TTP Investigation: Capitol Attack Was Months in the Making on Facebook
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 19, 2021
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report documenting numerous instances of domestic extremists using Facebook to discuss weapons and tactics, coordinate activities, and spread calls to overthrow the government in the last few months. Despite Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s recent statement claiming that the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol was “largely organized” on other platforms, TTP’s review of the platform across several months reveals extremist groups relied on Facebook to organize and incite members, fueled by President Trump’s baseless allegations of voter fraud and a “rigged” election.
CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “Any effort to hold those responsible for the assault on the Capitol accountable must include recognizing the role Facebook and other platforms played in enabling the attack. Over the past year, TTP has worked to proactively expose potential threats festering on these platforms, but more often than not Facebook responded only after online threats turned into real world violence.”
In April 2020, TTP first reported that members of “boogaloo” groups were using Facebook to prepare for a second civil war. Members of private boogaloo groups flagged by TTP later took violent action— demonstrating that White Americans, not just those of other ethnicities and nationalities, are susceptible to online radicalization. In June, Facebook announced it would ban boogaloo groups from the platform, but the policy change has been too little, too late.
TTP’s new report reveals that similar coordination efforts occurred on the platform before and after the 2020 presidential election. Calls to “occupy Congress” were rampant on Facebook in the weeks leading up to the deadly Capitol riot, leaving little to the imagination about supporters’ plan. Two different “occupy” event listings identified by TTP were written in a Nazi-style font and began circulating on Facebook in December. TTP also found self-declared “patriot” groups on Facebook ramping up their violent rhetoric and recruiting efforts around the election. Some of these groups openly promoted the Jan. 6 event at the Capitol.
Numerous posts discovered by TTP in the days leading up to the assault not only encouraged Facebook users to travel to DC for the eventual riot, but explicitly called on extremists to engage in activity that would clearly amount to sedition or domestic terrorism. One Nov. 10 post highlighted in the report stated, “TRAITORS MUST HANG,” with an image of nooses in the gallows titled “Government Repair Kit.” Some of those who stormed the Capitol were yelling, “Hang Mike Pence.” In another example, a user in the Facebook group “TRUMP ARMY 2020” posted on Dec. 23 about building gallows in Black Lives Matter Plaza for members of Congress.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “Facebook repeatedly has fobbed off regulation by claiming it can and has cracked down on extremism. What more will it take for lawmakers to realize Facebook is simply unable or unwilling to address this problem on its own? How much more can our democracy take before it breaks under the weight of Facebook’s inaction?”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.