At the same time some extremist groups have issued a call to action, others that have defended — and even praised the insurrectionist riot in Washington — are warning their comrades to stay home through the inauguration, spinning fantastical new conspiracy theories in the process.
“This is a demoncratic (sic) ploy to make us look bad and have an excuse to fire on us, make Trump look like he is doing a coup, and start a civil war as a diversion and a reason to call in the UN,” one commenter wrote on a message board popular with far-right paramilitary groups. “NOBODY GO. Stay home!”
In a security briefing Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence, FBI Director Christopher Wray said more than 200 suspects from the siege at the U.S. Capitol have been identified and more than 100 arrests have been made. He highlighted “an extensive amount of concerning online chatter about a number of events surrounding the inauguration,” including potential armed protests at state capitols.
“We know who you are, if you are out there, and FBI agents are coming to find you,” he said, and issued a warning to those who might be plotting violence on Inauguration Day to stay home.
“Look at what is happening now to the people who were involved in the Capitol siege, wherever they scattered to,” he said. “We have FBI agents tracking them down and arresting them.”
Mary McCord, legal director at the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center, said the confusion inside extremist groups over whether to participate in the rallies reminds her of the aftermath of the 2017 Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., where initial elation among far-right participants gave way to infighting and confusion.
“We are now seeing some dissension, like I say in the online conversations and rhetoric, at least those who haven’t been de-platformed yet, about whether these are law enforcement traps, or honey pots,” said said, adding that some believe the promoted protests are part of “an antifa conspiracy” to prompt further arrests.
That fracturing could mean the protests dissolve or that only the most extreme elements show up.
“It’s very hard right now for law enforcement to foresee what is coming,” she said.
Trump’s rhetoric unified groups
U.S. House Democrats were briefed Monday on at least three active threats, including one billed by its organizers as the “largest armed protest ever to take place on American soil,” according to national news media reports.
Some of the threats appear to come from the “boogaloo” movement, a loosely organized anti-government group that is preparing for civil war and supports violent uprising to accelerate that conflict. Georgia is not a hotbed for boogaloo activities, but there is some crossover between those groups and the far-right militia movement, including the so-called Three Percenters, which have a significant presence in Georgia.
Leaders of these paramilitary groups often warn of an impending government crackdown they believe will lead to armed conflict. Others preach that the state and federal governments have been infiltrated by communists, while preparing to battle left-wing, anti-fascist groups.
Some militias are are finding common cause with different fringe groups, like adherents to the QAnon conspiracy theory, or ultra-conservative nationalists who have bought into Trump’s repeated and baseless claims that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him.
Radical sects typically do not organize across philosophical lines. But Trump’s rhetoric has been a unifying force for groups that traditionally do not mix, knitting together a coalition of anti-government paramilitaries, white supremacists and neo-Confederate groups to march alongside tea party organizations and conspiracy theorists.
Michael Weaver, a far-right activist in Georgia, praised the Jan. 6 Capitol riot as “totally necessary to give our government a wakeup call.” Weaver spent years as an organizer for the neo-Nazi National Alliance, and now runs a white nationalist blog. Although he did not attend the Washington rally, he said storming the Capitol was “as American as apple pie” and he repeated Trump’s claim that the election was “stolen.” Even so, he said he does not expect much to happen Sunday, “especially with the feds charging all those people.”
Police to secure state Capitol
Georgia authorities aren’t taking any chances. Police in military-style uniforms are patrolling around the state Capitol. To make sure they have enough officers ready, Atlanta police have canceled some leave and added 12-hour shifts. And Gov. Brian Kemp — who has vowed a tough, no-nonsense defense of the state Capitol — has extended an executive order authorizing him to deploy the Georgia National Guard.
“I want to assure everyone from legislators, staff, visitors and the general public on down that the Department of Public Safety, the Georgia State Patrol and the Georgia National Guard take the safety and security of the Capitol and the people here very seriously,” said Kemp, who called the violence at the U.S. Capitol “disgraceful” and “unamerican.”
He added state law enforcement authorities are “fully prepared to deal with anything and everything that may happen in the days and weeks ahead.”
Atlanta police said they are preparing to respond quickly in case of trouble.
“The City of Atlanta Police Department continues to coordinate with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to respond, should protests or illegal activity occur,” Atlanta police spokesman Steve Avery said.
Meanwhile, the FBI is supporting state and local police.
“Our efforts are focused on identifying, investigating, and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity,” FBI spokesman Kevin Rowson said. “As we do in the normal course of business, we are gathering information to identify any potential threats and are sharing that information with our partners.”
“Our focus is not on peaceful protesters,” he added, “but on those threatening their safety and the safety of other citizens with violence and destruction of property.”