January 6, 2021. A day that “will live forever in infamy.” That day marked the first breach of the United States Capitol Building since 1814—and the second breach ever in American history (the first was during the War of 1812). Five people lost their lives that day and many more were injured in an unprecedented attack on American democracy. Yet, social media records show that “there were no surprises” as to what insurrectionists did on that infamous day.
The plan to “storm the Capitol” began on less-trafficked social media sites, the “darker or more-obscure corners of the internet,” including 8kun (formerly 8chan), Parler, Gab, and Telegram. Angered by allegations of voter fraud and a “stolen election,” users organized an attack on the United States Capitol to prevent the congressional certification of the national election results. Users discussed which streets to take to gain unfettered access to the Capitol and which tools to bring to break open the Capitol’s doors. Some users inquired as to how violent the siege should get, with individuals posting about burning the Capitol and one 8kun user advocating for “Patriots” to “kill cops, kill security guards, kill federal employees and agents, and demand a recount.”
Discussions of protest and uprising were not limited to those sites. Posts about storming the Capitol, although less violent and graphic, also extended to mainstream platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. In December, a digital flyer titled “Operation Occupy the Capitol” was circulated on Facebook and Instagram by various right-wing groups. On the night before the Capitol breach, increased traffic was recorded to “insurrectionist hashtags” on social media, including “1776” and “Occupy.”