“Right now, if everybody’s ready, we can have a real quick course on what they call the use of force contingency,” announced the moderator of a militia chatroom on Zello, a walkie-talkie app where far-right groups have been organizing, often anonymously, over the past several years. “Lethal force is where you shoot or use a weapon to kill somebody in self-defense.”
The moderator, who described himself as a combat vet, was readying the group for the upcoming presidential election. Although they had botched the correct term, “the use of force continuum,” they went on: “I’m gonna go over some stuff here because I just realized how close we are,” he said, addressing the chat room’s more than 30 members.
In the lead up to the 2020 election, platforms like Facebook and Twitter have begun cracking down on “militarized social movements,” removing thousands of associated pages and groups. The bans were part of a patchwork solution to platforms empowering right-wing violence, or at least becoming a tool for it. Federal investigators announced last week that members of the Boogaloo Bois, an anti-government extremist movement best known for online shitposting and wearing aloha shirts, had used Facebook Messenger to discuss plans for inciting violence across state lines earlier in the year.
Now, users booted from these websites are increasingly relying on an ecosystem of alternative apps and platforms like Zello, MeWe, Parler, Gab, and Rocket.Chat to connect and mobilize online. On Zello and MeWe, people claiming to be U.S. militia members are stoking fear about post-election unrest, encouraging their compatriots to prepare for uprisings in major cities. A few claim to be organizing in-person training exercises while others have expressed their willingness to show up at events, even across state lines. These comments take on new meaning against the backdrop of President Donald Trump urging his followers to rally a 50,000-person poll-watcher “army.”