More than a Mob: Parler as preparatory media for the U.S. Capitol storming

First Monday 26(3), 2021

On 6 January 2021, a violent mob attacked the United States Capitol. Yet while mob suggests a chaotic and fragmented crowd, networked media had already been working to provide it with “just enough” cohesion, transforming it into a more dangerous political body. This article conceptualizes this preparatory media by examining the “free speech” social media network Parler, drawing on a corpus of ∼350,000 posts from the days leading up to and including the attack. This material empirically demonstrates how media worked to forge connections between disparate camps, to incite participants toward violent activity, and to legitimize this attack as moral or even spiritual. Preparatory media frames events, establishes targets, and sets agendas, providing a degree of order and working against disaggregation online. This temporary stabilization contributes to a more mobilized and organized public body. Rather than prosocial or emancipatory, the Capitol storming demonstrates the far darker potential of this work. Understanding this role of media and intervening within these logics provides one component for preventing future attacks.