US Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has claimed tens of thousands of followers disappearing from conservatives' Twitter accounts are "neo-Nazis" purged by the social media site.
Democrat congresswoman AOC responded on Sunday to a tweet from former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, who complained that more than 50,000 of her Twitter followers had disappeared that week.
The New York House Representative suggested the lost followers were far-right putschists whose accounts had been "taken down" by Twitter following Wednesday's protest in Washington DC against Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden's confirmation as president-elect by Congress.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 10, 2021
President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign advisor and author George Papadopoulos said he had lost 70,000 of his followers in the "purge".
— George Papadopoulos (@GeorgePapa19) January 10, 2021
Fellow Democrat Congressman Don Beyer of West Virginia claimed the protesters were "terrorists" bent on killing Vice-President Mike Pence and Democrat House leader Nancy Pelosi, suggesting any Twitter purge of conservative accounts was inconsequential by comparison.
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) January 10, 2021
Biden himself called the protesters "thugs, insurrectionists, white supremacists, anti-Semites" and "domestic terrorists" on Friday, demanding they be prosecuted.
The existence of tens of thousands of neo-Nazis in the US is questionable, however. A 2016 report for the Anti-Defamation League, which combats anti-Semitism, estimated that the once-mighty Ku Klux Klan was reduced to only around 3,000 members among a population of 300 million — an average of 60 per state. The August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — considered to be the largest far-right event in the US in recent times — only attracted some 500 attendees.
All Senate and House members, along with Pence, were evacuated to secure locations on Wednesday afternoon after police apparently let protesters through their security cordon to enter the Capitol building.
One protester, 35-year-old US Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt, was shot by Capitol police while trying to enter the Congress chamber and died in hospital. Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was part of the riot cordon around the building and an Air National Guard veteran, died later. His family said the cause of his death was still uncertain. But authorities were reportedly treating it as homicide.
So far three men have been charged over the incident, all for minor theft and public order offences.
Twitter suspended Trump's account following the Capitol incident, claiming he was using the "platform" to incite violence despite his repeated tweets on Wednesday telling protesters to co-operate with police and go home.
But US conservative politicians were not the only Twitter users to see followers disappear. British broadcaster and former Labour and Respect Party MP George Galloway tweeted on Sunday that he had lost 600 followers in a day, asking: "Did I say something wrong?"
— George Galloway (@georgegalloway) January 10, 2021
One user replied that she had been removed from Galloway's list of followers without her consent or knowledge.
— Gillian Radcliffe (@gillradcliffe) January 10, 2021
Author and filmmaker Mike Cernovich took a more cynical view of Twitter's apparent actions to restrict the reach of some users' posts.
— Cerno (@Cernovich) January 10, 2021