William Holmes drove with his wife from Ohio to Washington so they could show their support on Wednesday for Donald Trump’s claim that last year’s US presidential election was rigged. After a day of violence on Capitol Hill, Mr Holmes said maybe they should start over.
“If we have to take up arms again, we will. We will take back our country, ”said the 56-year-old gunsmith. “We come in peace. [But] if you don’t want to listen. . . we won’t be at peace next time. We have had enough.
Mr Holmes said he and his wife were not affiliated with any of the militias or extremist groups – such as the Proud Boys – that came to Washington for Wednesday’s pro-Trump uprising, which left four dead and left behind. havoc in the Capitol building.
They left the fray after Mr Holmes’ wife sustained a head injury and returned to their car to drive home overnight so she can return to work on Thursday.
They were part of the large collective of people – from extremist conspirators to more moderate conservatives – whose actions in Washington DC marked a turning point for the pro-Trump movement. Experts say the show could set a precedent for further violence ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
“[Wednesday] for them has been a success, ”said Angelo Carusone, president and CEO of the nonprofit Media Matters for America. “What they saw was that they were able to do something important by storming Capitol Hill. . . I have a feeling there will be another protest on January 20th. ”
‘It has been building for months’
While Mr Holmes said he and his wife chose to travel to Washington DC after watching television coverage of Mr Trump’s election fraud allegations, others had made more coordinated efforts to plan their attack on the capital.
“When you see the conversations taking place online, yesterday’s actions are not surprising,” said Aoife Gallagher, analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. “It has been building for months, even years.”
Some were members of extremist groups such as the Proud boys, an all-male far-right group that Mr. Trump once ordered to “step back and stand by” during a September presidential debate that signaled the risk of violence from white nationalists.
“They were the muscle,” Mr. Carusone said. “They were on this first, they were planning hotels four weeks ago.” Some members have made efforts to dress up, he added, and many are avoiding their signature Fred Perry polo shirts.
Many of those involved in the protests were also members of the QAnon movement, which started on 4chan and then 8kun picture boards, but has since grown into the most prevalent online conspiracy theory, despite major platforms’ efforts to crack it down in 2020.
Jake Angeli, the widely depicted “Q Shaman,” wearing a buffalo headdress, was among the best-known QAnon characters who participated in the disruption, although Nick Backovic, editor of the counter-disinformation organization Logically , said he was not a major leader in the fractional movement.
The merging of many different groups on Capitol Hill makes it difficult to discern a single organizing influence. However, according to Joe Ondrak, principal researcher at Logically, much of the incitement came from Twitter messages from popular conspirators such as Ron Watkins, whose father runs 8kun, and L Lin Wood, a pro-Trump lawyer who has been suspended. from Twitter from the start. Thursday.
“In the sub-texts [of tweets about electoral fraud and traitors] they say: this [violence] that’s what people have to do, ”he said.
Mr Ondrak added that the attack on Washington was an indicator of the success with which QAnon’s beliefs have infiltrated the mainstream, with a growing number of people believing in the movement’s overall sentiments without committing to its more claims. specific.
“Everything to do with electoral fraud [from QAnon influencers] overwhelmed and disassociated itself from its origins, ”Mr. Backovic said.
Beyond the Capitol
Experts fear the Washington riots may represent the beginning of an escalation in violence, rather than a final attempt to save Mr. Trump’s presidency.
“While it’s hard to say where this movement will go from here,” Ms. Gallagher said, “there is no doubt that the actions of January 6 will be a moment of galvanization for all of these groups in the weeks and months. the months to come ”.
Some Department of Homeland Security officials have pointed out the threat of white nationalism in recent months, but Acting Secretary Chad Wolf appeared surprised at the scale of the protesters’ ambitions.
“While I have always condemned political violence on both sides of the aisle, especially violence directed against law enforcement, we are now seeing some of the president’s supporters using violence as a means to achieve ends. policies. This is unacceptable, ”he said Thursday, adding that the violence was“ tragic and sickening ”.
By posting Thursday on the social media platform “Free speech” Talk, the conspirator Mr. Wood seemed rebellious. Above a picture of a scene from A few good men, he declared that “many traitors [such as Republicans who did not back Mr Trump’s claims] will be arrested and imprisoned over the next few days ”.
He added: “President Donald J. Trump will serve another 4 years !!!” The message received nearly 80,000 upvotes and was viewed 3.5 million times.
In the aftermath of the riots, far-right online communities remain divided over how to interpret events. “In terms of narrative, it will be quite interesting to see which side of the cognitive dissonance wins,” Mr. Ondrak said.
Most are divided between a faction who thinks the riot was simply a wave of anger from despised voters, and those who claim the event was an elaborate ruse led by the far-left antifa movement to discredit conservatives.
However, these contradictions are unlikely to harm the movement in the long run, Carusone warned. “They really present a buffet that allows them to hold together what would be a loose coalition. . . the glue is Trump or Trumpism, everything else is yours.