The Mob That Stormed the Capitol vs. The Mob That Stormed Capital: Rioters vs. Redditors | Opinion

They exchanged ideas on social media. Put together their attack plan. Launched their assault. Their mob was overwhelming. They were relentless. They breached the usual guardrails which maintain order. They kept coming until the establishment was on their knees. Ultimately, they caused their foes to completely surrender under the intensity of their assault.

A brief description of the mob that breached the Capitol and took control of congressional chambers? No, not all. This is what happened when the investor crowd on Reddit entered the capital markets and broke the back of shorts in the stock of GameStop, driving it up by 2000 percent over the last month.

While it might seem a bit outlandish to compare the insurgent rioters that stormed Capitol Hill on January 6, to a mob of small investors who overwhelmed short sellers betting against the stock price of the store chain GameStop, there are some striking similarities. Both the window-breaking Capitol Hill rioters, and the norm-breaking GameStop investor "insurgents," were organized based on calls to action exchanged on social media: the rioters, largely through Facebook, Twitter and Parler; and the GameStop crowd on Reddit, thus known as Redditors. Both had a cause to take down the establishment—for the rioters, the likes of former Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and their congressional colleagues; and for the Redditors, the investment community establishment, specifically the hedge fund investors that specialize in short selling and who bet on a stock price going down, often themselves playing a role in driving a stock price decline.

Both the rioter camp and the Redditor camp believed in false narratives. In the case of the rioters, they believed in the Big Lie that Donald Trump was feeding, and that Capitol Hill Republicans were reinforcing: that the election had been stolen and Joe Biden had not been legitimately elected president of the United States.

In the case of those retail investors trying to drive the shorts to submission in GameStop, they believed that GameStop, despite its revenue declining and its losses mounting, was somehow worth vastly more money than the market valuation was giving the company. The rioters became so consumed with their cause that they were willing to violently break the law despite the whole case being based on false facts. In the case of the Redditors, they took the stock of GameStop from where it was in early January, at around $17 to almost $500 in about three weeks, on some totally unsupportable theory of GameStop's value and wreaked havoc on the hedge funds shorts as they intended.

There is no doubt that the Reddit investors, many of whom were sophisticated enough to use margin and call options to make their bets, were a whole lot smarter than the incredibly stupid Capitol Hill rioters who went well beyond advocating their views to engage in violence which led to murder and suicide. Yet, both brought the establishments they were after to their knees and caused them to flee—congressional members rushed off their chamber floors, and the shorts abandoned their bets against GameStop and closed out their positions with monstrous losses.

D.C. inauguration preparation
Razor wire is seen after being installed on the fence surrounding the grounds of the U.S. Capitol on January 15, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Samuel Corum/Getty Images

While there is no comparison between loss of life and loss of money, and no comparison between clearly breaking the law and citizens having the right to spend their money the way they want to even if it will inevitably lead to losses, both drove some immediate digital platform response. Most notably, in the case of Facebook and Twitter, former President Trump was banned from those platforms, and Amazon Web Services pulled the plug on Parler. In the case of the GameStop protagonists, limitations from the Robinhood stock trading platform and other trading services, and some moderation restrictions on Reddit, were imposed. Both these scenarios raise the critical question of what to do in terms of social media's role in amplifying misinformation and false narratives. However, these two scenarios present very different issues from a social media reform point of view.

One thing stands out in comparing and contrasting these events—Donald Trump's role in inciting the riotous mob to storm Capitol Hill was very clear. He was impeached, but probably will not be convicted in the Senate because of Republican cowardice in not taking on their constituents, who unbelievably still support Trump and what he stands for.

But imagine for a moment that the chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates stocks, had voiced strong support for how the Redditors were bidding up GameStop's stock to totally unsupportable levels. Further, imagine that the SEC chair had said that "only through strength" could you punish those short sellers in GameStop and gain the people's control of the stock market. In doing so, of course, he would have been provoking investors in a way that ultimately would create "carnage" among those retail investors left holding the bag as the stock price came crashing down, as it already considerably has. Further, contemplate that over the course of the trading session with the most pronounced rise in GameStop's stock price, that the SEC chair seeing full well how his words were infecting many other stocks, simply decided to do nothing and made no further pronouncement.

Does anybody for one second believe that under these circumstances the SEC chair would not have been immediately removed from office? Or if he refused to resign that he would not be immediately impeached and convicted by the Senate?

Now consider the case of Donald Trump. His involvement with developing and spreading the Big Lie was far more premeditated and developed over time than the hypothetical about the SEC chair just posed. And, yet in the latter case, we are only talking about the loss of money from investors who broke no laws. In the case of Trump, he not only created the false narrative, but his very words and actions led to criminal activity and horrendous violence and death that could have been much worse.

Just think about this little comparison when the senators supporting the Big Lie vote to acquit Donald Trump.

Tom Rogers is an editor-at-large for Newsweek, the founder of CNBC and a CNBC contributor. He also established MSNBC, is the former CEO of TiVo, currently executive chair of Engine Media and is former senior counsel to a congressional committee.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.