Ongoing investigations into last January’s Capitol riots are targeting two groups: the far-right Oath Keepers militia group and social media companies. The companies, which include Meta (formerly Facebook), Twitter, Reddit and Alphabet (home of YouTube), have been subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the riots.
“Two key questions for the Select Committee are how the spread of misinformation and violent extremism contributed to the violent attack on our democracy, and what steps—if any—social media companies took to prevent their platforms from being breeding grounds for radicalizing people to violence,” committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said in a statement. “It’s disappointing that after months of engagement, we still do not have the documents and information necessary to answer those basic questions.”
In letters written to each company, Rep. Thompson outlined the way each company may have contributed to the Capitol riots:
- YouTube “was a platform for significant communications…relevant to the planning and execution” of the riots, “including livestreams of the attack as it was taking place.”
- Meta platforms like Facebook and Instagram “were reportedly used to share messages of hatred, violence, and incitement; to spread misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories around the election; and to coordinate or attempt to coordinate the Stop the Steal movement.”
- Reddit’s “r/The_Donald” ‘subreddit’ community “hosted significant discussion and planning” related to Jan. 6.
- Twitter “was reportedly warned about potential violence being planned on the site in advance of” the riots.
On the same day the letters went out to the social media companies, 11 members of the Oath Keepers were charged with seditious conspiracy related to the Capitol riots. Those charged include Steward Rhodes, the founder and leader of the group.
A Thursday indictment accused the Oath Keepers of spending weeks ahead of Jan. 6 holding discussions about overturning the 2020 election results. According to the indictment, members prepared for the riots by purchasing weapons and setting up battle plans. They allegedly wrote in chats about the prospect of violence and the need “to scare the s—-out of” Congress.
More than 700 people have been arrested and charged in connection to Jan. 6. However, Thursday was the first time any of the rioters were hit with seditious conspiracy charges. The charges are typically difficult to win in court and rarely used, but defendants face prison time of 20 years if convicted, compared to five years for other conspiracy charges.