On 6th January news reports started to roll in live from Washington DC that supporters of Donald Trump had stormed into the Capitol building. Ransacking offices, breaking into the Senate chamber and clashing with armed police, the world was watching and we were all shocked.
6th January was the day that Congress were meeting to confirm Joe Biden’s election victory. Shortly before midday when the riots began, thousands had gathered at the Ellipse to hear Trump speak at a “Save America” rally. He told the crowd “We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue… and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give… our Republicans, the weak ones… the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
Ever since November, when Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election over Donald Trump, a storm had been brewing. Trump strongly opposed Biden’s victory and declared himself the winner, calling for the result to be “turned around”. He unleashed theories that the election had been rigged which angered thousands of Trumps’ loyal supporters.
Forward to Wednesday at his rally, the crowds began to march to the Capitol and grappled with police. Tear gas and pepper spray were used to keep the protestors at bay but it wasn’t long before Trump supporters had stormed into the Capitol. Once they were inside the building went into lockdown with the doors of the House of chamber locked and a barricade erected.
Shortly before 3pm gunshots were heard with footage later showing a female protestor being shot as she tried to break through the barricaded doors of the Speakers’ Lobby. As the tension and violence reached breaking point, Trump finally called for calm saying “Go home. We love you, you’re very special”. The events of the day and Trump’s words only added to the hatred of those against him with many on social media blaming Trump for his inciting words.
Despite the shocking riot in support of Donald Trump, on Thursday Congress confirmed President-elect Joe Biden will succeed President Trump on 20th January.
A US Capitol police offer Brian Sicknick was killed during the riot, one woman was shot dead inside and three others died of “medical emergencies” during the events. Those in America and around the world were shocked. One of the world’s leading countries, renowned for being “The Land of the Free”, suddenly had its strong reputation for being politically strong quickly dissipate.
As pictures and videos started to emerge on social media of the shocking events, it was quickly known who was involved in this riot. Amongst Trump supporters were individuals associated with a range of extreme and far-right groups and supporters of online conspiracy theories. One man who was pictured wearing a fur hat and horns, with a painted face and holding the American flag, was quickly pointed out as Jake Angeli, a well-known supporter of the conspiracy theory QAnon who calls himself QAnon Shaman. QAnon is a wide-ranging theory which started in 2017 claiming that President Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and media. In the past President Trump has held back from endorsing the conspiracy theory but has described QAnon activists as “people who love our country”.
Also present were members of the far-right group Proud Boys which was founded in 2016 and is an all-male anti-immigrant group. One of their members Nick Ochs tweeted a selfie inside the building with the caption “Hello from the Capitol lol” and filmed a live stream inside.
Social media personality Tim Gionet was also pointed out in the crowd. He goes under the name “Baked Alaska” on social media and has recently had his YouTube channel banned after he posted videos of himself harassing shop workers and refused to wear a face-mask during the coronavirus pandemic. Other platforms such as Twitter and Paypal have shut down his accounts.
It was also noted that some rioters were holding the Confederate flag. The flag represents US states that supported the continuation of slavery during the American civil war. It is considered by many to be a symbol of racism. Trump has previously defended the use of the flag saying “I know people that like the Confederate flag and they’re not thinking about slavery… I just think it’s freedom of speech.”
There were claims from Republican members of Congress and right-wing media outlets that ‘Antifa’, a left-wing anti-fascist and anti-racist political movement in the United States actually incited the violence and were masked as Trump supporters. However, the FBI stated that there is no evidence of Antifa involvement in the Trump riots and also state that it is an ideology, not an organisation.
Following the riot, Trump was locked out of his Twitter account for 12 hours after he called those who stormed the Capitol “patriots”. He was allowed back on Twitter on Friday and wrote 2 tweets. In the first he wrote “The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICAN FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” In the second he wrote “To all those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
Twitter stated this was “being received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate” and that both of the tweets were “in violation of the Glorification of Violence Policy”. Trump was permanently suspended from his Twitter account. After this, Trump tweeted from the US president’s official @Potus account suggesting he would “look at the possibilities of building out our own platform in the future” but the tweets were removed quickly.
On Thursday Facebook suspended Trump “indefinitely”. Twitch also placed an indefinite ban on the outgoing president’s channel which he had used for rally broadcasts, so did Snapchat. On Friday, Reddit banned its “donaldtrump” forum for the president’s supporters.
There wasn’t only a crackdown on Trump but also his supporters. Earlier on Friday, Twitter permanently banned the account of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and two Trump loyalists, Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell. Later on, Google suspended Parler, a “free speech” app, from its online store. Parler had become increasingly popular with Trump supporters and is a rival to Twitter.
In a recent article in The Atlantic, Evelyn Douek describes it as the ‘Friday Night Massacre of platform bans’ and questions the power of these social media giants and why really it is only Donald Trump that has been targeted. She makes the point that ‘Meanwhile, the Taliban’s official spokesperson still has a Twitter account. As does India’s President Narendra Modi, even as his government cracks down on dissent and oversees nationalistic violence. Facebook says it has taken action against other world leaders before Trump, but hasn’t given any details.’ Douek argues that the President has posted tweets in the past that have been equally as bad and interpreted in dangerous ways.
The events of 6thJanuary were alarming, violent and a threat to democracy, and Trump’s incitement of the riot was unjustifiable. The report by ITV News of the riot was shocking and a stark reminder of not only the importance of democracy but also the power that one man can have on thousands of people.
However, no matter where you stand politically, we should not dismiss the power and control that social media giants have shown in the last couple of days. Their ability to remove and silence. Donald Trump has wrote tweets in the past that have been interpreted as hateful, inciteful and violent and has wrote many which have been very questionable to say the least. It is important that we question the social media platforms and those behind it to make sure that everyone’s rights are protected. It will not be the last time an influential person uses social media platforms to share their opinions which may be interpreted as hateful and violent. So where do we draw the line?
Do you think it is right that these social media platforms have banned Donald Trump? Were you shocked by the events last Wednesday? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.