Trump supporters break TV equipment during the Capitol Hill siege (Image: AP/Jose Luis Magana)

Who would have thought 2021 would start with social media users suggesting it was appropriate to kill politicians by firing squad or hang them after Donald Trump lost the US presidential election?

Well it’s what’s happening across social media with posts of this nature targeting both sides of US politics.

One Twitter user disputed calling the Capitol riots on January 6 an insurrection: “If [the rioters] were ‘insurrectionists, Old Sleepy Joes would be hanging from a lamp post.”

Trump was cut off from major social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as a direct resulting of inciting rioters. Many of his followers were bumped off Twitter, and major technology companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon booted Parler, a platform used as a conservative rallying point.

The encrypted messaging app Telegram has reaped the benefits of the turmoil. The platform announced on Wednesday that it now has more than 500 million users — more than 25 million had joined in the preceding 72 hours. That was the period in which Parler’s apps and website were removed by hosts.

President-elect Joe Biden was not the only person to cop the violent rhetoric. Vice-President Mike Pence was the subject of “Hang Mike Pence” chants on the day of the riot.

Reuters’ Jim Bourg tweeted on January 9: “I heard at least 3 different rioters at the Capitol say that they hoped to find Vice President Mike Pence and execute him by hanging him from a Capitol Hill tree as a traitor. It was a common line being repeated. Many more were just talking about how the VP should be executed.”

Another Twitter user said — in a response to a post by far right news site Breitbart quoting Democrat Congressman Hakeem Jeffries demanding the removal of Trump — that a revolution could result in people like the congressman being executed.

Twitter boss Jack Dorsey also got the extremists’ treatment online after Trump was banned from the site. One user called for him to be dealt with in very graphic terms.

But Trump has also featured in memes and posts. A picture of him apparently posing with law enforcement was likened to a photo of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. It was suggested he should meet the same end.

If you think this is a phenomenon that has infected public discourse only in the US, think again. Telegram groups set up for those seeking to protest against the Victorian lockdown featured similar sentiments about political figures.

One poster said: “Hanging politicians from lamp posts outside parliament house will be all the rage I hear in 2021 and also a cultural thing.”

This kind of extremist talk is not without precedent, however, and features prominently in white supremacist hate literature. 

A 1978 white supremacist novel The Turner Diaries — written by William Luther Pierce and published under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald — featured a “Day of the Rope” concept for “race traitors” such as journalists and politicians to be executed after a white supremacist revolution.

It is a notion right-wing extremist groups, particularly those who urge race war, subscribe to even now.