In the wake of the Capitol Hill riots, the federal government deployed 15,000 National Guard members and Washington, D.C. is under, essentially, military occupation to protect against the threat of yet more domestic terrorism. But online, many of the same far-right extremists who cheered on the chaos in Congress that killed five people only weeks ago have been advising followers to stay home, bide their time, and organize to fight another day.
The slew of FBI arrests of extremists who participated in the storming of Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, including the QAnon Shaman and several veterans, and large-scale deplatforming on social media apps has convinced many on the far right that it's not the right time time to attack state capitals or disrupt the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden in D.C.
“I urge everyone to avoid DC and the State Capitols and instead use this time to close all accounts related to BigTech,” reads one post by a rightwing pundit on Telegram, the app of choice among neo-Nazis and terror groups. “[S]top giving them your money and start rebuilding your networks on Alt Tech platforms, Alt Comms, alt media, alt social media, alt banking, alt fundraising, alt payment processing alt everything!”
Reports have indicated that the question of what to do on January 20 has resulted in the fracturing of the precarious union formed by disparate far-right groups like the Proud Boys, militias, and Q followers in advance of the January 6 protest. The result is that the number of protesters around the country seems likely to be only a small fraction of what was initially expected.
Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the nationalist street fighting gang the Proud Boys and an outspoken figure within the extreme right political scene, told followers to stay home on January 20 and instead plan for the next four years of activism.
“We’re not going to any ‘Million Militia March’ or any other fed honeypot event that’s being promoted,” said Tarrio. “We suggest none of you go to these events. We won’t sit on our hands for the next four years but we can pick and choose our battles moving forward.”
(Gavin McInnes was a co-founder of VICE. He left the company in 2008 and has had no involvement since then. He later founded the Proud Boys in 2016.)
Many of the top influencers inside the outlandish and destructive QAnon movement, meanwhile, see any planned protests against Biden’s inauguration as “false flags” orchestrated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies in concert with antifascist activists and Black Lives Matter protesters.
“Armed rioters are arriving at state capitols, if you know ANY Patriots attending any of these get ahold of them and tell them to GET HOME NOW!!! We are not participating in this. God bless America,” wrote one well-followed proponent of the false conspiracy.
This isn’t to say that all QAnon believers think that the Trump presidency is ending. As reported by NBC, some believe the day is the ever-important “Storm,” which they expect to feature a mass execution of Democrats and Trump being installed as an emperor-like figure. Some QAnon adherents assume that the large show of force at the D.C. and state capitals across the U.S. is actually evidence that Trump will be retaining the office and that patriots therefore need not protest.
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“We are in a full blown military operation right now to remove the threats and install our President back in power and control the violence in the big cities,” wrote one QAnon supporter.
On TheDonald.Win, one of the primary sites where the January 6 protest was organized, users haven’t reached a consensus about what today’s inauguration will hold, but many have advised patriots to avoid the grounds.
“TRUMP has asked us to stay home because he knows it is not safe - so who would ever ever think to go where all that military is? CRAZY PEOPLE - That's who!” wrote one poster.
Some warn of future violence when there are fewer soldiers on the ground.
“You're going to have to work your way through all kinds of military checkpoints going in and coming out. Better to just stay away,” one posted. “Today and tomorrow the swamp celebrates, then they mourn.”
Despite the seeming calm, “patriots,” as many on the far-right often refer to themselves, are desperate to show their disapproval of Biden’s inauguration. On TheDonald.Win, one enterprising poster encouraged Trump supporters to protest at home by flying their flags upside down. The idea was embraced by some and written off as an anti-American troll by others. Eventually, the group broke into squabbles over what it meant to fly a flag upside down.
“Trump supporters are in dire distress with threat of life and limb,” wrote a poster citing the United States flag code, “so we can fly our flag upside down and not have it be disrespectful.”