On Thursday afternoon, as the membership in a “Stop the Steal” group on Facebook swelled to more than 360,000, the social media company made a decision to shut it down. The group was “creating real-world events,” was “organized around the delegitimization of the election process,” and some members of the group made “worrying calls for violence,” Facebook told HuffPost, explaining the removal.
But by Friday, as President Donald Trump continued to inflame his supporters with baseless claims of an election being stolen from him, multiple “Stop the Steal” groups with tens of thousands of members continued to proliferate on the platform. Like the one that Facebook removed on Thursday, these groups promoted real-world demonstrations throughout the country, spread disinformation about voter fraud and election-rigging, and encouraged the use of violence to keep Trump in office.
One “STS 2.0” group HuffPost observed issued multiple violent threats as it pushed the message that the election was illegitimate. By Thursday’s standards, it should also be removed, and the name (an acronym for Stop the Steal), was a barely concealed attempt to mimic the large, already-canceled group. But its numbers grew through Friday to more than 100,000 people.
In that group, as well as several other Stop the Steal groups active on Facebook as of Friday evening, lurid themes have emerged in members’ discussions — including calls for the execution of supposedly treasonous Democrats and a shared fantasy about civil war. There are dozens of groups with memberships of anywhere from a few people to tens of thousands.
“If Biden/Harris win the White House our country will quickly be thrusted into a civil war. It will be law@order/gun toting Constitutionalists vs. democratic powers,” a member of one of the larger groups posted. “They better bring an Army. Cause we got the guns, & the Vets who know how to use them,” another commented. “It’s coming,” a third member wrote, including a picture of the logo of the Three Percenters, a far-right militia.
The inconsistent standards by which Facebook appears to be enforcing these bans, during an incredibly tense period for U.S. democracy, raise the danger that groups trying to delegitimize the election and threatening violence will continue to find users on the platform. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Some members of STS 2.0 mused about a civil war in which Trump loyalists outgunned their opposition and said it would be worth dying in the fight to keep Trump in office.”
The false narrative that Trump is the victim of a Democratic effort to steal the presidency has already given rise to violent plots: On Thursday night, Philadelphia police arrested two armed men after receiving a tip about a plan to attack a convention center where ballots were being counted. The next day, law enforcement detained a man in Los Angeles who threatened to “do like a school shooter, just take out all these Democrats” if Biden wins the election.
STS 2.0 was created on Thursday, originally under the name STOP THE STEAL 2.0. Its name changed on Friday, presumably in an effort to evade Facebook’s content moderators. The group promoted protest events in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia and Texas — part of a nationwide series of demonstrations. At one Stop the Steal event earlier this week, armed demonstrators showed up at an election office in Maricopa County in Arizona where election workers had to be escorted to their cars by the police. Two days later, on Friday, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, promoted other “Stop The Steal” rallies on Twitter.
Some members of STS 2.0 mused about a civil war in which Trump loyalists outgunned their opposition and said it would be worth dying in the fight to keep Trump in office.
“If the courts [fail] us…...we don’t give up our freedom. No we don’t because we fight like our founding fathers did,” a member of the group wrote, referring to the Trump campaign’s baseless lawsuits in several swing states. “I have family that’s fought in every war some have died. I am not afraid to die but i will not live my life by another’s leave.”
Another member posted a transphobic meme depicting red states punching blue states with the caption, “Folks keep talking about another civil war. One side has about 8 trillion bullets, while the other side doesn’t know which bathroom to use.” Another meme posted in the group included the caption “If there is another civil war it’ll be antifa, snowflakes, and BLM against ex military, country boys, hunters, and bikers … That’ll be an hour we’ll never get back.”
In a separate, 50,000-member “Stop The Steal” group, which promoted a series of “#StopTheBidenSteal” rallies that took place on Thursday in Florida, people have called for Democrats to be hanged and groundlessly accused Biden of pedophilia. Group members appear to be growing increasingly anxious and hostile as Trump’s chances at maintaining the presidency diminish.
“What do we do now?” one member asked. “I’m ready, guns are oiled,” someone responded.
Other people discussed raiding the home of Biden’s son, Hunter, and vowed to “fight to the death” if necessary.
In a post urging “patriots” to “be ready for whatever happens,” multiple group members claimed that they were “locked and loaded.” One man noted that he “only [has] 100 rounds” of ammunition, to which another person replied, “ration it accordingly. Spare what you can to your comrades, keep what you need of course,” and offered advice on where to purchase cheap bullets to stockpile.