Trump Supporters Scatter to New Platforms As Number Arrested Increases

Parler’s downtime is causing Trump supporters to splinter and take refuge on other apps. This as the number arrested climbs.

Trump supporters have been seemingly proud of their terrorist attack on Capitol Hill. Their efforts have been posted on social media, making various platforms a massive trove of evidence for authorities. While investigators are gleefully slurping up that evidence and using it to build overwhelming cases against the insurrectionists, Trump supports have hit a snag.

Parler, their platform of choice for organizing terrorist attacks, went offline after Amazon pulled the plug on that platform. As questions surround whether the platform can come back online, insurrectionists are getting creative in their efforts to regroup and attempt to reorganize further terrorist attacks.

There’s speculation that at least some of those users are moving towards Telegram: a privacy focused messaging app. From Wired:

With US president Donald Trump booted from Twitter and conservative-friendly social network Parler taken off the internet by Amazon Web Services, the internet’s far-right has become digitally homeless. Or not.

Telegram, the privacy-first messaging app founded and led by Russian exile Pavel Durov, seems poised to give those people a new home. According to data analytics company Sensor Tower, by Sunday the app had become the second-most downloaded in the US. On January 12, Telegram claimed that it had attracted 25 million new users in just 72 hours. Great news for growth – the catch is that some of it can be chalked up to a far-right inundation.

According to Tgstat, a website gathering Telegram analytics, Trump-focused channels – group chats with unlimited numbers of subscribers where admins share thematic content – experienced unprecedented growth. Five of the top ten channels by number of new users added over the past week were publishing content promoting Trump and bore his name in their handle – with the exception of one channel focused on Donald Trump, Jr. The fastest-growing Trump Telegram channel now has 540,000 subscribers – 370,000 of whom joined since January 6. Tgstat estimates that the channel now has a total reach of 30 million – defined as the number of users who see at least one of the channel’s posts. Some channels that have been flooded with new members are Trump impersonators, possibly hoping to lure in people checking whether the US president has an official Telegram channel – he does not. Amongst a sea of Trump-supporting channels, the only English-language channel that gained more followers in the same period was the app’s own tutorial channel – possibly a testament to the influx of new users.

“People who were on Parler and elsewhere are now flocking to these alternative channels. And this is probably going to continue,” says Aleksandra Urman, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Communication and Media Studies, University of Bern and at Zurich University’s Social Computing Group. Urman has been monitoring the growth of political channels and groups (those with up to 200,000 participants) on Telegram for more than two years. She believes that the fall of Parler was one of the main triggers of the ongoing Trump explosion on Telegram.

Another app users are seemingly turning to is Signal. From ABC7NY:

Online supporters of President Donald Trump are scattering to smaller social media platforms, fleeing what they say is unfair treatment by Facebook, Twitter and other big tech firms looking to squelch misinformation and threats of violence.

The efforts by those mainstream platforms, prompted by the deadly rampage at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, will likely succeed, according to social media and misinformation experts. But the crackdown could send some of Trump’s fiercest supporters retreating to dark and secret spaces on the internet where conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric run rampant.

“We’re going to see less opportunity to radicalize new people” on mainstream platforms, Kate Starbird, a leading misinformation expert at the University of Washington said Wednesday. “But for those who are already radicalized, or already down the rabbit hole with conspiracy theories, this might not make a difference if the places they go become echo chambers.”

For years, mainstream tech companies had been the target of conservative ire, with complaints that Facebook and Twitter enforce their policies with a political bias. The platforms also have been criticized for allowing harmful conspiracy theories and hate speech to thrive on their sites.

Other platforms attracting Trump supporters include Signal and Telegram, messaging services already used by individuals and groups with different ideologies around the world, as well as a growing list of lesser-known platforms, such as Rumble, MeWe and CloutHub.

Indeed, if many of these users are going to direct communication apps, then that presents fewer opportunities for extremists to try and recruit new extremists. For those who are hoping that the violence will subside, that is actually promising news for the long term. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much in the immediate and medium term.

Authorities have been tracking down and arresting extremists. Post January 6, there have been at least two arrests so far. The first involves a Georgie man who threatened to shoot Nancy Pelosi in the head. From CBS46:

A Georgia man has been arrested in DC for threatening to kill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Court documents show FBI agents on January 7 received information that Cleveland Grover Meredith sent a text message saying, “Thinking about heading over to Pelosi speech and putting a bullet in her noggin’ on Live TV.”

Many in the community were stunned to learn the news.

“A radical and very just far extreme,” said Jason Mathison, owner of Home Town Car Wash and Emissions in Acworth.

The documents also revealed Meredith had a number of guns with him and a large amount of ammo. He also predicted within 12 days, many in our country will die.

As it turns out, he wasn’t the only violent extremist arrested after the Capitol Hill attack. Another individual was arrested carrying a pistol and 500 rounds of ammunition in the DC area. From NPR:

U.S. Capitol Police say they arrested the driver of a truck who presented unauthorized inauguration credentials at a security checkpoint near the Capitol and was in possession of a loaded handgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

Police said Wesley Allen Beeler was arrested shortly after 6:30 p.m. Friday night after stopping at a checkpoint.

Authorities said one officer noticed several firearms-related decals on Beeler’s truck, including one that said, “If they come for your guns Give ‘Em your bullets first.”

When asked, Beeler admitted to having a Glock in the vehicle. Police say that in addition to the loaded handgun, they recovered more than 500 rounds of 9mm ammunition and 21 shotgun shells in the truck.

Beeler, who is from Virginia, was charged Saturday with carrying a pistol without a license.

The FBI, meanwhile, has been very blunt in saying that those involved in the Capitol Hill attack will be found. From CTV:

About 10 new charges announced by the Justice Department on Thursday rammed home the message from law enforcement that it will find the participants in the siege of the Capitol that killed five people, including a Capitol Police officer.

The new charges on Thursday rounded up two people who allegedly hurt police officers and a man who shocked many across the country by carrying a Confederate flag inside the Capitol, where he was photographed extensively.

CNN has counted at least 44 federal criminal defendants related to the January 6 insurrection. FBI Director Chris Wray said on Thursday that more than 200 people have been identified as suspects, and he sent a message to those still at large.

“We know who you are if you’re out there, and FBI agents are coming to find you,” he said during an inauguration security briefing at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington.

Authorities also say that they have made over 100 arrests and are acting on tips that reach well into the 6 figures. From Wired:

Investigations relating to the Capitol building riots—including into how officials were caught so off-guard by an incident that had been planned in the open online—will last for months, at least. But thanks in part to over 140,000 tips and a remarkable number of alleged participants filming and photographing themselves and others during the events of January 6, and then posting those videos and photos to social media, the Justice Department has already made over 100 arrests. FBI director Christopher Wray said this week that the agency had over 200 subject case files open, so expect this work to continue for some time.

One of the most recent high profile arrests was a far right personality known as “Baked Alaska”. From Reuters:

Far-right media personality Tim Gionet, who goes by the handle “Baked Alaska,” was arrested on Friday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Houston, Texas, according to documents the agency posted online, and charged with participating in the violent riot on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6.

According to a sworn statement filed by an FBI agent, Gionet livestreamed a 27-minute video from the Capitol using a service called “DLive.”

Gionet did not do much to hide his identity, according to the statement, which noted he “turned the phone around to show his face and is clearly identifiable.”

The affidavit quotes other incendiary comments from Gionet on the video, including, “We are in the Capitol Building. 1776 will commence again” and “America First is inevitable.”

At this point, we are now seeing conflicting reports on whether the violence will continue starting on the 17th. Originally, it was feared that violence would swell again starting on the 17th and carry right through inauguration day. Some reports suggest that the planned “protests” are already fizzling out. From Huffington Post:

Small groups of right-wing protesters — some of them carrying rifles — gathered outside heavily fortified statehouses around the country Sunday, outnumbered by National Guard troops and police brought in to prevent a repeat of the violence that erupted at the U.S. Capitol.

As darkness began to fall, there were no reports of any clashes.

Security was stepped up in recent days after the FBI warned of the potential for armed protests in Washington and at all 50 state capitol buildings ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.

Crowds of only a dozen or two people demonstrated at some boarded-up, cordoned-off statehouses, while the streets in many other capital cities remained empty. Some protesters said they were there to back President Donald Trump. Others said they had instead come to voice their support for gun rights or oppose government overreach.

“I don’t trust the results of the election,” said Michigan protester Martin Szelag, a 67-year-old semi-retired window salesman from Dearborn Heights. He wore a sign around his neck that read, in part, “We will support Joe Biden as our President if you can convince us he won legally. Show us the proof! Then the healing can begin.”

As the day wore on with no bloodshed around the U.S., a sense of relief spread among officials, though they were not ready to let their guard down.

Still, authorities aren’t taking any chances and have continued to build up security around various government buildings across the country. From CBC:

Washington, D.C., was locked down and U.S. law enforcement officials geared up for pro-Trump marches in all 50 state capitals this weekend, erecting barriers and deploying thousands of National Guard troops to try to prevent the kind of violent attack that rattled the nation on Jan. 6.

The FBI warned police agencies of possible armed protests outside all 50 state capitol buildings starting Saturday through president-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, fuelled by supporters of President Donald Trump who believe his false claims of electoral fraud.

Michigan, Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Washington were among states that activated their National Guards to strengthen security. Texas closed its Capitol building through Inauguration Day.

Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in a statement late Friday that intelligence indicated “violent extremists” may seek to exploit planned armed protests in Austin to “conduct criminal acts.”

The scramble followed the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington by a mix of extremists and Trump supporters, some of whom planned to kidnap members of Congress and called for the death of Vice-President Mike Pence as he presided over the certification of Biden’s victory in November’s election.

So, while there has been worry that there would be further bloodshed inflicted by extremists, there are small signs that this might not come to pass after all. Still, it’s fair to say that we are watching a country on edge, understandably worried what the radicalized extremists might do next. We can all hope that the fizzling out will continue and further violence will get headed off.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

1 Trackback or Pingback

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: