FORT WORTH, Texas — Three days after rioters stormed the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., the Fort Worth Police Officers' Association joined the social media platform Parler — a site on which FBI officials and other extremism watchdogs like Advance Democracy said planning for the ensuing violence was conducted out in the open.
In the weeks leading up to the violence in D.C. on Jan. 6, Parler — along with other niche sites like MeWe, Gab, and TheDonald — had become safe havens for incendiary rhetoric and increasingly feverish planning from right-wing agitators. The fringe sites filled with messages organizing logistics for that date, as well as activation of anti-government extremists like militia groups, conspiracy theorists, and white nationalist activists.
Since Twitter and Facebook began cracking down on political misinformation, the new social media sites have served as online refugee camps for users who were either banned from mainstream platforms, or those who believed the sites had become too draconian in their censorship of right-wing politics.
The Fort Worth Police Officers' Association has come under intense scrutiny since protests erupted after the murder of George Floyd back in May for their role in what some locals have described as systemic racism and a culture of covering for bad actors among their ranks.
In a statement, a spokesman for the association said it secured its handle on Parler “to protect against others using the FWPOA brand for nefarious purposes,” and noted MSNBC, CNN, NBC News, and others had also taken this step.
“It is not the position of the FWPOA to determine which social media outlets our community members utilize, only to be as accessible as possible to members of the public,” the statement says. “Regardless of which social media app our community members chose to use, it is our goal to be responsive and to share important and relevant public safety information.”
In a statement to Spectrum News, Thomas Moore, co-founder of local grassroots watchdog group No Sleep 'Til Justice, said the actions of the officers' association further erodes the public's trust.
"The decision of the Fort Worth Police Officers' Association to both create and advertise the fact that they created a Parler account after the insurrection at our nation’s Capitol — which led to the loss of six lives, two of which were police officers and four of whom were Trump supporters, and the injuries of at least 56 Capitol Police officers — demonstrates that they are not concerned with the safety of anyone, whether they be police officer or citizen," he said. "Both the city of Fort Worth and the Fort Worth Police Department deserve better. This city needs major reform to its policing, and it is clear that cannot happen until we remove the prejudicial power structure currently in place.
"We call for an investigation into the purpose and intent of this action," the statement continued. "We call for the city to renegotiate and confer another agreement; we call for a fully vested and authoritative community police board; and we call for every current and potential candidate for Fort Worth City Council and mayor to commit to not taking a single cent of police officers' association or related super PAC money.
"This city needs real transparency, accountability, trust, and, ultimately, leadership," he added.
After the events of Jan. 6, most major social media platforms have permanently banned President Donald Trump for inciting violence and spreading misinformation. On that day, extremist activity on every social media outlet exploded.
On Twitter, between Jan. 1 and Jan. 6, 1,480 posts from QAnon-related accounts referenced Jan. 6 and contained violent terms or threats, including calls for “Patriots to Rise up, Kick The Tires and Light the Fires, and Kick Ass and Take Names!!”, Advance Democracy found. One post by a QAnon-related account claimed “threats of violence” were the only thing “TYRANTS understand.”
Touched off by a Twitter post from Trump attorney Lin Wood, almost 2,440 accounts on Twitter related to the QAnon conspiracy theory used the terms “Pence” and “traitor” in about 2,820 posts from Jan. 5 at 12 a.m. EST to Jan. 6 at 1 p.m. EST, according to Advance Democracy.
On Facebook, pages and private and public groups urged civil war if Democrats were not arrested for election interference, alleged police officers were assisting “Antifa,” and falsely claimed “Antifa” members were impersonating “patriots” at the Capitol. A video encouraged protesters to bring pepper spray, tear gas, batons, tasers, and knives.
A Facebook page called Red-State Secession shared addresses of “enemies,” including members of Congress. One post urged people to prepare "to use force to defend civilization.” Facebook removed the page Wednesday.
Since the FWPOA joined Parler, Apple and Google have removed Parler from their app stores, and Amazon said it would no longer host the site on its computing services, saying it had not sufficiently policed posts that incited violence and crime. Early on Monday morning, just after midnight on the West Coast, Parler appeared to have gone offline.
The tech companies’ newly proactive approach also provides grist for Trump in the waning days of his administration. Even as he faces another potential impeachment, Trump is expected to try stoking anger at Twitter, Facebook, and others this week, potentially as a launchpad for competing with Silicon Valley head-on when he leaves the White House. After he was barred from Twitter, Trump said in a statement that he would “look at the possibilities of building out our own platform in the near future.”
The FWPOA could not be reached to comment further.