In some of the more obscure corners of the Internet, the calls for violence and revolution have been consistent among what appeared to be a subset of President Donald Trump’s supporters in the months since he lost re-election.
But in recent days, as Trump’s attempts to delegitimise the election and remain in office have continually failed, the violent rhetoric sharply increased. It also blossomed in the far-more-mainstream Facebook, hidden away in private far-right groups with names like "Joe Biden is not my president".
On pro-Trump forums such as thedonald.win, supporters couched their pronouncements in patriotic terms, calling for a "1776 moment” at Wednesday’s protests, or more bluntly, a "reign of terror".
"So will January 6th, 2021 be like the new July 4th, 1776?” RuthBaderDeadsburg, one of the forum’s users asked. "We are declaring our independence from corrupt, cheating, non-representative f*****s".
Others fully embraced the opportunity for conflict. "TODAY WE GO TO WAR! DC I AM COMING,” user ANTI_Globalist12 posted on the forum just hours before the US Capitol building was stormed by a pro-Trump mob.
On Parler, the social media platform which gained prominence last year after larger social networks such as Facebook and Twitter began cracking down on content alleging election fraud, the hashtag #1776 has been used 40,000 times. Some users on the platform who called for calm were met instead with threats.
"We will drink your blood too if you don’t get out of the way,” wrote user, @DRB617.
As the protests began, at least one user, who was anonymous, foreshadowed what was coming. "Just imagine if ALL the Patriots who are gathered in DC right now were to Rush the Senate, the Supreme Court and the Halls of Congress and take them over,” the user wrote. Doing so, the user continued, could remove "the Scum and Hang the Filthy ones right there".
On Facebook, where Trump supporters who identify with extremist groups such as The Proud Boys are banned, discussions in private groups got progressively more violent as the protests got closer. "There will be a BIG Civil War if Congress allows the election to be stolen,” one user wrote on Jan 5, in one of several groups with the name "Joe Biden is not my President".
Once it became clear on Wednesday that Vice President Mike Pence wouldn’t abide by Trump’s demand to block congressional certification of Biden’s win, the rage that had been festering on social media spilled out into the open as the president’s supporters stormed the Capitol.
"This attack is the result of steady far-right radicalisation that has occurred in online spaces since at least 2015 and an explosion of conspiracy theories since the November 2020 election,” said Emerson Brooking, resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, who warned of the possibility of additional attacks in the weeks ahead. "Every step of the way, President Trump has encouraged and amplified this violence".
Some protesters turned to the social media platform Gab to document their incursion inside the Capitol, including taking selfies inside the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Senate chamber where hours earlier Pence had rejected calls for him to block the vote formalising Biden’s election.
In some posts, users called for attackers inside the Capitol to find Pence. In a video circulating on the platform, protesters chanted, "Where is Pence?”
As shocking images of Trump’s supporters rampaging through the Capitol continued to filter out Wednesday, some insisted their protest was being mischaracterised as an attempted coup.
"The news is making our patriots out to be violent,” a member of one large anti-Biden Facebook group wrote just after 3.30 pm in Washington. But elsewhere in the pro-Trump social media universe, many users relished the scenes of violence and destruction.
At 3.45pm on Wednesday, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio posted a photo on Parler of elected officials and their staffers huddled behind walls, railings and benches during the attack, and he claimed the rioters had fulfilled their objective of striking fear in Congress. An hour later he wrote, "This is no longer Washington DC...This is the City of the People of the United States of America! Come and Take it!”. – Bloomberg