‘Hang ’em all’: Members of the January 6 committee are the target of violent rhetoric on right-wing social networks

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Users of these platforms openly call for the execution of committee members, with Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney appearing to be a specific target. Calls for the hanging of former Vice President Mike Pence, which were chanted across Washington DC on January 6, continue to echo online.

Figuring out what is just rhetoric and what could be an active threat is a challenge for law enforcement.

John Cohen, the former counterterrorism coordinator for the Department of Homeland Security and now an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, told CNN that authorities cannot treat social media posts with language. disturbing as mere hyperbole.

Cohen described social media monitoring as a “resource-intensive process that must involve federal, state and local authorities working together, operating under strict protocols that ensure they are able to distinguish between protected speech by the Constitution and those related to the threat”. activity.”

“We are in a very volatile and complex threat period,” he added.

Online threats continue as Illinois Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger revealed on Sunday that he had received a letter in the mail threatening to execute him, his wife and their newborn baby.

Facebook and Twitter’s decision to kick then-President Donald Trump off their platforms for breaking the rules after the insurgency was a boon for a developing cottage industry of media platforms social alternatives.

Alternative sites, like Trump’s Truth Social platform, launched in February, present themselves as bastions of free speech, capitalizing on some Republicans’ perception that they have been unjustly censored by Silicon Valley. Truth Social says it “seeks to create a haven of free speech in the social media sphere and encourages your unhindered free speech.” Its terms of use state that posts must not be “violent” or “harassing”.

An analysis by Advance Democracy Group, a nonprofit that conducts public interest investigations, shared with CNN found posts on Truth Social calling for the execution of Jan. 6 committee members and others. The researchers searched for platform-specific terms like “execute.”

An article on Truth Social includes a photo of a noose and reads, “The J6 committee is guilty of treason. Continuing an insurrection hangs them all.”

On another post referencing Cheney, a user posted a GIF of a guillotine with the message “#MGGA #MakeGuillotinesGreatAgain”.

CNN asked Truth Social about several posts containing violent rhetoric on Tuesday, including posts with a photo of a noose and a GIF of a guillotine. Truth Social did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment, but on Wednesday the posts appeared to have been removed from the platform.

In addition to Truth Social, Advance Democracy also observed violent rhetoric related to the January 6 committee posted on other alternative social media platforms 4chan – which was used by the suspect in the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York – as well as on Gab and another message board popular among some Trump supporters.

While many of the posts identified by Advance Democracy appeared to have little engagement, all of the posts illustrate a pattern of frequent invocation of violence in these online communities.

On a pro-Trump message board, one user commented earlier this month: “If we ever decide to storm the capital again, I promise we won’t make the mistake of not being armed a second time. time.

The post has since been removed.

4Chan did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

Andrew Torba, CEO of Gab, told CNN, “Gab permits all legal political speech protected by the First Amendment, including speech on inherently political topics such as the charge and punishment of treason through the system. U.S. judicial and imminent threats of violence, we will take action and work with our law enforcement partners to mitigate any threats to the public.”

While many people posting to these sites will never commit violence, others will, as evidenced by the social media posts of some of those accused of their role in the insurgency.

“Given the lack of content moderation on fringe platforms inhabited by far-right communities, the volume of threats is much higher than on mainstream platforms,” Ben Deckerthe CEO of Memetica, a digital survey company, told CNN.

Decker said most about some of these posts seem to encourage “real world violence. [and] are no different from many of the threats that emerged in the weeks leading up to January 6. »

Daniel J. Jones, president of Advance Democracy, said the online threats appear to be coming from people who mistakenly believe the 2020 election was stolen. “It is clear that the lies and actions of Trump and lawmakers who support him continue to pose a serious threat to our democracy and the peaceful transition of power,” he said.

The United States Capitol Police did not comment. CNN has also contacted the FBI, Pence’s office and Cheney’s office for comment.

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