Ted S. Warren/AP Photo
A person wears a vest supporting QAnon at a protest rally in Olympia, Wash., against Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington state stay-at-home orders made in efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. President Joe Biden's inauguration has sown a mixture of anger, confusion and disappointment among believers in the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory.
Ted S. Warren/AP Photo
According to adherents of QAnon, the false internet conspiracy theory that has been linked to violent acts including murder and kidnapping, March 4 is going to be a big day: the "true inauguration" of President Donald Trump for another term in office.
But law enforcement authorities and experts on extremism don't expect the conspiracy theory to bring large crowds or violence to D.C. on Thursday.
Previous falsehoods have brought far-right extremists to D.C. in large numbers, most notably on January 6, when a violent mob that included QAnon believers stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the ratification of the electoral college vote in favor of President Joe Biden.
QAnon adherents believe that a shadowy, pedophilic cabal comprised of Democrats and celebrities control the world and that Donald Trump is the one situated to root out this group through an event called "The Storm," which will lead to a slew of military tribunals and executions. March 4 is the latest date to take on significance, as believers expect Donald Trump to become president again on that day.
But extremists believing a date has significance doesn't necessarily translate into violence in the District. Take the inauguration of Joe Biden on January 21—ultimately, fears about violent threats were thwarted amid a huge presence of law enforcement and other security in D.C.
Though there have been rumblings about potential violence on March 4 for weeks, House Sergeant-at-Arms Timothy Blodgett wrote in a security bulletin to Congress on Monday that the threats seem to have subsided. "The significance of this date has reportedly declined amongst various groups in recent days," Blodgett wrote in the bulletin. "At this time, [U.S. Capitol Police] has no indication that groups will travel to Washington D.C. to protest or commit acts of violence."
Another big difference between January 6 and the days leading up to Biden's inauguration was the kind of conversation happening in forums and message boards where extremists connect. In the lead up to January 6, those forums were filled with logistics: directions for getting to D.C., carpooling information, and how to navigate the city.
But that same kind of mobilization wasn't on display later that month, nor has there been that kind of organized effort for March 4, says Kurt Braddock, an assistant professor at American University who focuses on violent extremist groups and the strategies they use to radicalize people. (AU holds the license for WAMU, DCist's parent company.)
"The one thing that really stands out most of the time when these things are planned is online chatter," says Braddock. But there isn't visible logistical organization happening online for March 4, "which is why I don't think we're going to see anything on the scale of January 6. Now, what we might see is some small groups of protesters and things like that — that wouldn't surprise me — but I don't think the security officials are expecting violence because I don't think they're seeing the organization like they saw for January 6," he says.
A spokesperson for the National Park Service said the agency had not received any applications for First Amendment events on National Park Service property for March 4. A Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson also said the department has not received any applications for special event permits for Thursday.
In response to questions from WAMU/DCist about what residents can expect on Thursday and how the department was monitoring for potential far-right activity, the MPD spokesperson wrote in an email that "MPD will continue to monitor and assess information in collaboration with our local and federal partners to ensure the public's safety."
Braddock says that QAnon discussions about March 4 "wouldn't slow me down from doing anything on that day" in D.C. "But of course, keep your wits about you in case you do notice something that seems amiss. And I mean, unfortunately, that's going to be par for the course for a bit, considering how not just QAnon, but the far right has been largely mobilized in the last several years."
While Trump himself hasn't promoted March 4 the way he spent weeks talking up the importance of January 6, Forbes reported that his D.C. hotel has increased its rates for that day.
D.C. has seen multiple gatherings of far-right groups over the past several months—including the Jan. 6 insurrection and two earlier marches that ended in stabbings last year. Experts on extremism in the U.S. have said it's likely D.C. will remain a sought-out gathering place for far-right extremists who seek out confrontations with counterprotesters, not unlike cities on the West Coast where this kind of violence has played out in recent years.
The potential for violence on March 4 is part of the reason the city has kept the extra fencing around the U.S. Capitol complex and continues to house National Guard troops.
And it now seems unlikely the fencing around the U.S. Capitol will come down after March 4. Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman testified before Congress last week that members of militia groups that participated in the insurrection "want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible, with a direct nexus to the State of the Union."
Biden's address to a joint session of Congress has yet to be scheduled, so Pittman said she believes elevated security measures should remain in place for the foreseeable future.
"Based on that information, we think it's prudent that Capitol Police maintain its enhanced robust security posture until we address those vulnerabilities going forward," said Pittman.National Guard troops are expected to leave D.C. on March 12, according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
But even though Trump won't return to power on March 4, Braddock expects that QAnon adherents will "pick another date in the future, because they're they're following the same trajectory of, frankly, cults in the past." He says that when the prediction doesn't come true, "oftentimes some people will leave, but others will use the failure of the prophecy that they have to justify the furthering of their own ideology."
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.