The insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was not spontaneous.
The assault that unfolded as Congress convened a joint session to certify the victory of Joe Biden in the 2020 election was the direct result of a months-long effort rooted in disinformation; promoted by President Donald Trump; coordinated by some of his most fervent, conspiratorial supporters; and incorporating a wide range of supporting groups.
The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab constructed a timeline of key events, both online and offline, centered on the coordination of “Stop the Steal” efforts that escalated to violence and threatened the transition of power core to American democracy. Most of the material found in this report was posted in plain sight on social media platforms and online forums, designed to convince more Americans of falsehoods about the 2020 elections. The Stop the Steal movement was far from monolithic, though, and included groups across a spectrum of radicalization: hyperpartisan pro-Trump activists and media outlets; the neo-fascist Proud Boys, a group with chapters committed to racism and the promotion of street violence; unlawful militias from around the country with a high degree of command and control, including the so-called Three Percenters movement; adherents to the collective delusion of QAnon; individuals identifying with the Boogaloo Bois, a loosely organized anti-government group that has called for a second civil war; and ideological fellow travelers of the far-right, who wanted to witness something they believed would be spectacular.
Each group overlapped but maintained distinct engagement — and coordination — online. Their melding accelerated with compounding crises throughout the election cycle, including protests in response to COVID-19 public health restrictions and counter-protests to the overwhelmingly peaceful racial justice protests over the summer of 2020. The convergence became complete around the Stop the Steal movement before and after Election Day, inexorably escalating toward the insurrection itself on Jan. 6.
What bound these groups together across a spectrum of radicalization? Disinformation about the results of the 2020 election and extreme support of Trump, often amplified by Trump himself, which intensified the overall movement’s actions toward violence.
Though the movement was unsuccessful in its ultimate goal of maintaining Trump’s power by explicitly anti-democratic means, it was successful in expanding the reach of election-related misinformation as well as hardening many Americans already on the path to radicalization or dangerous adherence to outright conspiracy theories. The latter is a long-term challenge of pervasive domestic extremism in the United States.
The phrase “Stop the Steal” was not introduced in 2020. In fact, it has been a hallmark of nearly every election throughout Trump’s political career.
“Stop the Steal” was deployed during the 2016 presidential election by Roger Stone, a longtime Trump associate and confidant. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that the campaign was orchestrated “first under the auspices of defending Trump’s Republican primary nomination and later contesting a potential Hillary Clinton victory that never manifested.” At the time, Democrats accused Stone of seeking to intimidate non-White voters, which Stone denied. The phrase flared up again in 2018, focused on Florida and its close gubernatorial and Senate contests that year.
In 2020, associates and protégés of Stone — including several who assisted in prior Stop the Steal efforts — revamped the phrase to organize a nationwide protest movement that sought to pressure state and federal officials to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Like before, the movement was embraced and promoted by Trump himself and several prominent Republican leaders aligned with him.
The following timeline begins at the first notable indication of a reemerging “Stop the Steal” campaign ahead of the 2020 election and includes significant milestones as groups across the spectrum of radicalization coalesced around the disinformation-driving movement. At all times, the movement was responsive as Trump engaged and promoted it.
Put simply, the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol would likely have not occurred if not for Trump’s explicit and tacit encouragement of the Stop the Steal movement.
Much of the online material directly related to the coordination of Stop the Steal has been removed from where it was originally posted, either deleted by the original authors or removed by social media platforms or platform providers. However, based on daily monitoring efforts since September, aggregate analysis of online trends across platforms, and content preserved on independently verifiable public archives, the following timeline of events should be taken as comprehensive, but not exhaustive. This timeline is built on the tremendous work of researchers, journalists, and others, who waded through harmful online material and safely preserved it.
In addition to its work with the Election Integrity Partnership to monitor mis- and disinformation about the process and results of the 2020 election, the DFRLab expanded its research scope in partnership with Georgetown’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection to analyze domestic extremism directed at the election.
From September 2020 through Election Day, the monitoring effort was focused on voter intimidation and suppression. During this period, the “Stop the Steal” narrative was seeded and initially spread in the context of the general election. Between Nov. 4 and when Biden’s victory became clear on Nov. 7, “Stop the Steal” grew in coordination with Trump’s failed legal effort to “stop the count” of legitimate votes in various states. After Nov. 7, the election results became increasingly undeniable, yet the Trump campaign mounted a range of dubious legal gambits to overturn them, matched by the increasingly ominous rhetoric among groups that coordinated “Stop the Steal” events. During this period, two separate so-called Million MAGA Marches on Nov. 14 and Dec. 12 in Washington, D.C. were coordinated and attended by the same groups that converged for the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. Both Million MAGA Marches included numerous instances of unlawful behavior and limited instances of violence, specifically fighting and stabbings. Throughout November and December, smaller but escalatory far-right events took place around the country, predominantly in capitals in states with close election results.
The rapid coordination and escalatory engagement across various movements along the spectrum of far-right radicalization and conspiracy groups was made possible by the varied online spaces they collectively occupied and leveraged.
The amplification of the effort was no doubt aided in certain instances and driven in others by Trump. Coverage in both mainstream and partisan media outlets followed. The tumult created a groundswell of online engagement.
A search using social media monitoring tool BuzzSumo detected over 8,200 online news articles containing keywords “Stop the Steal” or “#StopTheSteal” between Sept. 1, 2020 and Feb. 2, 2021. Those articles garnered more than 70,000,000 engagements on different platforms; more than 43.5 million of those engagements were registered in December 2020 alone. More than 83 percent (58.5 million) of total engagements were registered on YouTube videos, which appeared on multiple platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Reddit. YouTube videos containing “Stop the Steal” or “#StopTheSteal” garnered 21,267,165 views, 863,151 likes, and 34,091 dislikes in the time period analyzed.
On Facebook, mentions of “Stop the Steal” and the #StopTheSteal peaked on Nov. 5 during the effort to stop vote counting; on Nov. 14 during the first post-election Million MAGA March; Nov. 21 during a #StopTheSteal rally in Georgia; and Dec. 12 during the second Million MAGA March in D.C., according to the monitoring tool CrowdTangle. Mentions also spiked in the days immediately preceding Jan. 6. The same trend occurred on Twitter, according to monitoring tool Meltwater Explore, as well as on Google, according to Google Trends.
The aggregate social media metrics do not illustrate causality in the same way individual pieces of content included in the timeline do. However, the sheer amount of engagement on “Stop the Steal” underscores the fact that the events of January were not conspired in private or in closed corners of the internet, but mostly out in the open.
September 7, 2020
Far-right social media personality and One America News correspondent Jack Posobiec tweets “#StopTheSteal 2020 is coming…” Posobiec has since deleted the tweet and all of his other tweets mentioning Stop the Steal.
That same day, fringe conservative activist Ali Alexander (who previously went by the name Ali Akbar) announces during a now-deleted Periscope live broadcast that he is building the digital infrastructure for a 2020 “stop the steal” effort. Alexander explains he plans to construct a digital database of Trump supporters he could dispatch to ballot counting locations and state officials’ offices if their “physical presence is needed.”
In the coming days, we will launch an effort concentrating on the swing states, and we will map out where the votes are being counted and the secretary of states. We will map all of this out for everyone publicly and we will collect cell phone numbers so that way if you are within 100-mile radius of a bad secretary of state or someone who’s counting votes after the deadline or if there’s a federal court hearing, we will alert you of where to go.
Alexander follows through on that promise, building a website and database that would be used to mobilize Trump supporters to Stop the Steal events.
On Facebook that same day, pro-Trump pages deploy the Stop the Steal slogan. Pages “President Donald Trump Fan Club”and “Donald Trump is My President,” which together reach millions of subscribers, post the mantra within hours of Posobiec’s tweet.
September 23, 2020
Trump takes questions from reporters in the White House press briefing room. When asked whether he would commit to the peaceful transition of power if he lost the 2020 election, Trump declines to answer directly.
“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump says. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”
Trump also states that he believes the election results would wind up at the Supreme Court and argues that it was a reason to fast-track the appointment of Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
“This scam that the Democrats are pulling, it’s a scam, the scam will be before the United States Supreme Court,” Trump says, “and I think having a 4–4 situation is not a good situation.”
September 24, 2020
The Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump blog and font of misinformation surrounding the 2020 election, publishes several articles mentioning the Stop the Steal effort beginning in September. One article offers readers advice on actions they can take to “STOP THE STEAL,” warning that North Carolina’s acceptance of mail-in ballots up to Nov. 12 was “only boot camp for what’s coming.”
“If you are not willing to fight the Communists you will be ruled by the Communists,” blog publisher Jim Hoft writes. “Obviously, Democrats will win the 2020 election if they ARE ALLOWED to steal the vote in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada and North Carolina.”
(Source: Gateway Pundit)
The Gateway Pundit would later be de-platformed by Twitter in February 2021.
September 29, 2020
Biden and Trump participate in a televised debate, during which moderator Chris Wallace asks Trump if he would denounce white supremacists and militia movement groups that had appeared in opposition to racial justice protests earlier that year. Trump asks for the name of a group, to which Biden interjects with the name of the far-right extremist group Proud Boys. The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies the Proud Boys as a hate group.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump says. “But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem.”
Trump’s remark about the Proud Boys reportedly results in a surge of new followers to the group. That night, members of the Proud Boys respond with jubilation. The group also goes on to sell shirts with Trump’s words printed on them. Joe Biggs, a prominent Proud Boys figure who was later arrested for his role in the Capitol attack, posts on Parler: “Trump basically said to go fuck them up! this makes me so happy.”
Notably, Trump’s mention of “Antifa” was neither his first nor his last. The president and his allies spent years painting opponents of far-right groups as violent threats to the nation, and specifically mounted a sustained effort throughout the racial justice protests over the summer to characterize Antifa as a highly organized and violent “terrorist” group.
October 7, 2020
The Department of Justice announces indictments against a group of men who were allegedly planning to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The orchestrators of the would-be plot were part of a self-styled “militia” group called the Wolverine Watchmen, the indictment alleges, and met at anti-lockdown protests.
Earlier that year, Trump and his allies had repeatedly singled out Whitmer and the state of Michigan. In April, armed protesters had stormed the state capitol, earning the praise of Trump.
“The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire,” Trump tweeted on May 1. “These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”
Many unlawful militia groups involved in anti-COVID lockdown and pro-gun rallies that included shows of force at various state capitols participated in the Jan. 6 attack. The kidnapping attempt against Whitmer was an early warning of the potential consequences of misinformation campaigns on a national level.
October 15, 2020
In a televised town hall in Miami, Trump refuses to disavow QAnon. “I know nothing about QAnon … What I do hear about it, they are very strongly against pedophilia, and I agree with that.” When the moderator Savannah Guthrie says, “there’s not a satanic cult,” Trump responds, “No, I don’t know that and neither do you know that.”
Online, QAnon communities celebrate this statement as a tacit endorsement. The Washington Post reports that members of anonymous image boards where QAnon is promoted praised Trump’s answer, with one user writing, “This was the biggest pitch for QANON I’ve ever seen.”
October 19, 2020
Prominent conservatives circulate misleading information suggesting that Trump voters are being targeted for violence, animating extremist groups. The DFRLab found that the sourcing for the claims, which were spread by leading Republican figureheads like Matt Schlapp, failed to withstand basic scrutiny and that QAnon conspiracy-theory-adjacent accounts were the first to post the material on social media.
October 20, 2020
Users in a chatroom for dues-paying members of the Oath Keepers question what their course of action will be if Biden is elected and authoritarian rule is implemented, responding to a video uploaded online by the conspiracy theory outlet Infowars. One user replies, “Choose a side and fight, looking down the sights of a rifle at our fellow Americans. You’d think we would have learned our lesson the last time.”
October 26, 2020
Users in a group chat on the platform MeWe called “AMERICAN CIVIL WAR 2.0” discuss the potential for bloodshed after the election. The group contains several unlawful militia members and supporters. One user with the display name “William Flatt” writes “Leftists have already fired the first shots” and promises that “when the Right eventually hits back, the bloodshed will be Biblical.”
October 27, 2020
Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes tells conspiracy theorist radio host Alex Jones that members of his militia movement group plan to station at polling locations across the country to “protect” Trump voters. During the same interview, Rhodes says his group would station near Washington, D.C. on Election Day to protect Trump in the event of a “Benghazi-style” attack on the White House.
October 31, 2020
Video clips circulate showing Trump supporters in Texas surrounding a Biden campaign bus on the highway. According to Biden campaign staff, drivers attempted to slow the bus down and drive it off the highway. The incident prompts the Biden campaign to cancel a campaign event over concerns about public safety and security.
That evening, Trump shares video of the incident on Twitter, with the declaration: “I LOVE TEXAS!”
November 2, 2020
The DFRLab notes an increase in online organizing and heated rhetoric among right-wing extremist groups ahead of Election Day, particularly in unlawful militia groups:
The decentralized and secretive nature of modern extremist movements makes it difficult to infer every group’s plans regarding the election. However, trends in online conversation convey a general sentiment among extremists that they believe they should stealthily monitor the voting process and prepare themselves for potential unrest after results are announced. Users in extremist communities online observed by the DFRLab have repeatedly engaged in recruitment efforts and encouraged individuals to organize among themselves for scenarios in which they may act at local, regional, and state levels. Individuals in militia movement digital spaces have also encouraged communications networking between groups.
November 3, 2020 (Election Day)
Early morning on election day, Posobiec tweets the hashtag #StopTheSteal.
A subsequent DFRLab analysis of tweets using the hashtag #StopTheSteal between approximately 9 p.m. ET Nov. 2 through 5 a.m. ET Nov. 4, finds that among its top promoters were accounts used by the Philadelphia GOP, Human Events publisher Will Chamberlain, Trump-supporting actor James Woods, Islamophobic activist Pamela Geller, conservative writer Carmine Sabia, and online influencers Posobiec and Mark Dice.
As predicted, Election Day ends with many states still counting legitimately cast votes and no definitive election result.
November 4, 2020
In the early morning hours following Election Day, Trump falsely declares premature victory to his supporters at the White House. He makes several unsubstantiated claims about supposed voter fraud, calling it “a major fraud on our nation.” He then calls for vote counting to stop.
Several prominent right-wing social media influencers begin promoting the Stop the Steal effort, including newly elected Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, and far-right media personalities Mark Dice and Michelle Malkin. Greene leverages the effort to fundraise for her congressional campaign fund.
Multiple Facebook groups emerge rallying around the Stop the Steal effort. One group, founded by pro-Trump organization Women for America First, called “STOP THE STEAL” gains hundreds of thousands of members before Facebook shuts it down on Nov. 5. Before deletion, the group hosted an events section, which publicized rallies organized by multiple groups occurring across the country.
That same day, conservative activist Ali Alexander updates his Stop the Steal website to prompt visitors to input their contact information for future organizing. The website receives significant traction on Facebook, according to analysis conducted using the Facebook monitoring tool CrowdTangle.
Meanwhile, protests reach a fever pitch across the United States.
In Arizona, Republican Rep. Paul Gosar and far-right social media personality Michael Cernovich rile protesters, including several who openly carry firearms, outside the Maricopa County Elections Department. Far-right extremists are reportedly present, including militia movement groups and QAnon supporters. Reuters reports that some attendees said they joined the protest after seeing tweets about the event posted by Cernovich, who drove seven hours from California to speak at the protest. Trump supporters would continue to gather at the elections department for days.
In Michigan, Trump supporters attempt to enter a vote-counting center in Detroit. Several chant “stop the count” while others are filmed banging on the windows of the room where ballots were being counted.
November 5, 2020
At 9:12 a.m. ET, Trump tweets, “STOP THE COUNT!”
Police arrest two armed men in Philadelphia near a vote-counting location. The men had traveled to the city from Virginia Beach, Virginia, in a silver Hummer displaying a QAnon conspiracy theory sticker on its rear window. In a Facebook video provided by the Anti-Defamation League to the Associated Press, one of the men — Anthony Macias of Veterans for Trump — is seen standing outside the ballot-counting location telling viewers, “We are in a fight for America as we know it.”
In Atlanta, about 100 pro-Trump protesters assemble outside a ballot-counting location and chant “stop the cheat.”
Former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon and his podcast co-hosts discuss beheading National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray. “I’d actually like to go back to the old times of Tudor England, I’d put the heads on pikes, right, I’d put them at the two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats,” Bannon says.
Alexander’s StopTheSteal.us website is updated to include listings for protests in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Advertised rallies include prominent far-right personalities and disinformation spreaders as featured speakers.
November 6, 2020
More than 200 protesters, including militia movement members, gather to protest in Detroit, Michigan. A group of Trump supporters target a local news station for a protest in Youngstown, Ohio. More protests take place in Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
Protesters supporting Trump gather outside WKBN https://t.co/hBvAX9svmf pic.twitter.com/4SGPEHeH1e
— WKBN 27 First News (@WKBN) November 6, 2020
Chants like “USA,” “Lock her up,” (referring to Gov. Whitmer), “treason,” “stop the steal,” and “cheaters,” have been said numerous times today. #ElectionResults2020 #protest pic.twitter.com/48TF7Cxjzb
— Slone Terranella 슬론 (@SloneTerranella) November 6, 2020
November 7, 2020
Late in the morning, the Associated Press and major television networks announce that Biden is projected to become the 46th president of the United States.
That afternoon, in addition to the widespread public celebrations over Biden’s victory, Stop the Steal protests take place across the United States at state capitols and ballot-counting locations. At the Pennsylvania state capitol, extremists including armed militias, white supremacists, QAnon believers, and Proud Boys participate in a heavily armed protest.
Extremists, including white nationalist movement leaders and Proud Boys, also begin promoting and planning a “Million MAGA March” in Washington D.C. for Nov. 14.
November 8, 2020
Amy and Kylie Jane Kremer of the organization Women For America First re-brand a Facebook group called “Boot Pelosi” to “March for Trump.” Retooling existing online assets is a common tactic, taking an audience that came together for one particular cause and redirecting them toward another one — in this case, a ready-made group of Trump supporters who might express interest in participating in a march. The Facebook group has more than 9,000 members at the time of publication. A significant portion of online infrastructure established in prior political campaigns, including anti-COVID-19 lockdown protests, are retrofitted to deliver misinformation about the election and to organize rallies.
Promotional materials for a “Million MAGA March” circulate among extremist communities online and began to appear on militia movement recruiting forum boards and chat rooms.
Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes streams live video from a Stop the Steal rally in Purcellville, Virginia. At the time of publication, the Oath Keepers channel remained accessible on YouTube. (Warning: The following video contains explicit and otherwise offensive material.)
November 9, 2020
Jones’ outlet Infowars promotes the Stop the Steal cause and organizes a multi-state caravan to Washington, D.C. Infowars personalities urge viewers to follow a Parler account with the handle @stopthestealcaravan. Host Owen Shroyer will go on to travel in a custom armored vehicle from Texas to D.C., making stops in several cities along the way. The outlet continues to promote the protest with additional videos and posts.
Women for America First updates its website to promote Nov. 14 protests in Washington, D.C. and to share the names of conservative influencers to follow online. The listed influencers include a convergence of white nationalists, anti-Muslim voices, conspiracy theorists and spreaders of COVID-19 disinformation.
November 10, 2020
Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes tells Alex Jones that he had men stationed outside Washington, D.C. prepared to engage in violence on Trump’s command. According to Media Matters:
Rhodes said Trump should task special forces leaders in the military to gather and process the information because “he cannot trust the normal military intelligence services.” Noting that he has previously been opposed to U.S. military intervention in domestic matters, Rhodes said that in this case Trump should invoke The Insurrection Act to accomplish this goal.
Rhodes then said that, in support of Trump, “we have men already stationed outside D.C. as a nuclear option in case they attempt to remove the president illegally, we will step in and stop it” and emphasized that these men are “armed” and “prepared to go in, if the president calls us up.” In addition to activity outside of the capital, Rhodes said he will have Oath Keepers inside the city this coming weekend to support a caravan of Infowars supporters being led by Shroyer who say they will hold an event on November 14. The Infowars contingent is one of several far-right groups that say that they will rally in the city to support Trump. Stewart added that his group has been doing “recon” for the past week in the Washington, D.C., area.
Inside a chatroom for dues-paying Oath Keepers members, users discuss their intentions to attend the Nov. 14 rally. Around the same time period, users also advise those fellow members attending to “watch your backs” and refer to those who plan to attend as “soldiers.”
November 12, 2020
According to notes shared by an Oath Keepers member inside a chat room for dues-paying group supporters, Rhodes says that members of his group will be stationed near Washington, D.C. until Trump is installed as president.
That same day, then-White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany says during a Fox News appearance that she expects turnout at the Nov. 14 protest in Washington, D.C. to be “quite large.”
Trump, meanwhile, teases a visit to the Nov. 14 rally in D.C. “Wow!” he writes. “Thousands of people forming in Washington (D.C.) for Stop the Steal. Didn’t know about this, but I’ll be seeing them! #MAGA”
November 13, 2020
Trump campaign allies host a bewildering press conference at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping company in Philadelphia, where they air grievances over the counting of votes. Almost every single Trump campaign challenge against the results of the election will be tossed out of court, and the small number of legal challenges won will do nothing to change the result of the vote.
November 14, 2020
Trump supporters and far-right extremists gather by the thousands in D.C. to protest the results of the 2020 election. Trump pays a visit to the Million MAGA March with a presidential motorcade drive-by. That night, members of the Proud Boys and Trump supporters engage in violence in downtown D.C., feuding with civil rights counter-protestors. At least one person is stabbed and hospitalized.
“While much of the day unfolded peacefully, brief but intense clashes erupted throughout,” the Washington Post writes. “Activists spewed profanity and shouted threats, threw punches and launched bottles. On both sides, people were bloodied, and at least 20 were arrested, including four whose allegiances remain unknown on gun charges. The chaos also left two officers injured.”
Footage pulled from my IG live from last night. I’m positioned in front of PBs with antifascists behind me. When PBs moved in is when my phone got thrown. Looks like someone picked it up to catch bike cops coming through. Explains why I found it on the curb! pic.twitter.com/5TZpWBH0oQ
— talia (@mxtaliajane) November 15, 2020
Just after 8 p.m., the Proud Boys and other Trump supporters receive praise from the president for brawling with counter-demonstrators.
November 15, 2020
Trump tweets that the Georgia recount was “a scam, means nothing.” His tweet amplifies QAnon-supporting lawyer Lin Wood and echoes unsubstantiated claims about “fraudulent signatures.”
November 16, 2020
Alex Jones urges fans to travel to Georgia and surround the governor’s mansion. White nationalist leader Nicholas Fuentes will appear at the protests and speak.
Georgia is quickly becoming a hot spot for election conspiracy theorists, as its electoral votes were decisive in Biden reaching 270 votes. Meanwhile, both of Georgia’s Senate elections will go into a run-off on Jan. 5, determining which party will control the chamber, increasing tensions on the ground, particularly among Trump supporters who see Democratic wins in the two Senate seats as an existential threat.
November 18, 2020
Far-right figures and fans gather for the first of several days of protest at the Georgia capitol. During the movement’s time in Georgia, leaders of the protests including Stop The Steal organizer Ali Alexander, white nationalist Nicholas Fuentes, and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones enter the state capitol.
Over on MeWe, users in a militia movement group chat make call-outs to attend the Georgia rally.
November 20, 2020
On social media, flyers and posts advertising the sequel to the Nov. 14 Million MAGA March begin to circulate. The event is announced prominently by Infowars and Alex Jones, who was in the Georgia state capitol two days prior.
Leading figures from the Trump campaign host a press conference regarding their legal challenges to the election. Attorney Sidney Powell falsely alleges that the voting systems used in the 2020 election were created at the order of deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to change votes after the fact “to make sure he never lost an election.”
November 21, 2020
Trump acknowledges Stop the Steal protesters in Georgia on Twitter in a reaction to a Breitbart News article. “The proof pouring in is undeniable. Many more votes than needed. This was a LANDSLIDE!” Trump writes.
At the Pennsylvania Capitol, several militia groups protest the result of the 2020 election. Militia movement supporters march in Richmond, Virginia, openly violating area gun laws.
The DFRLab discovers a flyer for a Dec. 12 protest in D.C. decorated with militia movement insignias circulating among pro-militia communities online.
November 29, 2020
A prolific Oath Keepers member in the group’s paid chat room calls on other users to attend election protests in D.C. on Dec. 12. The user specifically asks for law enforcement officers with firearm permits to attend.
Women for America First launches a multi-state bus tour, starting in Doral, Florida, and ending at the Dec. 12 march in D.C.
November 30, 2020
Trump campaign lawyer Joe DiGenova appears on Newsmax TV and says that Chris Krebs, the former director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), who managed CISA’s effort to respond to prevalent election-related misinformation and who was fired by Trump by tweet ostensibly for the effort, “should be drawn and quartered. He should be taken out at dawn and shot.”
Users in “American Patriots III%,” a MeWe chatroom for supporters of the Three Percenter anti-government militia movement, claim that the organization’s Louisiana members will travel to D.C. for protests on Dec. 12.
December 1, 2020
Gabriel Sterling, the official overseeing Georgia’s voting system, pleads with Trump to condemn a deluge of Trump supporters who have threatened state officials and election workers. “Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed, and it’s not right,” Sterling says.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who served as Trump’s first national security advisor and pleaded guilty to lying to federal officials about his contacts with Russia, shares a message on Twitter from a right-wing organization in Ohio urging Trump to declare martial law and re-conduct the 2020 election. “Freedom never kneels except for God,” he writes.
On Parler, Lin Wood writes, “Our Country is headed towards Civil War” and that “Trump must follow the precedent of Abraham Lincoln and Declare Martial Law.”
The calls for martial law initially receive mixed reactions from militia movement groups online. Some, such as the Civilian Defense Network, voice their support for the idea. Others on militia movement forum boards and social media pages expressed skepticism.
December 5, 2020
Armed protesters surround Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s home, chanting “Stop the Steal” and spouting conspiracy theories about the election popularized by Trump and his allies. Activist Genevieve Peters live-streams the event, including the caption, “Michiganders head to Secretary of States Jocelyn Benson’s HOUSE in dead of night to let her know: WE AIN ‘T TAKING THIS CORRUPT ELECTION!! FORENSIC AUDIT PERIOD!”
In Dallas, Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes speaks at a Stop the Steal rally hosted by the Texas Republican Party.
December 6, 2020
Following Women for America First’s bus tour rally in Des Moines, a confrontation between Trump supporters and counter-protesters ends in a shooting. Michael McKinney, who expressed support for the Proud Boys on Facebook, approaches a car with four Black teenage girls, pulls a handgun from his waistband, and fires one shot into the vehicle from 15 feet away; a 15-year-old is shot in the leg. He is charged with five felony counts, including attempted murder.
December 7, 2020
Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander tweets that he is “willing to give [his] life for this fight.” The Arizona Republican Party shares the tweet and adds, “He is. Are you?”
December 9, 2020
Neo-Nazi blogger Andrew Anglin posts an article on Daily Stormer urging his readers to attend the Stop the Steal rally on Dec.12, writing: “There is nothing you could be doing that could be more important than this.”
(Source: Daily Stormer)
December 10, 2020
Oath Keepers issues a call to action to participate in pro-Trump protests in D.C. on Dec. 12.
Trump tweets a quote from a supporter: “‘People are upset, and they have a right to be. Georgia not only supported Trump in 2016, but now. This is the only State in the Deep South that went for Biden? Have they lost their minds? This is going to escalate dramatically. This is a very dangerous moment in our history…. The fact that our Country is being stolen. A coup is taking place in front of our eyes, and the public can’t take this anymore.’ A Trump fan at Georgia Rally on @OANN Bad!”
December 11, 2020
A Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia shares violent imagery on Telegram regarding the Dec. 12 rally. One of the images reads, “SHATTER THEIR TEETH.”
December 12, 2020
Trump supporters and extremists gather again in Washington, D.C. for several rallies to protest the result of the 2020 presidential election as the Trump campaign’s legal losses continue to pile up. Trump flies over the scene in Marine One. Some speakers at the rally repeatedly discuss intentions to destroy members of the GOP that do not attempt to overturn the results of the election. White nationalist podcaster Nicholas Fuentes leads a crowd in a chant of “Destroy the GOP!” Pro-Trump conspiracy theorist and pillow salesman Mike Lindell cautions Republican politicians: “The Republicans out there that were cowards, now’s your chance. We’re not going anywhere and you better stand up.”
Nick Fuentes to Trump Supporters: “We are going to destroy the GOP” (for its failure to keep Trump in power)
MAGA crowd chants:
“Destroy the GOP! Destroy the GOP! destroy the GOP!”pic.twitter.com/SGAT9MWl13
— Johnattan F. Bilancieri (@BilancieriNews) December 12, 2020
That night, brawling breaks out in the streets of downtown D.C. Several people are stabbed and dozens are arrested.
About 30 mins ago, an intense skirmish happened when about 30 to 40 Proud Boys emerged from the alley and approached counter protestors from behind. pic.twitter.com/ueD4tfD5lr
— Matt Blitz (@WhyBlitz) December 13, 2020
Members of the Proud Boys vandalize four churches in the city and set fire to a Black Lives Matter banner. Group leader Enrique Tarrio will later be charged for the incident.
Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes calls on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act in the United States. He adds that failure to do so would result in the Oath Keepers and like-minded individuals engaging in a “much more bloody war.”
Militia groups gather at the Georgia state capitol and call for a “citizen tribunal.”
December 13, 2020
An online “enemies list” of politicians, cyber experts, and election officials who do not support efforts to sow doubt in the integrity of the 2020 election begins to circulate, and it catches the attention of federal law enforcement. The FBI eventually attributes the list to an Iranian information operation. The Iranian disinformation campaign sought to capitalize on the Stop the Steal movement, likely intended to spark domestic violence and push the results of the election deeper into question.
December 14, 2020
A video published by One America News entitled “Exclusive: Stop The Steal Organizers Discuss Reelection Efforts” includes a voiceover stating, “Supporters of President Trump are continuing to fight for four more years, storming the nation’s capital to participate in dueling rallies.” OAN later deletes the video.
OAN also reports that Boris Epshteyn, a Trump 2020 campaign adviser, said that the fight against the results of the election would continue “through January 6.”
December 15, 2020
Pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood tweets, “Better safe than sorry. Make sure you have PLENTY of water, food, flashlights & batteries, candles, radio, 2nd Amendment supplies, & a plan to meet with leaders of your communities.”
Leading Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander appears with right-wing activist Ed Martin, Arizona state Sen. Anthony Kern, political strategist Alexander Bruesewitz, and two Republican electors from Michigan at a press conference where they threaten retaliation against Republicans who do not attempt to change the results of the 2020 election.
On Parler, Proud Boys figure Joe Biggs claims that the Proud Boys will return to D.C. for Biden’s inauguration. The promise never materializes and is met with resistance from some Proud Boys chapters.
December 16, 2020
The national council of “The Three Percenters — Original” group, one of the oldest and largest Three Percenter anti-government militia groups, issues a statement on the 2020 election alleging that “there was widespread election fraud perpetrated against the American people.”
We stand ready and are standing by to answer the call from our President should the need arise that We The People are needed to take back our country from the pure evil that is conspiring to steal our country away from the American people. We are ready to enter into battle with General Flynn leading the charge. We will not act unless we are told to. And we will not act on our own as TTPO, but rather as a united body of American patriots.
December 17, 2020
Ron Watkins, former administrator for the extremist bulletin board 8chan, urges Trump to “cross the Rubicon.” The phrase refers to Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon River with an army to install himself as sovereign, which precipitated starting a bloody Roman civil war. The phrase is echoed by Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward days later.
The Women for America First bus tour, meanwhile, pays a visit to a firearms academy near Nashville, Tennessee, and tour participant Jennifer Lynn Lawrence posts a video of herself, Kylie Jane Kremer, Dustin Stockton and Amy Kremer posing with rifles. The website for Tactical Response, the location where the video was reportedly filmed, features a tagline on its website: “We teach good people to kill bad people.”
Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona alleges on Twitter that 700,000 votes were compromised and that Trump won Arizona despite the stated election results. Gosar includes the hashtag #StopTheSteal and tags Ali Alexander in his post.
December 19, 2020
Trump tweets out a call for his supporters to protest in D.C. on the day when Electoral College votes are set to be certified by Congress. “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election,” Trump says, adding, “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
StoptheSteal.us organizer Ali Alexander brags that he had received a phone call from “people from the White House” at a rally in Arizona. In the same speech, Alexander appears to advocate for violence against Republicans in Congress who did not fight to overturn election results.
Women for America First co-founder Kylie Jane Kremer, meanwhile, reacts to Trump’s tweet by announcing plans for a rally the same day and launches the website TrumpMarch.com for organizing attendance. “The calvary (sic) is coming, Mr. President!” she writes.
December 21, 2020
Ali Alexander’s Stop the Steal group emails readers to donate to stopthesteal.us and states, “StoptheSteal.us stands ready to FIGHT BACK with this historic protest.” Like Kylie Jane Kremer and the Women for America First team, Alexander is directing followers to go to D.C. to protest on the same day.
Newly elected far-right Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) tells Turning Point USA conference attendees, “[C]all your congressman and feel free — you can lightly threaten them. Say: ‘If you don’t support election integrity, I’m coming after you. Madison Cawthorn’s coming after you. Everybody’s coming after you.’”
December 22, 2020
8chan administrator Ron Watkins shares information for a group on the site Clouthub titled “Patriot Caravan 45.” The page contains details for organizing travel to D.C. for protests on Jan. 6.
That same day, the DFRLab observes a graphic circulating among unlawful militia groups and conspiracy theorist communities online with instructions for joining vehicle caravans heading to D.C. for the protests.
December 23, 2020
Women For America First’s TrumpMarch.com website publishes a map including new dates and locations for their next cross-country bus tour, ending in D.C. on Jan. 6.
BuzzFeed News will later report that the participants of the tour were spouting lies about the 2020 election and repeatedly used violent rhetoric.
December 25, 2020
Ali Alexander posts a since-deleted video to YouTube on Christmas Day, urging people to come to D.C. on Jan. 6, the day that Congress will finalize Biden’s election as president. With a triumphant soundtrack, the video features Trump at a rally declaring, “We will never give in. We will never give up, and we will never back down. We will never ever surrender.”
The video urges people to register to attend on a website, WildProtest.com — a direct homage to Trump’s tweet from Dec. 19 about the event, directing them to arrive at the U.S. Capitol building by 1 p.m. on the day of the event. The website even offers to help people find rides to get there. The website lists multiple Republican members of Congress as featured speakers, including Reps. Mo Brooks (R-AL), Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and Paul Gosar (R-AZ).
December 26, 2020
Ali Alexander publishes a tweet containing his now-deleted video. “President Trump invited you so now it’s your turn to invite a fellow patriot,” he writes. “Share the video and tag someone below.” He then cites Trump’s previous comment, “It will be wild!”
December 27, 2020
A stopthesteal.us email with the headline “TRUMP JUST TWEETED JAN 6TH EVENT! AGAIN!” encourages readers to attend the Jan. 6 event to support Trump. It includes a screenshot of Trump’s tweet about Jan. 6. The email states there were event details at the since-removed site wildprotest.com, which includes the hashtags #StopTheSteal, #WildProtest, and #Jan6, adding, “PRESIDENT TRUMP WANTS YOU IN DC JANUARY 6.” The site also includes a map of the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, stating, “We’ve identified six (seven including Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville) that could join our cause. StopTheSteal.us is working closely, whipping the vote up, with patriots in the Congress.” Stopthesteal.us raises $183,777 for Jan. 6 event prep.
December 29, 2020
Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio writes on Parler that the Proud Boys will attend the Jan. 6 event “incognito” and “will spread across downtown D.C. in smaller teams.”
Ali Alexander records a now-deleted Periscope broadcast that was later saved on the Internet Archive and Youtube. He claims that he had planned the upcoming Jan. 6 protest with Republican Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Mo Brooks (R-AL).
December 30, 2020
Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona announces that he will be in D.C. for the protests with “the rest of America.” Gosar states he will “fight back against the leftists who’ve have engaged in sedition to run a Technology Coup.”
December 31, 2020
Oath Keepers share details for Jan. 6 protests on its website and announce that the group will be present in an article titled, “JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!”
By this point in time, various forces behind the Stop The Steal movement including Trump-aligned political groups, like Women for America First, racially motivated violent groups like the Proud Boys, and various Republican officials are committed to attending an event in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6. Each group was actively engaged in promoting the event to their various members or audiences online.
That same day, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri sends a fundraising email amplifying his stance against certifying the results of the election.
January 1, 2021
Trump promotes “Stop The Steal” on Twitter, encouraging his supporters to attend the “BIG Protest Rally in Washington D.C.”
The same day, he responds to Kylie Jane Kremer’s Dec. 19 tweet that read “The calvary (sic) is coming, Mr. President!” with the reply, “A great honor!”
Meanwhile, pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood tweets that Vice President Mike Pence should be “executed by firing squad.” Days prior to Wood’s tweet, Pence’s legal team had asked that a federal judge reject a lawsuit filed by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) that would have sought to use Pence to throw out election results.
January 2, 2021
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows tweets, “We’re now at well over 100 House members and a dozen Senators ready to stand up for election integrity and object to certification. It’s time to fight back.”
Women for America First co-founder Amy Kremer announces details for a Jan. 6 event at The Ellipse, south of the White House, and encourages supporters to RSVP at Trumpmarch.com. Kremer uses the hashtag #StoptheSteal in her tweet promoting the event.
The DFRLab observes a post on Parler with hundreds of thousands of views instructing Jan. 6 rally attendees to send locations and pictures of “BLM and Antifa” to the Proud Boys so that members of the group can “get them before they go out to the streets.”
That evening, Trump retweets a post by Woman for America First’s Kylie Jane Kremer containing event details for Jan. 6.
January 3, 2021
Jennifer Lynn Lawrence, also from Women for America First, tweets to her followers urging them to attend protests on Jan. 6. “The globalists will not win!” she writes. “We the People are showing up to defend our way life & our President who has put America First!”
Trump later replies to another tweet by Kylie Jane Kremer, announcing he will attend the protests on Jan. 6.
Upon being sworn into office based on the results of the same general election he was protesting, Rep. Madison Cawthorn tweets: “There is an ongoing battle for the soul of this nation, and I am prepared to fight for freedom. It’s time to conquer our fears and retake our republic.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at a #StopTheSteal rally, telling the crowd, “We will not go quietly into the night. We will defend liberty.”
Sen. @tedcruz: "We will not go quietly into the night. We will defend liberty." pic.twitter.com/xMdu4hmbF4
— The Hill (@thehill) January 3, 2021
The website marchtosaveamerica.com promotes the protest at Freedom Plaza scheduled for Jan. 5, as well as Trump’s speech on Jan. 6 at the White House Ellipse. It asks supporters to RSVP for the event, opt-in to SMS alerts, and waive liability of the event organizers for any harms related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The website states that the events are being planned by the “Stop the Steal Coalition” identified on the website as the following groups:
January 4, 2021
On TheDonald.win, a popular pro-Trump forum board, more than 50 percent of top posts that day contain calls for violence in the top five responses, according to Advance Democracy. Users on the forum openly fantasize about storming congressional offices. One user replies to a post on the forum with the comment, “Stop the steal and execute the ‘stealers,’” according to The Daily Beast. Similar violent rhetoric is present on the platform Parler.
Violent posts litter pro-Trump online communities. Users in a thread on TheDonald.win discuss violating weapons laws and overwhelming Washington, D.C. metropolitan police, receiving hundreds of upvotes — signaling community approval of the comments.
Jeremey Liggett of the Florida-based Guardians of Freedom III% militia movement group uploads a video to Facebook in which he offers advice about carrying weapons and staying safe during the Jan. 6 protests in D.C. Much of the advice would be explicitly illegal due to strict laws and restrictions for carrying firearms within the District of Columbia. He and his group members are dressed in tactical gear.
The DFRLab also observes an infographic posted several times to TheDonald.win that contains directions for surrounding the U.S. Capitol complex, as well as markings of landmarks and access tunnels that run beneath the Capitol.
On Twitter, Charlie Kirk of conservative youth organizing group Turning Point USA claims he is sending more than 80 buses of students to D.C. for protests on Jan. 6.
Meanwhile, event co-organizer Dustin Stockton, who had been traveling with the crew from Women for America First, arrives in D.C. and notes how someone at the airport is carrying a pitchfork. Fellow co-organizer Jennifer Lynn Lawrence replies, “Of course! This is too perfect.”
Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes publishes a blog post announcing that Oath Keepers “will be boots on the ground in our nation’s capitol on Jan 5–6 to assist in protecting multiple scheduled events, speakers, VIPs, and event attendees.” He adds:
All Patriots who can get to DC need to be in DC. Now is the time to stand. It’s not too late to go. Jump on a plane! Jump in your car! Just get there. Show the President you support him taking decisive action as both President and Commander-in-Chief. And show Congress that we the people will not stand for the election being stolen to plant an imposter Chicom puppet in the White House. Stand now, or kneel forever.
That evening, pro-Trump blog The Gateway Pundit encourages its readers to go to D.C. for the Jan. 6 protests in a post that glorifies Trump’s Dec. 19 tweet encouraging supporters to attend by stating “It will be wild.”
January 5, 2021
Trump supporters descend on D.C., hosting a roughly eight-hour event at Freedom Plaza. That evening, Trump tweets and posts to Facebook, “I hope the Democrats, and even more importantly, the weak and ineffective RINO section of the Republican Party, are looking at the thousands of people pouring into D.C. They won’t stand for a landslide election victory to be stolen.” His message is addressed to Republican Senators Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, and John Thune.
Reuters reports that Pence will not block the certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory.
White supremacist Anthime “Tim” Gionet, known by his online persona “Baked Alaska,” films a man in D.C. who tells him that Trump supporters “need to go into the Capitol.”
Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox tells rally-goers at Freedom Plaza that America is on the brink of a revolution and that he would “take the first bullet.” Other speakers invoke rhetoric about civil war, dying for Trump, and acting as an “army.”
Trump supporters Jason Phillips and Joshua Allen Fulfer of California broadcast other Trump supporters defacing Black Lives Matter Plaza, which is directly north of the White House and was dedicated earlier in the summer as result of the racial justice protests across the United States.
That same day, the FBI field office in Norfolk, Virginia, circulates an internal document warning of extremist violence at the Jan. 6 protests. The Anti-Defamation League also publishes a warning that social media organizing was happening around an event titled “Operation Occupy the Capitol.”
The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department makes five arrests, and Park Police make one arrest, on charges related to possession of unlawful arms and assault.
Meanwhile, Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander tweets about considering an order for protesters to occupy D.C., pitching tents and shutting down the city until a “negotiated settlement” is reached.
Alexander also reports that he spoke with former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, an outspoken supporter of Trump’s campaign and the girlfriend of Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr.
On Facebook, some of the political posts with the highest engagement contain hyperbolic language about the upcoming protest. The posts include Rep. Madison Carthorn’s campaign page stating that Jan. 6 would determine “the fate of a nation.”
Charisma News, a Pentecostal publishing outlet, shares an article with the caption: “’There are but two parties right now, traitors and patriots.’ #StopTheSteal.”
Elsewhere on Facebook, Nancy Campbell of Above Rubies, a website encouraging women to serve as homemakers, posts a note about arriving in D.C. with her husband. She tells her followers, “[W]e must take action when the soul of our nation is at stake! We cannot sit idly by and allow the TREASON of a stolen election to go forward. We will no longer be the USA but another Venezuela. #stopthesteal”
Back in Texas, politician Sid Miller posts an image with the text, “Legal gun owners have 300 million guns and probably a trillion rounds of ammo. If we were the problem, you’d know it.” He adds the comment, “Don’t make us be the problem. #StopTheSteal”
On Twitter, BuzzFeed tech reporter Ryan Mac notes that users in a Facebook group called “Red State Succession” had encouraged one another to engage in violence while circulating “addresses of perceived ‘enemies’ in the nation’s capital.”
Around 10:33 p.m. ET that evening, John Strand of California, who would later be charged by authorities, tweets: “There’s no doubt about the truth of the 2020 election. The only question is: will you act upon that truth? WILL YOU STAND FIRM? This moment will define our country, our generation, & our national destiny. It’s now, or never.”
January 6, 2021: day of the insurrection
At 8:17 a.m., Trump tweets encouragement to Pence, urging him to overturn the election.
At 8:30 a.m., Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado tweets, “Today is 1776.”
Almost an hour later, the Trump campaign posts to Facebook: “STOP THE STEAL!”
In a MeWe group chat containing unlawful militia members and supporters, a user reports that “some militia boots on the group” in D.C. told them they hadn’t seen so many people carrying weapons in one place before. “He said the police are scared. You can see it in their eyes. DC laws don’t allow guns, but the cops are so outnumbered they don’t dare try to start any shit!” the user wrote.
During the event held at the White House Ellipse on Jan. 6, organizers play a propaganda video, which asserts that the United States is descending into chaos due to the corruption and greed of government and corporate elites, and that the only way to preserve the American way of life is to restore Trump as president.
Speaking at the event, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama tells attendees that Jan. 6 is “the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” He asks the crowd, “Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America? Louder! Will you fight for America?”
During his remarks, Donald Trump Jr. tells the crowd, “The people who did nothing to stop the steal. This gathering should send a message to them: This isn’t their Republican party any more. This is Donald Trump’s.” He adds, “If you’re gonna be the zero and not the hero, we’re coming for you and we’re going to have a good time doing it!”
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani also addresses the crowd. “If we’re wrong, we will be made fools of,” he says. “But if we’re right, a lot of them will go to jail. So let’s have trial by combat.”
Around noon, Trump addresses the crowd. He tells the thousands of people assembled there:
Now, it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. And after this, we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down, we’re going to walk down.
Anyone you want, but I think right here, we’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them.
Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.
Later that afternoon, as the violent mob attacks the U.S. Capitol, Ali Alexander films himself from a spot with a panoramic view of the building.
He tells his viewers, “I don’t disavow this. I do not denounce this.”
The 2020 presidential election marked the first time in living history that the United States did not experience a peaceful transition of power. The transition is a natural extension of regular elections, the foundational process of democracy. The images of Trump supporters attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 are irreversibly seared into American history. The insurrectionist attack, although ultimately unsuccessful in changing the factual results of the election or preventing the transition of power, left five people dead and has so far resulted in nearly 200 arrests.
Stop the Steal was, at its core, an anti-democratic movement based on disinformation. Its leaders made abundantly clear that its mission was to refute the legitimate results of the election, invalidate a clear majority of their fellow citizens, and punish public officials who certified the election results. The effort was made possible because Trump did not stop it, but rather encouraged and amplified it, to which the various groups involved in Stop the Steal were responsive and ecstatic.
Ronald Reagan said of the peaceful transition of power during his first Inaugural Address:
The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place, as it has for almost two centuries, and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every 4-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.
On Jan. 6, 2021, Americans were viscerally reminded that democracy is not automatic or inevitable.
Federal, state, and local law enforcement, other public safety and national security organizations, and public officials have renewed focus on domestic extremist groups, online disinformation, and the ways they often intersect. Addressing each long-standing problem, made more obvious and urgent after the Jan. 6 attack, will require multifaceted and creative solutions. And effective prevention or interventions will likely be varied across the spectrum of radicalization and conspiracy adherents.
The work will be long but must begin immediately.
If we are to prevent events like the insurrection that occurred at the seat of American government, we must collectively restore the common belief in the basic rules and values of democracy, as well as the shared set of facts on which democracy depends.
Written by Jared Holt (@jaredlholt) and edited by Andy Carvin (@acarvin), Graham Brookie (@GrahamBrookie), Zarine Kharazian (@zkharazian), and Emerson T. Brooking (@etbrooking). Additional research by Jacqueline Malaret (@jacqumalaret), Alyssa Kann (@AlyssaKann), Max Rizzuto (@maxbrizzuto) and Jean Le Roux (@jean_leroux).