Last month, a onetime campaign aide to former President Donald J. Trump posted on Facebook, Twitter, Gab and other social media sites. For the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, he wrote, candlelight vigils would be held in 20 cities on Thursday to honor those who stormed the building.
“January 6th was America’s Tiananmen Square,” Matt Braynard, the former Trump campaign aide and founder of Look Ahead America, a right-wing organization, said in a post on Gab. “Join us in marking this lie with #J6vigils from coast to coast.”
The responses were sparse. Seventy-eight people liked the message, and 21 people shared it.
The post was an example of what right-wing groups and supporters of Mr. Trump are discussing to commemorate the Jan. 6 anniversary: scattered, local and most likely small gatherings. According to a review by The New York Times of recent posts from right-wing groups on sites including Facebook, Twitter, Gab and Gettr, online chatter about celebrations and rallies for the anniversary has grown in recent weeks, but the posts have not attracted much buzz and appear unlikely to translate into sizable real-world efforts on Thursday.
Many of the conversations online have instead centered on gatherings for specific groups in places such as Dallas and Phoenix. In Miami, a local chapter of the far-right Proud Boys said it planned to hold a protest on Thursday to honor those arrested after storming the Capitol, according to a post on the Telegram messaging app. In Beverly Hills, a group dedicated to protesting mask mandates said on Telegram that it planned a rally to rename Jan. 6 after Ashli Babbitt, who was killed by federal officers while storming the Capitol building.
In the posts, there has been little talk of violence and guns. The groups have mostly focused on positioning the Jan. 6 rioters as heroes and martyrs and encouraged people to push local political leaders toward a far-right agenda. The language in the posts is also muted, calling on supporters to think of long-term goals such as stopping mask and vaccine mandates.
Efforts to organize an anniversary protest in Washington on Thursday have also appeared to gain little traction online, according to The Times’s review.
“Stay out of Washington, it is nothing but a setup,” wrote an Ohio member of the Proud Boys on Telegram on Monday. “Federal agents are going to be there in disguise waiting to arrest anyone who shows up.”
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Another member responded, “What is the point of D.C.? Better stay local, make a difference” in your hometown.
The lackluster and dispersed conversations underline how far-right groups have largely fractured across the internet since President Biden was inaugurated last January. While the groups were once united under the banner of Mr. Trump’s White House and had substantial presences on mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter, many have since been booted from the sites and are more active locally rather than nationally.
“There’s a broad shift happening right now, and we can see it with how all these different groups are discussing and promoting events around Jan. 6 online,” said Heidi Beirich, a founder of the nonprofit Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. “They are on different platforms, with different messages.”
All of this is a far cry from a year ago, when right-wing groups and Mr. Trump’s supporters fomented the Stop the Steal movement — which falsely suggested that the presidential election had been stolen from Mr. Trump — on Facebook and other mainstream social media sites. Tens of thousands of supporters of Mr. Trump showed up in Washington last Jan. 6 and more than 700 were later arrested in connection with the riot.
The Proud Boys and Mr. Braynard did not respond to requests for comment. Telegram did not respond to a request for comment.
Yet while right-wing activity on mainstream social media appears to now be more muted, it has not ceased.
On Tuesday, the Tech Transparency Project, an industry watchdog group funded by the philanthropic organizations of billionaires including Pierre Omidyar and George Soros, published a report showing that Facebook’s recommendation algorithms continued to push pages related to militia organizations and the Three Percenters, an anti-government movement. The activity was taking place even after Facebook cracked down in 2020 on groups related to QAnon, a wide-ranging conspiracy theory, as well as on U.S.-based militia pages.
Katie Paul, a director with the Tech Transparency Project, said she had created a Facebook account in July that exclusively followed militia group pages to track how the social network recommended content to certain users following the events of Jan. 6.
One page that surfaced in her test account featured a banner image of a snake wrapped around a semiautomatic rifle superimposed on a Three Percenter logo. In other instances, she said, her account encountered Facebook ads that tried to recruit her for local militias.
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“Are you ready to train and prepare for whatever may be headed our way in 2022?” read one December ad, which was seen by Facebook users fewer than 1,000 times according to the social network’s measurements. “6th Battalion of the 1st Missouri Volunteer Infantry is actively seeking new members in your area.”
Since the report’s publication, Facebook has taken down some of the militia pages. The company, which has been renamed Meta, said it had “taken steps to address harmful content.”
“We have strong policies that we continue to enforce, including a ban on hate organizations and removing content that praises or supports them,” said Kevin McAlister, a Meta spokesman.
For the Jan. 6 anniversary, he added, the company was in contact with law enforcement authorities and was “continuing to actively monitor threats on our platform and will respond accordingly.”
Twitter also said it planned to monitor its service for calls to violence on Thursday and added that it had an internal group prepared to enforce its rules if violent content proliferates.
The social media companies may face an easier time on Thursday than a year ago, given that conversations about the Jan. 6 anniversary were muted on Facebook, Telegram and other channels. In some of the posts reviewed by The Times, commenters said they could not attend anniversary rallies but wished others well.
“Honor our brothers, honor our friends,” wrote an Ohio member of the Proud Boys in a Telegram group. “Keep up the fight in their name.”
Another member wrote, “I can’t keep track of what is happening where… can we get together a group calendar?”
Kate Conger contributed reporting.
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