How the Insurgent and MAGA Right are Being Welded Together on the Streets of Washington D.C.

On January 6th, 2021, a vast constellation of American right-wing groups and individuals will converge on Washington D.C. to protest what they falsely believe to be a stolen US Presidential election. The organizations currently planning rallies range from the comparatively moderate, Women for America First, to violent extremist groups like the Proud Boys. Several different rallies are planned for the 6th, including a “Wild Protest” named in reference to a tweet President Donald Trump made urging his followers to attend.

This will be the third set of right-wing rallies in D.C. since the election. If it follows the same pattern as the previous gatherings, the day will be filled with mostly peaceful speeches and marches while the night will bear witness to horrific street violence. The last such rally, in December, led to four stabbings and 33 arrests

A woman holds up a sign at members of the Proud Boys group as they march through Washington D.C. in December 2020. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Geoff Livingston / Flickr. Some rights reserved

Yet these rallies are not just excuses for extreme elements to get into street fights. They are also networking opportunities for the far-right. On livestreams and speeches before crowds, attendees have shouted out and shared details of“free speech”-focused social media apps like Phoenix Social Network, Parler and Spreely where they can further engage and share ideas once they head home. On these apps and others, there have been repeated calls for armed violence and the execution of elected political leaders over recent months. Perhaps more troubling was evidence that formerly disconnected chunks of the right wing and fascist media ecosystems have started to coalesce in more cohesive ways.

The Merging

This article will feature numerous posts where people on social media platforms call for violence and murder. But nothing I’ve found in my research is more disturbing to me than these posts on Parler.

In the first post we see an explicit neo-Nazi account, The Last Stronghold (1,100 followers). The body of the post is an image macro with a quote attributed to Adolf Hitler, decrying a “Satanic Power” taking over society. The Last Stronghold ties this, through hashtags, to Qanon and the ‘Great Awakening’, which is the prophesized moment when the ‘truth’ that America is ruled by a cabal of Satanic pedophiles will be revealed. That a Nazi might try to tie their propaganda to a wildly popular conspiracy theory is not new.

The reply, from a what appears to be a fairly normal Qanon account with close to 3,000 followers ‘America2point0’, is perhaps more concerning. This account appears to be a fairly standard Qanon adherent. If you spend any time on Twitter, Facebook or other mainstream social media services you’ll run into hundreds of similar accounts.

America2point0’s posts are a mix of pro-Trump memes, accusations that prominent Democrats are pedophiles, and hardcore anti-Semitic propaganda. Yet they have also posted at least one image containing a Sonnenrad, a fringe Nazi symbol that the Christchurch shooter wore over his body armor.

America2point0 is one example of an unsettling ideological convergence that has become evident on the streets of Washington D.C. in recent months. At the first post-election D.C. rally on November 14th, dubbed the “Million MAGA March,” the founder of the American Guard white supremacist group, Brien James, appeared to be photographed marching alongside the Proud Boys while wearing their colors and gear. James is also one of the founders of the Vinlanders Social Club, a racist skinhead gang.

That same day an attendee at a pro-Trump rally was spotted with a ‘Stop The Steal’ sign that included SS lightning bolt runes.

Later that night, when gangs of Proud Boys and other extremists roamed the streets assaulting people, the freelance journalist Laura Jedeed spotted one extremist wearing a hoodie with the logo of the Nazi metal band Skrewdriver.

An activist who reported on the rally that day also filmed an attendee of the Million MAGA March wearing a skull-print facemask (popular among Nazis) and ranting on a bullhorn about the need to oppose homosexuals and Jewish people. 

The increasing presence of Nazi imagery at these rallies is an unsettling development. But perhaps more worrying is the way in which extremist ideologues have expanded their following as a result of these rallies. Nowhere is this more evident than the well-attended speech by Nick Fuentes at the Million MAGA March.

Fuentes has previously appeared to to question the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust while his work has been cited by neo-Nazis in a video death threat received by this reporter. Here is a screengrab from the end of that video, showing a “groyper” (a Pepe variant, and also the name Fuentes’s fans use for themselves).

Fuentes is also a regular guest on Alex Jones’s Infowars show, and has gained more prominence among the radical right thanks to those appearances. 

Different Streams, Same Ocean

The messaging ahead of the January 6th rally varies depending on the source. On Spreely (‘Speak Freely’), a conservative Facebook clone, posts about the 6th tend to be fairly moderate. Some posters urge each other to record everything that happens.

While others post videos of Proud Boys threatening Antifa and anticipate street violence against them.

Talk of violence on Spreely is minimal, and mostly seems to be directed towards vague anticipation of fist fights. Many of the posts about the January 6th event are just links to content from right-wing figures on mainstream social media apps. I found two different posts sharing a livestream by Brandon Tatum, a former police officer and far-right personality. At the time I tuned in, he had more than 7,000 live viewers. The stream title was “January 6th will be epic”. 

In it, Tatum questioned the reality of the coronavirus and subtly hinted at his support for a right-wing revolution, telling viewers: “You gotta understand, if I start doing a push for a nationwide rebellion they’re gonna take this channel down. So you gotta work smarter not harder. There’s more strategic ways to accomplish the same goal.” Tatum has more than 1.4 million subscribers on YouTube. 

By dipping in and out of a variety of different social media services, one gets a feel for the debates raging on the protest prior to January 6th. In this Spreely post, one user shares a Twitter screenshot warning that “Antifa” plan to camouflage themselves as Trump supporters for the event.

The original tweet has not been widely shared, but screengrabs have made their way around MAGA Twitter and been shared much more widely (here is one example). 

The same screengrab has also circulated on livestreams, as the above Spreely post illustrates, and the threat of “camouflaged antifa” is a regular topic of discussion in groups preparing for the 6th. One of Brandon Tatum’s commenters in his livestream referenced the same conspiracy theory and warned that “Antifa Scum” plan to infiltrate “the Masses in Maga Gear” on January 6th.

Yet his information stands in contrast to some conversations on Parler, a conservative Twitter clone, where ideas around disguises have been floated by right-wing figures. Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio — who was arrested as he tried to enter Washington D.C. on January 4th for vandalizing a church on his last visit to the city — had previously urged his followers to dress “incognito”, potentially in “all BLACK” in order to hide their numbers.

In this video, shared on Parler, one of Tarrio’s Proud Boys explains that they plan to camouflage themselves in order to sneak in among counter-protesters. Others on the right express distaste at this idea. In another post on Spreely, one user warns people not to wear “BLACK UNIFORMS/CLOTHING” because “BLACK IS THE COLOR OF THE COMMUNIST POLICE FORCES”. 

On the Phoenix Social Network, which is also essentially a right-wing Facebook clone, one user discussing the 6th spreads a meme that has also been circulating on Parler and Twitter, claiming that D.C. Mayor Bowser has “orded [sic] all hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and convenience stores” closed ahead of the rallies on the 6th. Some of the responses to this meme have been banal. When it came up on Tatum’s livestream, one of his commenters suggested “disposable underwear” to handle the lack of bathrooms.

However, one Phoenix Social Network user, “Jim” from Northeast Massachusetts, took a much more extreme stance and urged that Mayor Bowser “needs to be exterminated”. He went on to write:

“Patriots please take note until you do something they’re going to get more brave so not sure what you’re waiting for, but you can get started any ole time now.”

This poster seems to echo the more violent sentiments shared on platforms where extreme conversations are more common, such as the unofficial Telegram channel “Proud Boys: Uncensored”. This channel is not endorsed by the Proud Boy organization and it is not clear who runs it. But it does appears to follow some of the actions of the group.

This is a place where anti-Semitic and white supremacist propaganda is regularly spread. In one recent post, the channel operator linked to an NBC video of Roger Stone speaking at a rally in Florida. Stone urges Senator Marco Rubio to vote to object to the electoral votes against President Trump. In the crowd, someone shouts, about Rubio, “Give him the rope!” The channel operator celebrates this, directly above a post where they urge their followers to add Democratic Representative from Missouri Emanuel Cleaver to “your list”.

Yet elected leaders and “Antifa” are not the only focus for far-right calls to violence these days.

From ‘Back the Blue’ to ‘Fight The Blue’

In 2018, I reported that fascist and far-right street gangs had spent the early part of the Trump years trying to woo law enforcement, with noteworthy success. But as right wing demonstrators have engaged in more street violence they have run into more conflict with the police. 

This came to a head in Salem, Oregon, when Proud Boys and fascist activists were maced and shot with pepperballs by Salem police during a rally on January 1st, 2021. Demonstrators shouted “no more back the blue!” and attempted to light a thin blue line sweatshirt on fire. 

The footage, and the sentiment, spread quickly on right wing media. The Proud Boys: Uncensored channel urged, “the blue no longer backs us; so we should no longer back them.”

On Parler Joe Biggs, an army veteran and prominent Proud Boy who attended the Million MAGA March posted this in response to police using riot munitions on right-wing demonstrators:

More extreme sentiment was to be found in the replies to a separate Parler post by Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio that was unrelated to the January 1st demonstrations.

The post itself is inoffensive; Tarrio responds to a viral call (114k views) asking who plans to show up on the 6th and states that he and his men will be in attendance (56k views).

The replies to Tarrio, however, are much more aggressive. One user “@ChurchofToadBoy”, claims to be picking up “several patriots” in a small bus and driving them to D.C. He states, “Rural patriots want to nip the weak cops in the bud and treat them the same as AntiFa since both are now a united front against America”. He then misspells the acronym ACAB (All Cops are Bastards) by adding an extra C:

User Jay Kenyon responds with a warning that “Cops might not be FRENS this time”.

Plans For Illegal Open Carry 

Washington D.C. has some of the strictest gun laws in the United States. Concealed carry is almost impossible to do legally and open carry is banned. The question of how to illegally sneak firearms into the city is probably the most popular topic of discussion among prospective attendees. By way of example I’d like to highlight the thread “DADDY SAYS BE IN DC ON JAN. 6TH” on (a spinoff of the now-defunct subreddit ‘The Donald’). Here, members discuss flying into an airport outside of D.C. with firearms in their checked bags and then driving into the city:

Another suggests that armed Trump supporters meet outside the city and then “move en masse”, since it is: “Too easy to get picked off moving onesies and twosies”. In response, other members suggest showing up in convoys to “spread their LEO [law enforcement] resources THIN”.

A number of other members do point out how illegal this is, and suggest that carrying firearms into the capitol would be a bad idea. This was not always received well, as one response noted: “We need to follow the law while stopping a communist takeover?”

Many of the responders in this thread seem to feel as if the fact that the President urged them to rally on the 6th effectively negates the law. One response with 148 upvotes stated: “We have been waiting for Trump to say the word. There is not enough cops in DC to stop what is coming.” A reply to that post agreed, “…he called on us we the people, patriots, never give up. Fight like Trump if fighting for generations to come”. 

Congresswoman Lauren Boebert also seems to have inspired at least one person on Parler to claim they will carry firearms in D.C. on January 6th. Boebert recently Tweeted a video explaining “why I WILL carry my Glock to congress”. The post subsequently went viral.

While a great deal of what is claimed online must be taken with a grain of salt, Trump supporters in previous D.C. rallies have broken the law to carry firearms. At the Million MAGA March in November, D.C. police recovered eight unregistered guns from arrested people. Most of those weapons were taken from a Georgia couple who attended to “support their president” and were spotted openly carrying firearms. 

Yet some of the people planning to rally on January 6th have expressed a willingness to do more than just carry illegal firearms. They claim to be ready to die.

Going to War

In the “DADDY SAYS BE IN DC” thread on TheDonald, I found a post from a member named Jenna who lives outside D.C. and offered her home as a rallying point for demonstrators. She gave her Parler account, and when I visited it I saw this post:

The link that apparently brought this individual to tears was another thread on TheDonald. It’s title: Today I told my kids Goodbye. The original post, which has been upvoted more than 3,800 times, starts with a father warning his children “daddy might not come home from D.C.”. One of the first responses, with nearly 400 upvotes, is a woman claiming she “told my Mom goodbye today” and stating that since she has “no kids, no husband” she is the right person to help “storm the Capitol”. 

Responses include a mixture of praise, debates on whether or not the Capitol should be burned down, and one person who urges: “Bring the wood, build the gallows outside congress, be mentally prepared to pull them out and string em up… have to send the world a strong message…”

Further down, commenters debate whether or not to assault journalists they see in order to take their cameras and film “the real news”. One member writes, “media has no right to property” while another, somewhat surprisingly, complains that this would be “violating” one of the constitutions “most basic precepts”. Discussion then moves to ‘self defense’, with some members suggesting body cameras and others echoing Enrique Tarrio’s call to dress in disguise. One of these people writes, “If you’ve got to drop some commie fuckboy, just leave after. You aren’t going to get a fair shake in the system. So don’t participate.

In response, another user posts: “please don’t be dumbasses and leave your fingerprints on shell casings you loaded without gloves.”

It is, of course, impossible to say precisely what the citizens of Washington D.C. can expect from the January 6th rally. Both previous D.C. MAGA rallies have included significant amounts of street violence. Some right-wing ralliers are already in the city and have livestreamed themselves tearing down signs at Black Lives Matter Plaza. Mayor Bowser has urged residents to stay away from downtown D.C. and reiterated that open-carry of firearms is illegal in the city. 

The violence of the previous rallies may lead D.C. law enforcement and the local government to keep a much tighter handle on these demonstrations. The fact that Proud Boy leader Enrique Tarrio was arrested upon entering D.C. for vandalizing a church on his last visit to the city suggests this might be the case. On Parler, several Proud Boys have already responded to this by calling for violence against the police: 

Whatever happens on the 6th, the melding of media channels and personal ties between the violent extremist right, Qanon and the broader MAGA community seems likely to continue unabated. The consequences of this may well outlast the Trump presidency.