bullshit lied to them. Maga people are demoralized.
“Now is our opportunity to grab them by the hand and lead them toward ideological truth. Join their normie chats and show them love and unity…Introduce videos that will open their eyes (you know which ones).”
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Neo-Nazis on Telegram also had their eyes on this new wave of recruitment prospects. Many circulated the lengthy “Comprehensive Redpill Guide,” detailing how to radicalize those energized by the Capitol siege and providing templates of how to reach out to such prospects without scaring them away with blatant anti-Semitism and racism. The guide concluded, “Big Tech made a serious mistake by banishing conservatives to the one place where we have unfettered access to them, and that’s a mistake they’ll come to regret!”
Like ISIS, the Far Right 2.0 was born and exists largely on the internet.
These developments didn’t seem to factor into many lawmakers’ responses to the Capitol siege, though. Congress began calling for hearings and investigations in the months that followed, with many Democrats seeking to scrutinize Parler for its role in the January 6 siege. Republicans, meanwhile, seemed to take more issue with Google, Apple, Amazon and other companies cutting off Parler. None of it mattered, though, because Parler registered its site with Epik in January and by February was fully operational again. It even took the cyber security services of the Russia-based DDoSGuard, the same company that protected VanwaTech so that it could help provide servers for 8chan and a dozen QAnon sites.
Meanwhile, founders of TheDonald.win broke away from Williams, who was quickly distancing himself from the site he had cocreated. All that was connected to Williams was the domain registration, so to bring TheDonald.win back up, all the remaining unapologetic admins had to do was change the domain to “Patriots.win.” Upon doing so, these new admins boldly declared in a statement on the landing page, “The Donald has evolved to Patriots.win. Don’t worry, everything else is the same.”
Like ISIS, the Far Right 2.0 was born and exists largely on the internet. But by January 6, 2020, evolutionary paths of the Far Right and ISIS had diverged. Both of these global movements received enormously different treatments. One side was all but smothered to death online, while the other was able to survive long enough to inject itself into other extremist movements. One side was shunned by societies around the globe, while the other infused itself into mainstream political discussion. One side prompted consensus among governments, tech companies, and societies that it was a danger to the world, while the other found refuge with “free speech”–preaching companies that hardly seemed to apply the same rationale toward jihadi extremists.
One of my primary goals in recent years has been to show as vividly as possible the oxygen that keeps modern-day extremist movements like ISIS or the Far Right 2.0 alive and thriving. In 2007, I testified twice before Congress that the government could eliminate all the al-Qaeda leaders and training camps it wanted to, but if they didn’t address the online havens of these threats they would continue to grow, just as they had been doing so dramatically after 9/11. As I urged, “If I come with one thing, one theme, after my brief testimony, I hope that it will be that the internet is a crucial battleground in the war on terror that must be contested in a more effective way.”
Fifteen years later, I find even more relevance and urgency in my assertion.
about January 6 and extremism