The far-right extremists who overran the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 are far from done—but it’s also far from clear where they plan to strike next. That’s because the organizers of the various pro-Trump factions behind last week’s insurrection can’t agree on whether to hold a fresh round of protests in state capitals around the nation, or to focus their fire on Washington, D.C., for militia-based protests beginning Sunday and perhaps extending into Inauguration Day on Wednesday.
On the one hand, a number of far-right factions have been assiduously organizing armed protests—and possible statehouse invasions—at the Capitols of all 50 states, many of which appear to be ill-prepared for the onslaught. Yet a number of factions are urging people to ignore those protests—even conspiratorially smearing them as “false flags”—and instead concentrate their efforts on creating a massive turnout for Sunday’s planned “Million Militia March” in D.C.
The plans for a “Round 2” began appearing in posts within hours of the initial Capitol siege on Jan. 6. About a day later, the first announcement appeared on the currently-defunct right-wing social-media site Parler, from an account associated with the authoritarian QAnon cult, announcing a “Million Militia March” for Jan. 17. It read:
Millions of American Militia will meet in Washington, D.C., on January 20, 2021 for the purpose of preventing any attempt by the treasonous domestic enemy Joe Biden, or any other member of the Communist Organized Crime Organization known as the Democratic Party, from entering the White House belonging to We The People.
In the event that justice is miraculously served and our Re-Elected President Donald J. Trump is sworn in: The President, the capital and our National Monuments will be protected from the proven-violent Leftist insurgents who have declared war on the United States of America and have been committing a massive insurrection in the United States of America.
About the same time, an event called the “Million Martyr March”—honoring Ashli Babbitt, the woman who was shot to death during the Capitol siege while attempting to storm House chambers—was promoted on Parler, planned for Inauguration Day. The post promoting the event appeared shortly after the militia event was announced, featuring a flier with a logo and text (“On January 6th an unarmed woman was shot and killed in our nation’s capitol. Two weeks after her death we will march to demand justice for all Americans”) misspelling Babbitt’s name, as it happened. The march appears to be largely considered supplemental to the larger militia event on Sunday.
The Parler posters supporting the Million Militia March, freed from the constraints of mainstream platforms, were unrepentant in their open calls to engage in insurrectionist violence. In one post, a self-described “retired colonel” boasted that the Sunday march, and possibly others in the following days, would be awe-inspiring in its size.
“If we must, many of us will return on January 19 carrying our weapons, in support of our nation’s resolve, to which the world will never forget,” he wrote. “We will come in numbers that no standing army or police agency can match. However the police are not our enemy, unless they choose to be!”
He added: “All who will not stand with the American Patriots … or who cannot stand with us … then that would be a good time for you to take a few vacation days.”
Some of the Million Militia March advocates dismissed state-level protests as distractions at best, and nefarious government “false flag” operations intended to ensnare unsuspecting “Patriots.” "Do not attend armed protests at state capitols before inauguration! Possible sinister plot hatched by radical left to take away gun rights!" a post in a Telegram chatroom devoted to the far right read.
A Washington Post report on the online organizing for the events cited a study by the anti-disinformation organization Althea Group, which surveyed the broad array of post-January 6 discussions by far-right groups, and found that some of the insurrectionists took an “all of the above” approach as well.
“REFUSE TO BE SILENCED,” read an online post calling for an “ARMED MARCH ON CAPITOL HILL & ALL STATE CAPITOLS” for Sunday. Another advocated action at “DC & All State Capitols,” signed by “common folk who are tired of being tread upon” and declaring: “We were warned!”
Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League told the Associated Press that the D.C. events appear unlikely to draw a massive crowd. In either case, a lack of agreement on a strategy appears likely to dilute both the state-level and D.C. protests.
As Politico’s Tina Nguyen and Mark Scott explain, the far right’s organizing efforts—as well as efforts to counter them—are complicated by the chaotic and decentralized nature of the pro-Trump forces online. The posts advocating and organizing the events are to be found not simply on Telegram—which has in fact become a major hub, thanks to the 25 million new users it gained since the purge of the far right from mainstream platforms last week—but in such predictable locations as the far-right-friendly platform Gab, as well as on unexpected platforms such as TikTok.
TikTok videos from influencers bearing the Three Percenters logo as their avatar, referring to the anti-government militia movement, are hyping up future protests — even going so far as to publish videos of them collecting ammunition and guns, while playing doctored audio suggesting that Trump wants them to target his vice president, Mike Pence.
On Gab and Telegram, two fringe networks frequented by white nationalist and other extremist groups, mysteriously-originated videos of military personnel walking around American cities have also gone viral, with social media users either questioning if such activity was part of support for Donald Trump’s presidency or efforts by the government to clamp down on people’s constitutional rights.
Woven among many of these pro-militia videos on Tik Tok is a groundless conspiracy theory claiming that martial law is imminent in America. According to Media Matters, the TikTok “MartialLaw” hashtag has over 26 million views, while a similar “MartialLawIsComing” hashtag has attracted over 1.1 million viewers. At both hashtags, the top videos “contain panic-inducing misinformation about martial law.”
The confusion has spread some wavering commitments on the part of participants. Politico notes that the far-right militia group Boogaloo Bois originally organized their own event for Sunday but then attempted to cancel it. Warning that “mainstream headlines” had drawn too much attention, they nonetheless encouraged any protesters out that day to bring weapons to Washington, despite the city’s well-known ban on the open carry of firearms: “If you can carry legally, you can carry,” they claimed.
Some major far-right figures are throwing up their arms and running away from all of these events—declaring, in typically paranoid fashion, that both the state-level and D.C. protests are “Deep State” plots to draw “Patriots” into criminal behavior for which they can be arrested, or by far-left “antifa” schemers hoping to make MAGA supporters look bad. Among the leading voices of this contingent is Infowars’ Alex Jones.
“Do not go to capitols armed, do not be part of the demonstrations on January 20th. It’s run by the globalists,” Jones warned on Tuesday. “There isn’t some secret plan to overthrow things so Trump wins. All you’re doing is cementing things as domestic terrorists, so Biden can cement a new Patriot Act and come after you.”