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What level of online influence did local and state-level Republican officials have in the lead-up to the Capitol insurrection? An Associated Press investigation delved into the public and private social media accounts of nearly 1,000 Republican officials to look at how many perpetuated online misinformation leading up to the Jan 6 riot. Garance Burke, global investigative journalist for the Associated Press, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.
As investigations into the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol continue, we're learning more about how misinformation, lies and conspiracy theories online helped to incite the violence.
An investigation by the Associated Press delved into the public and private social media accounts of nearly 1,000 elected and appointed Republican officials at the state and local level nationwide. Many had voiced support for the insurrection, demanding that the 2020 presidential election be overturned.
I recently spoke with Garance Burke, global investigative journalist for the Associated Press about their investigation.
So, Garance, how prevalent is misinformation, disinformation in different circles on a statewide level across the Republican Party?
So after that violent Capital insurrection, we felt it was really important to look clear-eyed at the kind of messaging that was traveling amongst the ranks of lower-level GOP officials. And so what we did is we reviewed the archive of the right-wing aligned social media network Parler and got a sense of exactly the kinds of lies and misinformation and conspiracy theories that are still making their way around quite prevalently in these circles.
How do these different state parties function? Why are they important? Why is it important if someone in their leadership is sharing this kind of information?
So exactly, these are people who the community has elected to represent them or who've been appointed to state, local county boards, commissions by members of the party, as an elected official, you really do have more influence online. And so for that reason, we felt it was important to look at their conversations and the messaging that they're putting out to understand how misinformation and lies are traveling.
Was there a prevalent theme?
Well, what we found is that elected and appointed officials in these lower-level branches of the Republican Party are very bitter about what they perceive, despite no evidence, as the election having been stolen. There's a lot of really angry posting out there about the need to continue the fight, with some officials actually saying that all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45 are part of a militia and should take up arms.
And is this registering with national law enforcement agencies or even state and local ones?
Well, we don't know exactly what's to come, right? But we do know that FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have warned very recently that there's the potential for more violent extremism and domestic terrorism. We did speak with one Republican official in Michigan who had recently been visited by the FBI. She says she was glad to tell them she did nothing wrong when she went to the Capitol insurrection and simply was there taking a photo. But I think that this is going to be something that our nation's law enforcement agencies are going to be taking a close look at. Absolutely.
What were the reactions from the individuals when you and other reporters showed them why you're calling, what you're calling about, whether they stood by these statements?
Well, the Republican officials who we spoke with, Hari, feel like their speech is being censored on some of the mainstream social media platforms. They're particularly gravitating towards other platforms where they feel that they can speak freely. So I think that for these lower-level GOP officials, there's a real kind of concern here when this fact-checking veers into the suppression of free speech. That's a lot of what we heard. On the other hand, some of the officials when we contacted them and showed them some of the screenshots of the archive post they had put out there on Parler at first denied that they were, in fact, their words and then later acquiesced that indeed they had said these things and stood by them.
As you did all this reporting, what stood out to you?
One of the things that really stood out to me is just that there are, in fact, ties between lower-level Republican officials and militia groups who have taken up arms to protest what they see as very unfair policies, be that, you know, mandates to wear masks in public or now issues tied to the 2020 election. And so I think that what is really interesting to observe is just the kinds of messaging that these groups are trading among themselves surrounding the right to bear arms. And that's, of course, something that I think that FBI will be looking at more deeply as the weeks go forward, these ties to militia groups.
Garance Burke of the Associated Press. Thanks so much for joining us.
Thank you for having me.
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