John Matze, Jared Thomson, and Rebekah Mercer founded the far-right social media network Parler in 2018 as an alternative to Twitter. Mercer is a scion of the wealthy, conservative Mercer family that has bankrolled a number of conservative groups, including The Heritage Foundation. She reportedly convinced Trump to hire Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon (whose career her father, Robert Mercer, heavily funded) to advise his campaign in 2016.
Ostensibly created as a “free speech” space, Parler quickly became a home for antisemites, white supremacists, misogynists, and other extremists. In the days following the 2020 presidential election, people who had been banned from mainstream platforms such as Twitter and Facebook flocked to Parler, as did supporters who believed Trump’s Big Lie. Parler claimed its membership more than doubled in the week following Biden’s win, going from 4.5 million to roughly 10 million users.
According to the BBC, Parler doesn’t fact-check posts but also doesn’t permit “pornography, threats of violence and support for terrorism.” Nonetheless, right-wing extremists on the app included QAnon conspiracy theory followers and members of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, and other anti-government militia groups. The site became a central hub for the Stop the Steal movement and other election conspiracies.
Leaked GPS coordinates showed that police officers and members of the U.S. military also used the site. Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had large followings on Parler, as did Fox News host Sean Hannity and the right-wing news outlet Newsmax. Candace Owens of Turning Point USA was an early adopter of the platform as was Brad Parscale, Trump’s reelection campaign digital media strategist.
Parler also proved to be controversial because it banned progressives. Amazon Web Services dropped the platform in January 2021 due to the proliferation of threats of violence and Parler’s apparent inability or unwillingness to weed out such posts. Apple did the same but in April 2021, it readmitted Parler to its app store.
Prior to the Jan. 6 insurrection, the Trump Organization negotiated with Parler for Trump to own a share of the company if he agreed to make it his primary social media platform.
Parler rebooted over the summer of 2021, with George Farmer, a former Turning Point UK leader and the husband of Candace Owens, becoming CEO. Mark Meckler, the Tea Party Patriots leader and cofounder of the Convention of States Foundation, served as Parler’s interim CEO. As of early January 2022, Parler had raised $20 million in new funding.
January 6, 2021
- A January 2022 report from the New America Foundation aimed at connecting the dots between “early warning signs” of political violence and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol describes how Parler’s “loose content moderation scheme” could have contributed to the app being used for astroturfing and amplifying content that culminated in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
- GPS data shows that a number of Parler users managed to enter areas normally restricted to the public when they stormed the Capitol.
- During the first 10 days of January 2021, posts on Parler mentioning terms such as “civil war” and “insurrection” received more than 212,000 likes, comments and shares. On Jan. 6, more than half a million people viewed these posts and in the days that followed more than four million people saw them.
- More than 1,200 videos were uploaded to Parler in the Washington, D.C. area on Jan. 6.
- Permanently suspended from Twitter, Trump attorney Lin Wood posted on Parler on Jan. 7: “Get the firing squads ready” and “Pence goes FIRST.”
- Amazon Web Services’ petition for a judge to deny Parler’s temporary restraining order request includes examples of posts such as:
- “On January 20th we need to start systematicly [sic] assassinating #liberal leaders, liberal activists, #blm leaders and supporters, members of the #nba #nfl #mlb #nhl #mainstreammedia anchors and correspondents and #antifa. I already have a news worthy [sic] event planned.”
- “Put a target on these motherless trash [Antifa] they aren’t human taking one out would be like stepping on a roach no different.”
- “After the firing squads are done with the politicians the teachers are next.”
The Big Lie
- One analysis of Parler data found that overall activity peaked during the week after Biden was projected the winner of the 2020 presidential election, as did the number of posts mentioning “Stop the Steal.”
- New America Foundation researchers found that people who came to Washington to protest on Jan. 6, 2021 had shared posts on Parler about other right-wing rallies they had attended—suggesting that this helped fire up the mob that attacked the Capitol.
- The same report revealed that a small group of “Gold Badge” users had more than 10,000 followers each, positioning members of this group to “shape online narratives and to do so in a coordinated manner.” New America’s analysis found that this group described the 2020 presidential election as “the centerpiece of corruption in the government.” The Gold Badge subgroup also frequently invoked the baseless theory that the election had been stolen and members cast politics “as a struggle among Trump, Biden, and the citizens of the United States.”