QAnon supporters have moved beyond spreading conspiracy theories online and are now actively urging followers to commit violence during pro-Trump protests taking place in Washington D.C. on Wednesday.
As tensions rise ahead of Wednesday’s expected protests in the capital, militia groups like the Proud Boys and the 3 Percenters have been calling for protests to turn violent, but they have been joined in recent days by followers of the QAnon conspiracy, highlighting a growing trend that is seeing the goals of these extremist groups merging.
Since the start of the year, more than half of the QAnon-related accounts that have posted content on Twitter since Jan. 1 have referenced Wednesday’s protests, according to a new report from Advance Democracy Inc, a global research organization that studies disinformation and extremism.
Between Jan. 1 and Jan. 4, ADI’s researchers found at least 1,250 posts from QAnon-related accounts that referenced January 6th and contained calls for violence.
The posts typically share disinformation and conspiracy theories, including baseless allegations that Democrats, Black Lives Matter activists, and Antifa protesters are planning to kill Trump supporters. The QAnon accounts are urging protesters to “adopt” guns before “Jan 6, Independence Day” and claiming that “politicians…raping and killing children…won’t be able to walk down the street” — a reference to QAnon’s long-standing conspiracy theory about the Democrats operating a global, Satanic, cannibalistic child sex-trafficking ring.
Some of the posts also referenced L. Lin Wood, the pro-Trump lawyer and QAnon supporter who this week has been sharing wild and unfounded conspiracy theories about high-profile figures being forced at gunpoint to rape children on video.
Last July, Twitter said it was banning accounts linked to QAnon. While the platform has removed some of the most influential accounts, ADI has seen a steady increase in the number of new accounts that openly reference the conspiracy theory on the platform in recent months.
One of the most prominent is Ron Watkins, the administrator of 8kun, the fringe message board that is home to QAnon’s creator, the anonymous “Q.” Watkins’ tweets have been repeatedly boosted by President Donald Trump in recent weeks and in the early hours of Wednesday morning — as hundreds of Trump supporters began lining up to see the president speak during Wednesday’s protests — Watkins posted his latest evidence-free conspiracies on Twitter.
This time he accused Vice President Mike Pence of orchestrating a coup against the president, sharing a blog post that calls for “the immediate arrest of Michael Richard Pence, 48th Vice President of the United States, for treason.”
Wednesday’s protests have been organized to coincide with efforts on Capitol Hill to disrupt the counting of the Electoral College votes, normally a rubber-stamp ceremony. But this year, a group of Republicans has signaled their intention to object to the process at the behest of Trump.
The national guard has been called into the city to support local police, and Mayor Muriel Bowser has urged people to avoid the downtown area on Wednesday. Many businesses have boarded up their stores and offices over concerns about rioting and looting.
On Monday, the Washington Metropolitan Police Department posted a sign near Freedom Plaza in the city that read: “All firearms prohibited within 1000 feet of this sign.”
But that hasn’t stopped right-wing groups online from urging followers to carry guns to the protests.
On TikTok, members with affiliations to the militia group the 3 Percenters have posted videos openly calling for violence, some of which have hundreds of thousands of views. "Take your motherfucking guns. That's the whole point of going," one person said.
On Parler, a right-wing alternative to Twitter, supporters of the Proud Boys and QAnon, have been advocating violence, especially since the “chairman” of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, was arrested shortly after he landed in Washington on Monday.
The posts have called for violence against the D.C. police, including a threat to burn down the Metropolitan Police headquarters, and one user calling for D.C. police to be “isolated and executed one-by-one.” On Tuesday night, hours before the protests were due to begin, police arrested at least six people, charging one man from North Carolina with carrying a pistol without a license, carrying a rifle or a shotgun outside a home or business, possession of a large-capacity ammunition feeding device, unregistered ammunition, an unregistered firearm, and possession of fireworks.
And on the rabidly pro-Trump forum, TheDonald, ADI researchers found that over half of the top posts about the protests contain call for violence.
“Travel in packs and do not let [anyone] disarm someone without stacking bodies,” one TikTok user said in a widely-viewed video.
The threats being made on these online platforms almost all stem from disinformation about November’s election results. Trump supporters have been convinced that the election results are a fraud, and this belief has been boosted not only by groups like QAnon, but also by the president, who has increasingly shared unfounded conspiracy theories about election fraud.
And it could all come to a head on Wednesday when the online rhetoric meets real-world protests.
“The threats are coming from what seems like every direction, so it’s hard to triangulate and evaluate everything,” Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University who tracks white nationalists online, told NBC. “I’m getting a strong ‘last stand’ vibe from some of these groups. I hope they go quietly, but it seems like that is not what they want to do.”