INSIGHT – As the grand opening draws near, law enforcement scrutiny is pushing US extremists into the dark corners of the internet

Shortly after Trump supporters attacked the United States Capitol on Jan.6, a fan of the president posted a message on the pro-Donald Trump website TheDonald.win. Inspired by the Mafia’s attempt to stop lawmakers from confirming President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory, user CONN_WYNN said in an all-caps, swearing-filled message that it was “TIME TO LEAVE THE KEYBOARD” and “FIGHT FOR MY … COUNTRY”.

Two days later, officers from the San Francisco field office of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation came to call, according to another CONN_WYNN post on the same website. “PRO TIP: Think before you post. They’re watching. I learned the hard way,” the user wrote on Sunday next to a business card photograph from The agents.

A spokesperson for the FBI’s San Francisco office said they couldn’t provide any details on the reported interaction or confirm whether the agents actually visited the person who posted that message. But “if he has our business card and said it was visited, I’m pretty sure we visited it,” the spokesperson said. Before the attack on the Capitol, such a post may not have sparked a follow-up visit. But in the aftermath of the riot, which killed five people, federal law enforcement stepped up their scrutiny of extremist chatter online, activities officials warn could be early warning signs of planned attacks around the inauguration. by Biden in Washington on January 20.

“You don’t want to be the one that FBI agents knock on your door at 6am,” Director Christopher Wray said Thursday during a televised briefing with Vice President Mike Pence. “Anyone who plots or attempts violence in the next week should count on a visit.” For months, far-right extremists openly post their threats in public sites. Now, wary of surveillance and in the midst of a social media crackdown, some are shifting their online communications to private chats or lesser-known platforms that could make these threats harder to find.

Several social media websites that are popular havens for far-right views have closed, crashed, or cracked down on violent rhetoric over the past week. For example, Apple and Amazon have suspended social media site I will speak from respective App Store and web hosting service, stating that they have not taken adequate measures to prevent the spread of posts that incite violence. This has pushed some users to more private platforms like Telegram, the Dubai-based messaging app and lesser-known social media. sites like MeWe.

Telegram downloads in the United States from AppleApp Store e from Google Play rose to 1.2 million in the week after the assault on the Capitol, a 259% increase from the previous week, according to Sensor Tower, a data analytics company. About 829,000 US users downloaded MeWe in the week following the attack, a 697% increase, the company found. David Westreich, a spokesperson for MeWe, said the company has frequent membership spikes and that “only a small fraction” of the hundreds of thousands of public groups on the platform were involved in politics. Westreich said MeWe’s terms of service were “designed to keep out the law, haters, bullies, harassment and incitement to violence.”

Telegram did not respond to a request for comment. The FBI has received nearly 100,000 “digital media advice” on potential unrest related to Biden’s election and inauguration, an official told reporters Tuesday, and asked for more information from the American public.

Jared Maples, director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, told Reuters that his office is “doubling down” on its work to track down possible internal extremist threats and “make sure we are aware of what the online chatter is.” . The FBI warned in newsletters and a call with law enforcement nationwide this week of possible armed protests in Washington and state capitals in the days leading up to Biden’s inauguration.

Extremists seeking a politically motivated civil war and those seeking race war “can exploit the consequences of the Capitol violation by conducting attacks to destabilize and force a culminating conflict in the United States,” officials wrote in a joint bulletin published Wednesday. from the National Counterterrorism Center and the Department of Justice and Homeland Security and seen by Reuters. Wray told the briefing on Thursday that his agency was monitoring calls for a potential armed protest ahead of Wednesday’s grand opening, adding that “one of the real challenges in this space is trying to distinguish what is aspirational from what is. intentional”.

MONITOR MORE DIFFICULT Repression of extremist content targeting the public isn’t necessarily good news for law enforcement as they try to combat threats, said Mike Sena, director of the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, a compound “fusion center.” by federal, state and local public security personnel who monitor threats and facilitate information sharing.

“When you shut down a publicly accessible platform, you keep people away from the light,” Sena said in an interview. “Often this is our only way to find them because they are conversing and making statements that are open to seeing.”

The benefit of pushing extremists underground, Sena said, is that it’s harder for them to radicalize others when they don’t have access to more traditional platforms. Law enforcement is also in a difficult position to determine whether people who say “despicable” things online intend to do harm or are “just practicing keyboard swagger,” Steven D’Antuono, assistant director in charge of the news, told reporters. office of the FBI in Washington.

In the United States, free speech is strongly protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. In Queens, New York on Tuesday, federal agents arrested Eduard Florea at his home on gun charges after he sent violent threats to Parler on January 5-6, before his suspension by his Amazon web host.

Florea said she had “a bunch of kids all armed and ready to take sides” in Washington, DC, and threatened the life of US Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who is black, according to a federal court complaint. In court, his lawyer called the posts “babbling on the Internet”. MIGRATION ON NEW PLATFORMS

Days after the attack on the Capitol, Facebook is Twitter it eliminated some accounts that violated their policies on violence and hate speech, and other companies followed suit. Chris Hill, leader of III% Security Force, a Georgia-based militia group, said his organization’s website was taken offline on January 8 by its GoDaddy hosting service for violating its terms of service. . A GoDaddy spokesperson said the site it was removed due to content that “promoted and encouraged violence,” a claim Hill called “laughable”.

The moves have led users to scramble to other platforms. On Telegram, Enrique Tarrio, leader of the right-wing Proud Boys, welcomed new users “to the darkest part of the web” with posts that shed light on the siege of the Capitol and linked to other Proud Boys channels on the service.

Gab.com, a social media platform popular with right-wing users, said in a Twitter post Thursday that had attracted 2.3 million new users in the past week. Amidst the online scramble, conflicting messages emerged in far-right chat rooms and forums about possible protest actions around the inauguration.

Digital flyers circulated in those spaces for weeks advertising armed marches in Washington and state capitals around the inauguration, posts that have sparked recent warnings from federal law enforcement on potential violence. But some far-right groups on public platforms have warned supporters to avoid such demonstrations, saying, without evidence, that they are traps set by law enforcement to crack down on gun rights.

Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Human Rights Research and Education, which monitors extremists, said nearly all of the planned protests his group had followed around the inauguration had either been canceled or ended up underground. “That said, we are still receiving a lot of anecdotal reports of people who were involved in the January 6 uprising who returned to Washington on January 20,” he said in an email.

MISSING SIGNS A reminder of January 5th from an FBI office in Virginia points out the difficulties law enforcement faces now in trying to determine which threats around the grand opening are real and which are blatant.

The memo described possible violence by Trump supporters at the Capitol last week. It was downplayed by many law enforcement agencies, in part because the FBI labeled the unconfirmed material as “open source reporting,” according to a law enforcement source familiar with the memo. Extremism pundits had also noticed violent rhetoric illuminating including online forums Facebook, Gab and Parler in the days before the January 6 uprising at the Capitol.

“It was scary how open people were about the violence they wanted to commit,” said Melissa Ryan, CEO of Card Strategies, a consulting firm that researches disinformation. The posters on TheDonald.win, for example, had fantasized about killing members of Congress and even shared tips on tying nooses, Ryan said.

With many users migrating to harder-to-monitor communication channels like Telegram since last week, these kinds of threats are harder to spot now. Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence, said law enforcement officials will be more active in letting some right-wing online users who foment violence know that they are being watched.

“You can bet they will knock on more doors, letting people know, ‘We’re here,'” he said.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)

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  • INSIGHT – As the grand opening draws near, law enforcement scrutiny is pushing US extremists into the dark corners of the internet