The January 6 attack at our nation’s Capitol was deliberate and coordinated. Individuals who broke the law must be held accountable, but we cannot ignore that social media platforms, like Gab, may well bear a measure of criminal responsibility for the attack as well. To the extent Gab intentionally served as a forum for people to plan, coordinate, engage in or otherwise facilitate the criminal activity that took place on January 6, a Department of Justice investigation is warranted. The platform—as well as any other tech platform that may have undertaken or facilitated such actions—must be held accountable. To the extent Gab executives were aware and intended for the platform to be used to carry out violations of federal criminal law, such individuals must also be held accountable.
In making this recommendation to the Department of Justice, we believe the following information is relevant:
- According to at least one report, directions for which streets to take to avoid the police and which tools to bring to help pry open doors were exchanged in comments on Gab leading up to the attack. Additionally, the report said that multiple people posted about carrying guns into the halls of Congress.
- ADL’s Center on Extremism is aware that Gab CEO and founder Andrew Torba sent a message to “Gab News” subscribers the day before the attack saying: “If you are heading to DC tomorrow remember to record video footage in landscape mode while filming. Document as much as you can and please know that your content is safe on Gab and Gab TV. Big Tech will undoubtably [sic] be censoring any and all footage to downplay the massive turnout and hide any communist violence that arises. If you are unable to attend, Gab is the one place on the internet where you know you can find the real story of what is happening throughout the day uncensored and ‘fact check’ free.”
- On the day of the attack, Torba posted on Gab: “In a system with rigged elections there are no longer any viable political solutions.” The phrase “there is no political solution” is used in online accelerationist white supremacist circles to further the idea that the US government system is rotten, democratic processes for change are futile and therefore the system should be destroyed. The phrase embraces political violence as the only valid response.
- Before hundreds of rioters broke into the Capitol building, Torba reportedly posted on his platform: “would be a real shame if the people outside stormed the Senate.”
We need to determine whether white supremacist and extremist rioters used Gab’s services to plan their attack and communicate during the ongoing illegal activities of January 6. Through force, rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol Building to obstruct Congress’ proceeding to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election. These individuals engaged in several clear violations of federal criminal law.
Criminal investigations should not be entered into lightly, particularly with regard to online platforms where the values of free speech rightly hold great sway. There is a considerable amount of hateful content online that should be removed by platforms under appropriate content moderation policies but does not rise to a level warranting a criminal investigation. Acknowledging that criminal investigations at times have been weaponized in this country to suppress free speech and to subvert social justice movements, ADL does not lightly call for such an investigation. But those who planned and used violence, storming the Capitol and seeking to stop certification of a legitimate election, were not engaged in constitutionally protected activity. They were engaged in dangerous criminal activity. Their actions predictably and horribly led to death, and if a platform intentionally facilitated such unlawful conduct it may itself have engaged in criminal acts for which it should be held accountable. That is what must be determined.
In light of this, ADL calls on the Department of Justice and the FBI to launch a criminal investigation into Gab and CEO Andrew Torba to determine whether the platform intentionally aided, conspired with, or directed individuals to carry out the January 6 attack. We note that the immunity from liability that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act affords internet companies does not apply to federal criminal law.
In addition to Gab, we call on the Department of Justice and the FBI to launch criminal investigations into any other social media platforms or websites where evidence emerges that might lead them to a reasonable belief that the platform or its employees intended to aid and abet the January 6th rioters. Websites and apps such as thedonald.win and Parler provided forums for extremists to communicate, organize, and mobilize for the events of January 6. We urge any investigation also to consider whether these services, or others, bear any legal culpability for the U.S. Capitol Building attack.