A review of all these records suggests that one particular day played an outsized role in the day’s path to violence: December 19, 2020 – the day President Donald Trump tweeted his encouragement for people to show up with the promise that he would be “wild”.
The importance of this tweet is certainly obvious. In the abstract, it was the President of the United States encouraging his supporters – tens of millions of them, according to the elections held a month before – to come out and protest the election results. For all his after-the-fact efforts to portray his encouragement as peaceful at the center, this Dec. 19 tweet makes it clear that he expected — or embraced — some level of static. It also had immediate specific significance: Shortly after the tweet was sent, supporters who had been raising the “stop theft” mantra created a new website centered around the rally near the Capitol on January 6. It was called WildProtest.com.
What is less clear is to what extent December 19 triggered a wider focus on January 6th. Did Trump’s message trickle down to the grassroots? Or was there just a slow build-up, one that was already underway or would emerge later?
Last month, I examined the paths taken by two extremist groups — the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys — to get to the Capitol that day. What struck me then was that the Proud Boys didn’t seem to merge until around Jan. 6 following Trump’s tweet. Was it also true for others?
To answer this question, I downloaded each of the documents hosted on the Department of Justice’s January 6 capitol breach cases page and converted them to readable text. Then I ran a brute force search for each date from November 1, 2020 to February 1, 2021; this allowed me to remove duplicates (searching for “november 1” would also catch “november 10”).
Looking only at the period from November 4, 2020 (the day after the election) to January 5, 2021 (the day before the riot), I found that the dates were mentioned more than 2,800 times. And, among these, two particular dates stood out: December 12 and December 19, 2020.
The meaning of December 12 is simple. That day there was a pro-Trump rally in Washington, which in the evening turned violent. This violence included members of the Proud Boys. The group’s leader, Enrique Tarrio, stole a “Black Lives Matter” flag from a church and set it on fire, leading to his eventual arrest and banning from DC shortly before the Jan. 6 riot.
Here I will note how the method of determining the significance of dates is influenced by how and what the Department of Justice presents. The documents include those accusing members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys of conspiracies. Therefore, they include more communications between members of these groups to show how the plot would have arisen. Another example of how it works, December 12 also sees spikes because the Oath Keepers held training in North Carolina that day, which is mentioned more than once in the charging documents.
But, of course, there are other times when the date is mentioned that concern us more. As in a Facebook post cited in documents related to the arrest of Micajah Jackson.
What’s interesting about the data collected on the dates is that December 14, 2020 is relatively quiet – despite being the day voters gathered to certify the results of each state’s presidential vote. . It was a time when there could have been a concerted effort to press for the finalization of the electoral vote, but at least among those who ended up being arrested for their role in the storming of the Capitol, it did not did not generate much interest.
Again, there are reasons for the date to appear a lot. In several documents, for example, Trump’s tweet is noted as fact. There are also recorded comments not immediately related to Trump’s tweet. That day, for example, Kenneth Reda reportedly posted on Parler that “[w]We have to go to DC on January 6, it is IMPERATIVE that every person who VOTED for Trump must flood DC…” Was this directly related to the tweet? It’s hard to say.
Often, however, there really isn’t a question. For example:
- Kelly O’Brien (charged in connection with January 6) reportedly posted on Facebook that day: “CALLING ALL PATRIOTS! Be in Washington DC on January 6. It was not organized by any group. DJT invited us and it’s going to be “wild”. ”
- On a private Telegram group, one user wrote “Trump calling on everyone to come to DC on Jan 6th,” prompting Edward Badalian (accused) to allegedly reply, “ok so who’s ready to come to DC on Jan 4th ?”
- In a charging document, the government alleges Matthew Greene decided to travel to Washington that day because of Trump’s tweet.
- Rachel Myers allegedly sent Michael Gianos a screenshot of the tweet on Facebook, with the “will be wild” part circled.
What is particularly interesting in the appearance of the dates in the documents collected by the Ministry of Justice is what happened after December 19. Dates that fell within the previous seven days appear in documents an average of 21 times – including the 78 mentions of December 12. In the seven days including and after December 19, dates were mentioned on average twice as many times. In other words, it’s not just that December 19 appeared more than other dates, it’s that dates started to be mentioned more and more from that point on, suggesting that events related to January 6 occurred more frequently after December 19.
Again, we already knew Trump’s tweet was important. It is not a discovery that Trump bears the responsibility for the riot that day; it has long been obvious. Instead, it’s a measure of the role December 19 played as a tipping point.