The Capitol rioters put themselves all over social media. Now they’re getting arrested. How law enforcement and internet detectives are identifying the Capitol rioters.
Capitol Police may have allowed nearly every member of a mob of pro-Trump rioters to enter, vandalize, and leave the Capitol building scot-free, but internet sleuths and official investigators are determined to hold them accountable. The reckoning is underway: Several people have now been charged with riot-related crimes, and law enforcement officials promise more charges are to come.
There were few immediate consequences for the riots that left dozens injured and five dead; only about a dozen of the hundreds of invaders were arrested at the scene. In the days that followed, however, law enforcement and civilians alike have doggedly attempted to identify those who participated. Due to the brazenness of many members of the mob, investigators have plenty of evidence. The result: As of January 19, more than 100 people have been arrested for the Capitol riots, and their social media posts are often cited in the complaints against them.
Many participants willingly — and quite happily — posed for photos and videos at the scene, or boasted of their exploits on social media and verified livestream accounts during or shortly after the melee, even though many of their actions may well constitute serious crimes. Apparently believing they weren’t doing anything wrong, or that law enforcement wouldn’t go after them for their actions, the Trump supporters paraded in front of cameras wearing distinct (and thus easily recognizable) costumes and, in some cases, even ID badges.
One notably befurred pro-Trump rioter was identified as the son of a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge. Aaron Mostofsky, who was photographed wearing multiple fur pelts and a vest that said “police” on it, and carrying a police riot shield as well as a large stick, was hard to miss.
Tim Gionet, better known as the alt-right white supremacist provocateur “Baked Alaska,” even livestreamed his stroll through the Capitol building (and his attempt to use a desk phone to call Trump) to thousands of followers on DLive, where he is a verified partner.
In short, those who stormed the Capitol didn’t leave social media breadcrumbs for law enforcement to follow to their front doors — they left entire loaves of bread.
Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were used to identify and arrest alleged rioters
Several alleged rioters have been arrested in the days following the insurrection, and the arrests of many more are likely imminent. The FBI is calling for “tips and digital media depicting rioting and violence in the U.S. Capitol Building and surrounding area in Washington, D.C.”
“Make no mistake: With our partners, we will hold accountable those who participated in yesterday’s siege of the Capitol,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement Thursday.
DC’s Metropolitan Police Department has also requested “assistance in identifying persons of interest responsible for unlawful entry offenses,” posting on its website a series of photos showing rioters inside and around the Capitol building. One person who brazenly held pieces of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s door aloft is suspected of “receiving stolen property,” while another who was photographed vaping while seated behind a desk and using a phone is suspected of “unlawful entry.”
And social media detectives — who deservedly don’t have the best reputation for tracking down potential criminals — are also on the case. An Instagram account dedicated to identifying and naming members of the mob has accumulated hundreds of thousands of followers. A cybersecurity and disinformation researcher gained tens of thousands of followers during his crowdsourced quest to identify two people wearing military-style gear in the Senate chamber.