PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The head of the Rhode Island GOP is distancing the party from a Parler.com account set up under its name that promoted false claims about the presidential election.
Rhode Island Republican Party Chair Sue Cienki on Monday told Target 12 she doesn’t know who set up the account — labeled “RI Republican Party” — and that it doesn’t belong to the party. The account was created the same day Twitter permanently banned President Trump, a move that spurred many of his followers to announce they were leaving the more mainstream platform out of protest.
Many turned to Parler, a social media website favored by conservatives, which has since been booted from Amazon Web Services – rendering it virtually homeless. The website has been criticized for encouraging violence and helping demonstrators organize last week’s riot at the U.S. Capitol that resulted in five people dying.
“It isn’t our account,” Cienki wrote in an email. “Doing some investigation and trying to find out.”
The account, which had the same avatar, banner photo and handle as the party’s @RhodeIslandGOP Twitter account, described itself as the “Official Parler feed of the RI Republican Party,” and it posted several “Parleys” (equivalent to tweets on Twitter) before the website was shut down.
“The Rhode Island GOP supports our rightfully elected President through these repeatedly anti-democratic attacks on our freedoms,” the account said, followed by the hashtag “trump.”
In another instance, the account “Echoed” (equivalent to a retweet) a second user who called for followers to “Echo if you believe this was a RIGGED ELECTION!” The account also Echoed a third user, with the username @RIRepublicans, saying “it is now Republicans vs Socialists. The Democratic Party is dead.”
The user with the handle @RIRepublicans claimed no affiliation with the state’s Republican Party.
Cienki has publicly denounced the attack on the Capitol, saying she supports peaceful protests and the protection of civil liberties but does not stand by people who stormed the building, broke the law and committed violence.
“We condemn it,” Cienki said during a WPRO radio interview Tuesday. “Any illegal activities that took place, those people should be prosecuted fully to the extent of the law.”
Parler on Monday sued Amazon for booting it from its services, claiming the website was targeted for political and competitive reasons. The social media website has marketed itself as a platform that does not limit free speech, unlike companies such as Twitter and Facebook.
The commitment to free speech has earned it popularity among some conservatives who accuse tech giants of supporting the Democratic Party and its political agenda.
But Parler and similar platforms, such as Gab.com, have also created a safe haven for political extremism, anti-Semitism and the dissemination of various conspiracy theories, including QAnon, a baseless idea that Satan-worshiping pedophiles run a global child sex-trafficking network that’s plotting against Trump.
There are multiple QAnon groups with tens of thousands of members on Gab, and many of the rioters who stormed the Capitol last week were wearing QAnon clothing and sharing related conspiracy theories.
It remains unclear how and when Parler might start operating again, meaning posts are gone for now. Researchers have announced they successfully scraped and archived Parler posts, photos and some location data before the website was shut down, which could offer more clues about who was behind the account.
Cienki, who said she would look into the account’s origins, was surprised when told it had been promoting disproven claims about the election.
“Wow,” she said. “Now I really have to see who took over [the] account.”