When images of pro-Trump rioters storming the Capitol flooded global media last week, it was so shocking that most people didn’t stop to wonder where the tens of thousands of people in the mob actually came from… or where they were staying.
It turns out that – unsurprisingly – many weren’t local residents of Washington DC, which has a population of just under 700,000 and voted overwhelmingly against Trump in the presidential election, with Joe Biden receiving 93 per cent of the vote.
In fact it seems a number of those taking part may have used Airbnb to find a local place to stay, some under false pretences, leaving hosts uncomfortable and fearful for their safety.
One such host, who wanted to be identified only as “Paul”, spoke to Intelligencer about his experience, explaining how he was originally led to believe that his guests were simply visiting DC for a holiday.
But when he spotted his guests heading out to the “Stop the Steal” march on his security camera, Paul said he suddenly thought: “Oh f***, I’ve got a problem,” and said his “stomach dropped” at the realisation.
His first port of call was to contact Airbnb, but according to his account, this was largely unsuccessful. Paul then decided to leave his home and stay with a friend, fearing for his safety. When he returned home he found nothing out of place, and had it not been for their participation in the insurrection, they would have been perfect guests.
He did leave them a review though, explaining the situation. He wrote:
“When Melissa booked my Airbnb, she claimed it was for a ‘history sight seeing trip’ but instead she and her guests made history by participating in the most horrific attack on our democracy at the Capitol building on January 6, 2021. She and her guests returned after the riot and bragged in front of my house, captured on my Ring doorbell, ‘I was there … I didn’t want to get involved as much as I did but to be honest they deserved it.’ A Capitol Police officer was murdered and four of the rioters lost their lives. I wouldn’t recommend renting to Melissa.”
Intelligencer also spoke to Eric, another Airbnb host in the area. Eric thought he was renting his property out to a journalist named Lindsay, but instead two men showed up at his door. With Biden signs in his yard and a three-year-old at home, Eric was worried for his safety and that of his family.
He explained his dilemma about whether to report the fake profile or not:
“It was a question of, ‘Do you poke the bear, or do you not poke the bear?' It’s not like an Uber where when they drive away, you’ll likely never see that person again. With Airbnb, they know where you live.”
Following the riot, local groups in the area were reportedly “filled with reports of terrorised residents”, and they are concerned that something similar might happen on 20 January for the inauguration.
As a result of these fears, Airbnb announced it will be cancelling all reservations in the DC area for the entire week. In a statement, Airbnb said: “As we’ve learned through media or law enforcement sources the names of individuals confirmed to have been responsible for the violent criminal activity at the United States Capitol on January 6, we’ve investigated whether the named individuals have an account on Airbnb.
"Through this work, we have identified numerous individuals who are either associated with known hate groups or otherwise involved in the criminal activity at the Capitol Building, and they have been banned from Airbnb’s platform.”
Local residents are now trying to ensure other short-term letting companies commit to doing something similar.