A chaotic scene unfolded in Washington D.C. on Wednesday as a large crowd of pro-Trump protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol Building.
The Trump supporters flooded into the nation’s capital to attend a rally held earlier by President Trump outside the White House. The rally was timed to protest lawmakers gathering Wednesday to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral win.
At his own event, Trump encouraged his supporters to continue demonstrating against Congress, claiming incorrectly that Vice President Mike Pence holds the power to overturn the election results. While the situation is still unfolding, protesters penetrated the Capitol building and injuries have been confirmed, including at least one gunshot victim.
As Trump supporters flooded up the Capitol steps with “Make America Great Again” hats and “Stop the Steal” banners, the president encouraged his supporters with more conspiratorial talk. “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify,” Trump wrote in a tweet. “USA demands the truth!”
Twitter appended a warning label calling Trump’s election fraud claims “disputed” to the tweet. After his supporters already made their way into the Capitol building, the president seemed to walk back his calls to action, calling for supporters to remain peaceful.
Update: Twitter has limited retweets and other forms of engagement on Trump’s tweet, but is not hiding it behind a warning screen at this time. The company says it is “exploring other escalated enforcement actions” though declined to elaborate on what those steps were.
The Stop the Steal movement grew out of online conspiracies boosting Trump’s unfounded claims that Democrats had in some way rigged the presidential election. In reality, U.S. electoral results were decisively in favor of Biden, though votes trickled in over an extended period of time, as expected, due to a massive expansion of pandemic-related mail-in voting.
Facebook made efforts to rein in Stop the Spread groups soon after the election, blocking the hashtag for violating its rules around election misinformation. “The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group,” Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said at the time.
Stop the Steal supporters also found a foothold on many other platforms, including Reddit, Twitter and alternative social networks like Gab and Parler, which have attracted far-right users with policies much friendlier to extremist content. The crowd at the capitol also shares considerable overlap with QAnon, a constellation of conspiracy theories that exploded on Facebook, YouTube and other online platforms over the last few years.
In a live address Wednesday, President-elect Joe Biden said the events unfolding on Capitol Hill “bordered on sedition.”
“At their best, the words of a president can inspire,” Biden said. “At their worst, they can incite.”