Calls for violence against members of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection are circulating on some of the same online platforms that helped fuel the lies that led to the riot at the US Capitol, a new analysis has found.
Users on these platforms are openly calling for the execution of committee members, with Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney appearing to be a specific target. Calls for former Vice President Mike Pence to be hanged that were chanted throughout Washington, DC, on Jan. 6, 2021, continue to be echoed online.
Determining what is just rhetoric and what might be an active threat is a challenge for law enforcement.
John Cohen, the former Department of Homeland Security Counterterrorism Coordinator and now an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, told CNN that authorities cannot treat social media posts with concerning language as simply hyperbole.
Cohen described the monitoring of social media as a “resource intensive process that has to involve federal, state and local authorities who are working together, who are operating under strict protocols that ensure that they are able to distinguish between constitutionally protected speech and threat-related activity.”
“We’re in a highly volatile and complex threat period,” he added.
The online threats continue as Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger revealed Sunday he received a letter in the mail that threatened to execute him, his wife and their newborn.
The decision by both Facebook and Twitter to kick then-President Donald Trump off its platforms for rule-breaking after the insurrection was a boon to a developing cottage industry of alternative social media platforms.
The alternative sites, like Trump’s Truth Social platform, which launched in February, market themselves as bastions of free speech, capitalizing on the perception among some Republicans that they have been unfairly censored by Silicon Valley. Truth Social says it “seeks to create a free speech haven in the social media sphere and encourages your unencumbered free expression.” Its terms of service say posts should not be “violent” or “harassing.”
An analysis by the group Advance Democracy, a not-for-profit that conducts public interest investigations, shared with CNN found posts on Truth Social calling for the execution of Jan. 6 committee members and others. The researchers searched for specific terms on the platforms like “execute.”
One post on Truth Social includes a picture of a noose and reads, “The J6 committee are guilty of treason. Perpetuation of an insurrection hang them all.”
In another post referencing Cheney and Pelosi, a user posted a GIF of a guillotine with the message, “#MGGA #MakeGuillotinesGreatAgain.”
CNN asked Truth Social about several posts containing violent rhetoric on Tuesday, including the posts with a picture of a noose and a GIF of a guillotine.
Truth Social did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment, but by Wednesday, the posts appeared to have been removed from the platform.
In addition to Truth Social, Advance Democracy also observed violent rhetoric linked to the January 6th committee posted to other alternative social media platforms 4chan — which was used by the suspect in the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York — as well as on Gab and on another message board popular among some Trump supporters.
While many of the posts Advance Democracy identified appeared to have little engagement, all the posts are illustrative of a trend of frequent invocation of violence in these online communities.
On a pro-Trump message board a user commented earlier this month, “IF we ever decide to storm the capital again, I promise we won’t make the mistake of being unarmed a second time.”
The post has since been removed.
Truth Social and 4Chan did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
Members of the House select committee investigating January 6 are taking additional security precautions amid heightened concerns over their safety as the public hearings detailing their findings continue, several of the lawmakers tell CNN.
The precautions include security details for some of the members, they said.
CNN’s Melanie Zanona contributed to this reporting.
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