stringer bell rule —
You don’t need fancy technology to identify folks who livestream their crimes.
Law enforcement agencies trying to track down insurrectionists who participated in yesterday’s events at the US Capitol have a wide array of tools at their disposal thanks to the ubiquity of cameras and social media.
Both local police and the FBI are seeking information about individuals who were “actively instigating violence” in Washington, DC, on January 6. While media organizations took thousands of photos police can use, they also have more advanced technologies at their disposal to identify participants, following what several other agencies have done in recent months.
Several police departments, such as Miami, Philadelphia, and New York City, turned to facial recognition platforms—including the highly controversial Clearview AI—during the widespread summer 2020 demonstrations against police brutality and in support of Black communities. In Philadelphia, for example, police used software to compare protest footage against Instagram photos to identify and arrest a protestor. In November, The Washington Post reported that investigators from 14 local and federal agencies in the DC area have used a powerful facial recognition system more than 12,000 times since 2019.
Neither would an agency need actual photos or footage to track down any mob participant who was carrying a mobile phone. Law enforcement agencies have also developed a habit in recent years of using so-called geofence warrants to compel companies such as Google to provide lists of all mobile devices that appeared within a certain geographic area during a given time frame.
In addition to law enforcement, other groups have also acquired location data from demonstrations to target participants in those events. One political action group that acquires and uses such data told The Wall Street Journal back in June that the information was “deeply spooky yet extremely helpful” for later delivering targeted advertising to people who were near political events.
With all of that said, however, the DC Metropolitan Police and the FBI will probably need to look no further than a cursory Google search to identify many of the leaders of Wednesday’s insurrection, as many of them took to social media both before and after the event to brag about it in detail. In short: you don’t need fancy facial recognition tools to identify people who livestream their crimes.
Back on December 22, The Washington Post reported that organizers planning to rally on January 6 were openly discussing the potential for violence on that day on multiple social media platforms, including Parler, Gab, and Telegram. Reporter Marissa Lang continued in several subsequent stories to explain the high potential for violence at yesterday’s events. Several other outlets, including Bloomberg and BuzzFeed, have also reported that the extremists who stormed the Capitol had been planning well in advance not only on fringe or explicitly right-wing sites but also in Facebook groups.
These extremely public plans also make for extremely public “paper” trails for any law enforcement agencies now interested in tracking down the participants. Several suspects have already been very easily identified.
The shirtless fellow with the furred, horned helmet, for example, is Jake Angeli, an extremely well-known Arizona man who has given multiple media interviews about his pro-Trump views. Another man seen near Angeli in several photos wore his work ID badge as he broke into the Capitol; his employer has already confirmed that he has been fired.
Local media outlets around the country have easily identified several other participants, including Adam Christian Johnson, the Florida man who grinned and waved to the camera after he stole the lectern from the House floor. Arkansas resident Richard Barnett, the man who put his feet up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) desk to pose for a photo before stealing a piece of her mail, gave an interview to his local CBS affiliate about his participation in the mob.
West Virginia state legislator Derrick Evans used Facebook to livestream himself storming the Capitol as part of the mob, as did well-known white nationalist personality Tim Gionet (also known as Baked Alaska).
Although Evans later deleted the video, that won’t help him: not only are Facebook and other platforms subject to subpoenas and search warrants, but individuals and groups have been making plentiful copies and backups to preserve evidence.