Tunisian forces tracked an extremist group in the Mount Salloum area of Kasserine, the AP reported officials as saying, when it encountered a suspected jihadi and his family.
According to the reported statement, Tunisian forces killed the man, whereupon his wife activated her suicide belt, causing an explosion that killed herself and the baby in her arms. An older daughter also at the scene survived, officials reportedly said.
The mother was the first woman that Tunisian authorities say they have seen among jihadists in the mountainous area, according to the AP.
The other operation, in which two other extremists were killed, took place in the Mount Mghila area, according to the reported statement. It said the chief of Tunisia’s Jund Al Khilafa brigade was killed, a group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
The US State Department designated Jund Al Khalifa’s Tunisian branch as a terrorist entity in 2018. According to the AP, the group is believed to be responsible for several attacks in Tunisia.
“Don’t be disappointed,” wrote one subscriber on a popular QAnon Telegram channel late Thursday night. “The race is not run yet and I have reason to believe March 20 is also possible.”
Another believer posted a similarly optimistic message. “We still have 16 days,” they wrote. “Lots can happen between now and then!”
With the passing of March 4, a highly-anticipated date for the conspiracy group, followers remain characteristically delusional.
With the uneventful passage of yet another supposedly momentous date, QAnon fans spent Friday morning urging followers to look forward and “keep the faith.”
QAnon’s March 4 failure
When “the Storm’ – the promise of mass arrests and executions on Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day -amounted to nothing, followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory scrambled for a new date to imagine Trump’s fictional swearing-in ceremony.
March 4, like several fruitless dates that preceded it, was born out of a convoluted political fantasy.
QAnon adherents borrowed from the obscure US-based sovereign-citizen movement to suggest that Trump would return to power on March 4, 2021. Sovereign citizens “believe that they get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that tracks extremism.
The conspiracy-theory movement will continue to invent new dates to look forward to, or else their years of obsessional beliefs will all have been for naught, say far-right experts.
“Reality doesn’t really matter,” Nick Backovic, a contributing editor at fact-checking website Logically, where he researches misinformation and disinformation, told Insider. “Whether QAnon can survive another great disappointment, there’s no question – it can.”
The March 4 theory is rooted in a bizarre belief that argues all laws after the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, are illegitimate.
The 20th Amendment, which moved Inauguration Day from March 4 to January 20, is viewed by sovereign citizens as invalid.
Therefore, proponents of this conspiracy theory insisted that Trump would restore a republic that has been out of action for over 150 years on the day when former presidents were sworn-in.
Travis View, a conspiracy theory expert and host of the QAnon Anonymous podcast, previously told Insider that it’s based on a “blind faith” that Trump can “fix everything.”
A series of no-shows
Before March 4, the QAnon follower’s calendar was marked with a string of dates that were once hailed as moments of reckoning that didn’t happen.
In 2017, the first “Q drop” – the cryptic messages from the anonymous “Q” figure whose guidance runs the movement – claimed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be arrested because of an unfounded allegation that she was involved in child sex trafficking. This, of course, never happened, but the QAnon conspiracy theory was born.
Then, in a bid to reconcile their belief that Trump would remain president, they believed January 6, which went on to be a deadly insurrection at the US Capitol, was a precursor to “The Storm” – a violent event that would result in the execution of child-abusive elites.
The goalpost was then moved to January 20, based on the claim that Trump would seize power prior to Biden taking his oath.
But Trump was not inaugurated again on January 20 and instead left Washington to move down to his Florida home. In the hours after Biden’s inauguration, some QAnon believers were left confused and crestfallen.
Mental gymnastics ensued, with some QAnon influencers arguing that Biden’s inauguration had happened in a Hollywood studio and was therefore invalid; others claimed that Trump sent signals during his final pre-inauguration address indicating that he’d remain in office. These influencers again promoted to their followers the idea that somehow, their theory was not yet over.
“QAnon is dealing with a very difficult cognitive dissonance situation,” Michael Barkun, professor emeritus of political science at Syracuse University, told Insider.
Naturally, some believers become fed up with failures
A Wednesday post on a QAnon Telegram channel with nearly 200,000 subscribers called the plan “BS,” though the same page told their followers that the “new Republic” would begin on March 4.
Another top conspiracy theorist told their 71,000 subscribers on Wednesday morning that a “Q drop” contained a hint that the March 4 conspiracy theory was a false flag. “March 4 is a Trap,” the post said.
Whenever QAnon’s prophecies are proven wrong, the movement does lose some support, Backovic said.
In the days after President Biden’s inauguration, many QAnon believers did express a desire to leave the movement, fed up with the lies they’d been told. Even Ron Watkins, once QAnon’s top source for voter-fraud misinformation, told his 134,000 Telegram subscribers in the afternoon of January 20, “Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able.”
QAnon influencers calling the March 4 conspiracy a “false flag” also helps place blame on others in case things go awry like they did on January 6. Finding a scapegoat is a common tactic for extremists, according to Backovic.
After the Capitol insurrection, QAnon supporters and other pro-Trump protesters – and several Republicans in Congress – spread the false claim that antifa, the anti-fascist movement, staged the deadly coup attempt on the Capitol.
In addition to focusing on specific dates, QAnon has evolved and adapted to include other conspiracy theories and enter more conventional spaces.
Last spring, the movement pivoted to focus on ending human trafficking, making “Save the Children” its new battle cry. QAnon leveraged on mainstream social media, including Instagram, where lifestyle influencers spread it.
With nothing happening on March 4, believers look forward (again)
The latest disappointment has already resulted in new dates being introduced with increasingly desperate explanations.
Some QAnon influencers have suggested that March 20 is when Trump will seize control, misinterpreting the Presidential Transition Enhancement Act of 2019, which streamlines the presidential transition by providing certain services to the previous administration 60 days after the inauguration.
The claim, first made on a popular QAnon Telegram channel, appeared to be making ground with supporters offline, too. A QAnon supporter interviewed by The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel said he believes Trump remains in command of the military and will be inaugurated on the 20th.
But core followers of the conspiracy theory are reluctant to throw all their weight behind a particular date.
In another Telegram message board for QAnon believers, one post encouraged people to remain open-minded about Q’s plan. “Dates for late March, April, May, and more dates in the fall have been tossed out there,” the post said. “While we can speculate and hope, no specific dates have been landed on… don’t get caught up in the dates, watch what’s happening.”
For those tempered by repeated disappointment, some are simply set on a resounding victory for Trump in 2024.
“Whether it’s some date in March or whether ultimately it will be a second Trump term after an election in 2024,” Barkun told Insider. “There will be some further set of explanations and a further set of dates.”
The Pentagon is looking for a new way to screen social media as part of its background check process, in an effort to prevent extremist behavior in the ranks.
The Defense Department “is examining a scalable means of implementing social media screening in conjunction with background investigations,” Pentagon officials said in suggested training materials distributed for a stand-down to discuss extremism. The military-wide pause in operations was ordered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The reference appears in a “common questions and answers” section, in which the Pentagon anticipated troops might ask about checking social media belonging to service members, civilian DoD employees and prospective recruits.
The suggested response notes that when service members and DoD civilians submit an SF-86 form to begin a background investigation process, they consent to having their publicly available social media information reviewed. The FBI now screens social media for extremism and criminal activity, the document states.
But Anthony Kuhn, an attorney with the law firm Tully Rinckey who specializes in security clearance issues, said in an interview Tuesday that the Pentagon’s statement indicates it plans to take a much more aggressive and methodical approach to monitoring troops’ social media in the wake of the January 6 ransacking of the Capitol by a violent mob.
The military doesn’t really have a formal process for doing so now, he said. Typically, a service member draws attention for extremist or other problematic social media posts after a third party sees them and alerts the military.
Kuhn said he represents several people who have had their security clearances jeopardized due in part to social media posts, so the military does look at it in at least some cases. But he added that the momentum for doing so will probably keep growing.
Troops are allowed to have and express their own political opinions, Kuhn said, as long as they follow certain guidelines, such as not doing so on duty or in uniform.
But the training materials spell out how service members’ activities can run afoul of the military’s standards, such as by advocating for violence or sedition against the government.
Service members are not allowed to “actively advocat[e] supremacist, extremist or criminal gang doctrine, ideology and causes,” the training materials state. They also cannot actively participate in organizations that “advance, encourage or advocate illegal discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex, religion, ethnicity or national origin,” or “the use of force, violence or criminal activity” to deprive people of their civil rights.
Extremist groups often try to recruit current or former service members for their skills and to gain legitimacy for their cause, according to the training materials.
“It’s about extremist ideology, and that can take many forms,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a gaggle with reporters Tuesday. “It’s not just about white supremacy, but about extremist ideologies, including [those of] a criminal nature.”
In the new Pentagon training materials, officials said that, while troops have First Amendment rights to speak freely and assemble peaceably, the military must still assess their character, honesty, discretion, judgment and trustworthiness when deciding whether they are reliable enough to have access to classified or sensitive information.
Actions that could disqualify service members include supporting, being involved or associating with, or expressing sympathy for those attempting, training for, or advocating sabotage, espionage, treason, terrorism or sedition against the United States, the training documents state.
Those who associate or sympathize with people or organizations seeking to use force, violence, or other illegal or unconstitutional means to overthrow the federal or state government; prevent federal, state or local government personnel from performing their official duties; to gain retribution for perceived wrongs caused by the government; or to prevent other from exercising their legal or constitutional rights, could also find themselves disqualified, according to the training materials.
“Any doubt is resolved in favor of the national security,” officials said.
Kuhn said the Pentagon’s language suggests it might add social media checks to its continuous evaluation process, which already uses computers and investigators to track clearance holders and flag any financial trouble, criminal arrests, or emerging drug or alcohol problems.
Tracking violations of DoD regulations’ Guideline A, which requires “allegiance to the United States,” has been difficult to monitor, he said.
“That could be anything from liking a comment on a social media post that’s buried somewhere on the internet, all the way through openly advocating violence against the government or a government official,” Kuhn said. “They’re trying to figure out a system to track that kind of behavior, those types of red flags. Right now, there isn’t one.”
Service members who like and interact with posts by extremist groups such as the Three Percenters, a paramilitary organization that opposes federal government intervention in local affairs, could find that activity flagged by screening, Kuhn said.
Due process still applies, and the service member wouldn’t automatically lose their clearance, he said, but there would likely be an investigation.
“I think that’s going to be very common, moving forward,” Kuhn said.
This could mean automated scanning of accounts on Facebook or Twitter, or even sites such as Parler that do not ban users who post extremist content, he added.
And while the military could start by only periodically reviewing social media posts when troops need background checks, Kuhn said he expects that, before long, it would be expanded into a practice of real-time monitoring to catch whether troops are involved in emerging threats.
“They will be using whatever technology they have available to them at this point to be able to monitor, in real time, social media posts and groups they have concerns about,” he said. “I’m sure they’ve already started” working on a continuous monitoring system after the shock of the January 6 Capitol attack, and the apparently disproportionately large number of rioters with military backgrounds.
Kuhn also expects that background investigations or periodic reinvestigations for renewals of security clearances will include closer looks at social media.
After people on Twitter noticed the similarity, the organizer of the conservative conference strongly denied it was intentional, saying the “stage design conspiracies are outrageous and slanderous.”
“We have a long-standing commitment to the Jewish community,” Matt Schlapp, the head of the American Conservative Union, said in a tweet. “CPAC proudly stands with our Jewish allies, including those speaking from this stage.”
The design of the stage is in the shape of an “Odal rune,” which was used on Nazi uniforms in some divisions of the SS and has also been used by white supremacists in Europe and North America in the years following World War II.
Conspiracy theories are no longer the domain of fringe websites, but have aired on major cable news networks. Now Democrats in Congress say they want to examine the role that the mainstream media has played in promoting false and outlandish claims.
“The prolonged severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the attack on our Capitol on January 6 have driven home a frightening reality: the spread of disinformation and extremism by traditional news media presents a tangible and destabilizing threat,” Reps. Frank Pallone and Mike Doyle said in a joint statement on Thursday.
Palone, a Democrat from New Jersey, chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee while Doyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, leads the Communications and Technology subcommittee. On February 24, the two lawmakers will host a remote hearing, featuring unnamed “media experts,” examining the issue.
“Some broadcasters’ and cable networks’ increasing reliance on conspiracy theories and misleading or patently false information raises questions about their devotion to journalistic integrity,” the lawmakers said.
Though not stated, it’s possible that lawmakers will be discussing Fox News, which until this year has long been the top-rated cable news network. In January, host Steve Hilton promoted a claim that Dr. Anthony Fauci played a direct role in creating the coronavirus. Many of the network’s anchors and commentators also promoted false claims about election fraud, assertions that were challenged by some of its more fact-oriented, straight-news personalities.
Employees at encrypted-messaging app Signal are worried that an explosion in growth – prompted by users moving over from rival WhatsApp – could cause extremism to spread on the platform, according to a new report from The Verge.
An engineer called Gregg Bernstein, who left Signal this month, told the Verge that Signal’s CEO Moxie Marlinspike was worryingly passive at the prospect of extremists using the platform to organize.
“It’s not only that Signal doesn’t have these policies in place. But they’ve been resistant to even considering what a policy might look like,” said Bernstein.
He said that after President Donald Trump told the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” Marlinspike was asked at a company all-hands meeting how Signal planned to prevent extremists from organizing on the app.
“The response was: if and when people start abusing Signal or doing things that we think are terrible, we’ll say something […] You could see a lot of jaws dropping. That’s not a strategy – that’s just hoping things don’t go bad,” Bernstein said.
Signal is backed by the nonprofit Signal Foundation, which was started in 2018 with a $50 million loan by WhatsApp founder Brian Acton, and is popular among activists and dissidents for its rigorous approach to privacy.
A trade-off of strong privacy practices is that apps are less able to track and moderate harmful behavior. Marlinspike told the Verge he wanted to take a hands-off approach to moderating the app because it was a messaging platform, not social media.
“The overriding theme there is that we don’t want to be a media company. We’re not algorithmically amplifying content. We don’t have access to the content. And even within the app, there are not a lot of opportunities for amplification,” he said.
Marlinspike said he believed the benefit Signal gives to activists and dissidents outweighed the risk that extremists might use it.
“I want us as an organization to be really careful about doing things that make Signal less effective for those sort of bad actors if it would also make Signal less effective for the types of actors that we want to support and encourage […] Because I think that the latter have an outsized risk profile. There’s an asymmetry there, where it could end up affecting them more dramatically,” he said.
Downloads of the app surged after WhatsApp informed users of changes to terms of service related to messaging business accounts. WhatsApp scrambled to explain that its data sharing practices with Facebook, its parent company, weren’t changing, and that the new terms and conditions did not affect messaged to friends and family – but by then many users had already downloaded Signal.
Signal isn’t the only encrypted messaging app facing accusations of inaction over hate speech.
Former US ambassador Marc Ginsberg on Monday filed lawsuits against Apple and Google, petitioning them both to boot encrypted messaging app Telegram – which also received a big user boost from the WhatsApp exodus – off their app stores.
Ginsberg said the platform had harbored extremists, and pointed to the fact both Apple and Google banned Parler, a social media app popular with the far-right, from their stores.
The US Army and US Secret Service are working together to determine which troops participating in President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration need additional background screening, an Army spokesperson told Insider.
The move, which was first reported by Army Times, follows a request from Colorado Rep. Jason Crow, a former Army ranger, for a review of inauguration troops to root out those sympathetic to domestic terrorists, which is how individuals who stormed the Capitol last week have been described.
The Army spokesperson also said that the DC National Guard is providing additional training on reporting known or suspected extremist behavior to troops coming into the nation’s capital.
The US Army and the US Secret Service are looking at additional security screening for some US troops expected to take part in President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week, an Army spokesperson told Insider Tuesday.
“The Army is working with the Secret Service to determine which service members supporting the national special security event for the Inauguration require additional background screening,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Army Times was first to report this development as security concerns rise after the Capitol siege by a pro-Trump mob and an FBI warning ta ht far-right groups are discussing days of “armed protests” ahead of inauguration.
Crow’s concerns about domestic terror sympathies in the armed forces stem from the assault on the Capitol last week that included military veterans and possibly current service members.
Other veterans in Congress, such as Arizona Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, condemned military personnel who participated in the riots, saying: “In attacking the Capitol, the Congress, and the Constitution that they swore to protect, any current or former military members who may have participated have disgraced themselves and committed serious crimes against the People of the United States.”
The Army spokesperson who emailed Insider said that all US service members take part in the annual Threat Awareness and Reporting Program, which urges military personnel to report known or suspected extremist behavior.
The official said that the DC National Guard is providing additional training to service members coming into DC. There are already several thousand Guard members in the nation’s capital, and the Department of Defense is authorized to deploy as many as 15,000 troops ahead of the inauguration.
As for current members of the military that may have participated in the storming of the Capitol, the Army official said that this is being investigated.
“There is no place for extremism in the military and we will investigate each report individually and take appropriate action,” the spokesperson said.
“The Army is committed to working closely with the FBI as they identify people who participated in the violent attack on the Capitol to determine if the individuals have any connection to the Army,” the official added. “Any type of activity that involves violence, civil disobedience, or a breach of peace may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or under state or federal law.”
Talking with Crow on Sunday, McCarthy told the congressman that “DoD is aware of further possible threats posed by would-be terrorists in the days up to and including Inauguration Day and is working with local and federal law enforcement to coordinate security preparations.”
As supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol Building in a riot on Wednesday, one figure stood out among the mob: the “Q Shaman,” aka Jake Angeli.
Angeli, known for wearing red, white, and blue face paint and a horned helmet, has become a notable figure in the QAnon conspiracy-theory movement, popping up at far-right rallies in Arizona in the past year, The Arizona Republic reported.
On Wednesday, Angeli took photos on the Senate dais and marched through the Capitol with a megaphone.
The Arizona man is charged out of the United State’s Attorney’s Office of DC with with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, and with violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
The case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington field office and the United States Capitol Police.
Angeli’s presence at the riot, along with others wearing QAnon paraphernalia, comes as the conspiracy-theory movement has been responsible for the popularization of Trump’s voter-fraud conspiracy theories.
Angeli told Globe and Mail correspondent Adrian Morrow that police “politely asked him to leave” after they reportedly let him into the building.
QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory baselessly alleging that Trump is fighting a “deep-state cabal” of pedophiles and human traffickers. The movement behind it has played a massive role in organizing nationwide “Stop the Steal” protests in the two months since President-elect Joe Biden won the 2020 election.
The “Q Shaman” is one of many figures in the world of QAnon whose actions inspire and influence the movement. QAnon originated with an anonymous figure called “Q” who writes cryptic messages on the fringe message board 8kun (previously known as 8chan). As Q has become increasingly hands-off, giving fewer and fewer messages to his devotees, QAnon leaders like Angeli have gained fame and power in the movement.
Later on Wednesday afternoon, Angeli grabbed a microphone outside the Capitol and told people to go home, according to a tweet from Kevin Roose, a technology columnist at The New York Times.
As Trump seeks to undermine the election results, he has been getting much of his information on baseless voter-fraud allegations directly from the QAnon movement. The Dominion voter-fraud conspiracy theory, which baselessly alleges that Dominion Voting Systems interfered with the election, was popularized by Ron Watkins, a previous administrator of 8kun. Watkins’ father, Jim Watkins, has been suspected by some of being “Q,” or at least being associated with the figure (or group).
Wednesday’s riot included Trump supporters espousing QAnon, as well as members of other far-right groups like the Proud Boys. Many popular QAnon accounts were celebrating the Capitol siege on Wednesday, saying it was the first step in some kind of civil war.
Others at the riots were seen wearing QAnon paraphernalia. In one video shared on Twitter, a man in a QAnon shirt appears to be one of the first in a massive group of rioters entering the Capitol.
His tweets, the company said, “are being received and understood as encouragement to do so.”
While the president’s claimed his right to “free speech” was being violated, free speech advocates defended the right of private company’s to air the content of their choosing.
“Today’s news, while a day late and a dollar short, is welcome. I urge other social-media companies to follow suit immediately,” Jessica J. González, co-CEO of the group Free Press, said in a statement.
Twitter decided to permanently suspend President Donald Trump’s account after concluding that his posts were being read as incitement to commit future acts of violence like that seen at the US Capitol this week.
In a blog post explaining its decision, the social media company said the president’s tweets following the Capitol Hill insurrection appeared to lend support to extremists and violate its policy against the glorification of violence.
In particular, Twitter said it was concerned with how the president’s posts on Friday were being interpreted by the far-right as coded approval for their actions, and thus “likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on January 6, 2021.”
Twitter also specifically wrote: “Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021.”
According to NBC News, there has been discussion on social media about coming back to Washington, DC, on January 17 and January 20, the day of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, immediately cried foul, claiming, on Twitter, that the removal of his father marked the death of free speech.
But private media platforms are not governed by the First Amendment, nor is compelling private companies to air the thoughts of a politician consistent with most notions of free speech.
Jessica J. González, co-CEO of the advocacy group Free Press, said Trump’s suspension was long overdue.
“From the launch of his presidential campaign when he defamed Mexicans as rapists, criminals and drug dealers, to the desperate last gasps of his presidency as he has egged on white supremacists to commit violence and insurrection, Trump had used his Twitter account to incite violence, lie about the election outcome, encourage racists and spread conspiracy theories,” she said in a statement. “He did not deserve a platform on Twitter, or on any other social or traditional media.”