After he leaves office, Trump will likely still have a platform for disinformation
Pro-Trump supporters’ attack on the U.S. Capitol Wednesday was more evidence of a growing domestic terrorist movement in the country that the next administration needs to address, a Duke University expert on national security and terrorism said.
“After yesterday, there is no question that this will need to be taken much more seriously,” David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, said during a web conference with reporters Thursday.
“Elements like the FBI have their eye on these groups and individuals who were advocating and fomenting violence,” he said. The new presidential administration can bring more resources and focus to the effort.
The pro-Trump mob breached the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as Congress was beginning to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s win.
Since November, has Trump posted lies on social media and addressed campaign crowds claiming to have won the election. Twitter had been flagging his claims as disputed, but did not lock his account until Wednesday afternoon.
Trump incited supporters at a rally, repeating his baseless claims. “We will stop the steal,” he told them.
Twitter suspended Trump’s account Tuesday afternoon, and removed several of his posts.
On Thursday, Facebook announced it is blocking Trump accounts on all its platforms at least until the end of his term.
Even as Twitter and Facebook act, other social media outlets and news networks are willing to host and amplify Trump’s message, said Phil Napoli, a Duke public policy professor.
Trump can say what he wants on Parler, Napoli said. When some networks cut away from speeches when he starts spouting falsehoods, it doesn’t mean OAAN, Newsmax and Fox News won’t give him a platform.
“He’ll probably end up with his own show or his own network,” Napoli said. “What Facebook has done is helpful. This is a space that’s starting to fragment. The audience will follow him. Not all of them, but plenty will.”
Combating disinformation will rely on education of news consumers and reinvigoration of traditional mainstream media, he said.
“We have to make sure the next generation of citizens and voters has a set of skill sets that current generations don’t have,” he said.
“There is less of the kind of journalism we need to combat the kind of journalism we don’t need. We need to rebuild our mainstream news ecosystem.”
Experts have been warning about the rise of domestic terrorism and its growth during the Trump administration, Schanzer said. The attack on the Capitol “showed a massive amount of people motivated toward violence,” he said.
A U.S. Department of Homeland Security report in October identified white supremacist extremists as “the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.”
In addition to the attack on the U.S. Capitol, demonstrators looking to overturn Biden’s win gathered at several state capitals. Armed men stormed the Capitol building in Michigan last year, and the FBI foiled an alleged plot by a militia to kidnap Michigan’s governor.
Judith Kelley, dean of Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, said American democracy is often portrayed as a “shining light” and a guide for other nations.
“Yesterday, some of the shining lights flickered,” she said. “They have stayed on.” The nation has a lot of thinking and work to do to keep them on, she said, in reinforcing shared norms and trust in our society.
“For decades, we have been admonishing countries around the world,” she said. “It is astonishing to see some of those same governments laughing at us now. We have work to do right here in America.”