Facebook is the social media platform most often cited by law enforcement as evidence in 160-plus sworn affidavits justifying criminal cases against the Jan. 6 invaders of the U.S. Capitol, according to an analysis by The Washington Times.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat and chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, wrote a letter to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray demanding that the bureau also investigate Parler, a platform that caters to conservatives, for any role it played in promoting the riot.
Ms. Maloney’s letter does not mention any other social media networking sites. Republicans say all such platforms should be reviewed.
Trump-supporting rioters did make use of Parler on Jan. 6, as seen in videos retrieved by an online researcher.
Facebook sprang into corrective action as police were clearing the Capitol that day. The corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, California, said it immediately began removing content that encouraged or praised the storming and weapons possession.
“At this point they represent promotion of criminal activity which violates our policies,” Facebook said.
Parler is a now dark-blogging platform popular with conservatives as an alternative to Twitter.
Five days after Jan. 6, tech giants Apple and Google refused to provide the Parler app, and then Amazon shut off its internet service, citing violence-promoting content.
The mob assaulted the Capitol after President Trump claimed again at a rally that massive fraud had tipped the election to Joseph R. Biden. At 2 p.m. that day, Trump supporters began breaking through barricades and flooding the halls of Congress. They assaulted police, trashed offices and shouted threats. Their aim was to stop a joint session from confirming the Electoral College vote.
To identify lawbreakers, the FBI, U.S. Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police Department turned to social media. The most cited in affidavits justifying arrests is Facebook.
The Washington Times’ analysis shows that law enforcement filed more than 160 sworn affidavits about the Capitol riot in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Of those affidavits, at least 93 contain references as evidence to rioters’ social media photos, livestreaming, videos, chats and messages.
According to The Times’ analysis, Facebook is cited for 69 defendants, Twitter for 18 defendants, Instagram for 12, Parler for five and a smattering of other platforms. This is not a comprehensive list of all platforms or the frequency of use. It examines only a growing list of Justice Department affidavits.
Why so few Parler citations by law enforcement? Launched in 2018, Parler disappeared five days after the Capitol incursions, presumedly making its uploads more difficult to obtain. FBI tipsters perhaps were geared to searching the more popular and established platform Facebook for screen grabs.
Since Parler went silent, Twitter user “crash override” (@donk_enby) obtained hundreds of Parler-posted videos and blogs uploaded by “Stop the Steal” rallygoers.
The ProPublica news website gained access to Parler posts and whittled the cache down to 500 videos from inside and around the Capitol for a Jan. 17 report.
It is clear that Parler users invaded the building and made threats. That means the posts would be evidence for criminal charges if the agitators can be identified.
ProPublica quoted one blog: “They’re firing their tear gas at us, the flash-bang grenades, but there’s nothing they can do. And we said, screw it, you’ve only got so much tear gas. They shot it all and now look, we took it over. This is our house. This is not their house.”
One invader picked up a hallway phone. “Can I speak with [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi? Yeah, we’re coming for you, bitch. [Vice President] Mike Pence? We’re coming for you too, f——— traitor.”
Mr. Pence had refused Mr. Trump’s Twitter campaign to send election results back to the states. The vice president, who presided over the joint session of Congress, said he lacked authority. Mr. Trump tweeted at 2:24 p.m. that he wished Mr. Pence had shown more “courage.”
In her Jan. 21 letter to the FBI’s Mr. Wray, Ms. Maloney said: “Given these concerns, we ask that the FBI undertake a robust review of the role played by Parler in the January 6 attacks, including (1) as a potential facilitator of planning and incitement related to the attacks, (2) as a repository of key evidence posted by users on its site, and (3) as potential conduit for foreign governments who may be financing civil unrest in the United States.”
Many Trump supporters were active on Facebook that day. Here is a sample of their posts before, during and after the incursion, based on court affidavits:
⦁ Militia member Thomas E. Caldwell posted a message and video: “Us storming the castle. Please share. … I am such an instigator.” He and fellow Oath Keepers Jessica Watkins, who said she commands the Ohio Regular Militia, and Donovan Crowl, used Facebook to plan for Jan. 6.
“Records obtained from Facebook indicate that Caldwell was involved in planning and coordinating the January 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol in which Watkins, Crowl and other Oath Keeper militia members participated,” says the FBI affidavit against them.
⦁ Samuel Camargo of Florida posted a photo showing him grabbing a door at the Capitol. “Got some memorability,” he wrote.
⦁ Mathew Capsel posted video on his “Mateo Q Capsel” webpage about his Capitol invasion.
⦁ Cody Connell posted a photo of himself inside the building. “I have more videos of us breaching the Capitol but not gonna post them. We will be back and it will be a lot worse than yesterday!” he wrote.
⦁ Michael Shane Daughtry of Georgia posted, “We the one that tore the fence down up there. We was the first ones over the fence. Everybody followed us.”
⦁ Karl Dresch used Facebook to plan for Jan. 6. His post “equated the planned events for January 6 2021 with the historical events on July 4, 1776.” On Jan. 3, he posted: “NO EXCUSES! NO RETREAT! NO SURRENDER! TAKE THE STREETS! TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY!”
⦁ Elaine Ehrke posted a video of her invasion: “We made it inside right before they shoved us all out. I took off when I felt pepper spray in my throat! Lol.”
⦁ Derrick Evans, newly elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates, livestreamed his actions. “Our house. Our house,” he chanted.
Mr. Evans had posted on Dec. 31: “A STORM IS COMING … AND THERE IS NOTHING THE LEFT CAN DO TO STOP IT.”
⦁ Brandon C. Fellows of Albany, New York, posted: “We took the Capitol and it was glorious,” and “Oh I saw the fear and they know many of us had guns at our hotel rooms. … We just aren’t pissed enough to kill the police or military.”
⦁ Samuel Fisher posted on Dec. 3: “We must stand up to these people and take our world back” and “It’s time to bring the pain upon them.”
⦁ Jacob Fracker, a police officer from Rocky Mount, Virginia, posted: “Lol to anyone who’s possibly concerned about the picture of me going around. … Sorry I hate freedom. … Not like I did anything illegal.”
⦁ Gabriel A. Garcia, a former Army captain, uploaded videos. “We just went ahead and stormed the Capitol. It’s about to get ugly,” he wrote.
⦁ Henry R. Muntzer posted a video inside the Capitol. “Stormed the Capitol in Washington DC we were able to push through the capitol police and enter several chambers. I did not see anyone get hurt other than tear gas and pepper spray and I got sprayed a lot. We sent the message that we are not going to take it, we want our country back,” he said.
⦁ Couy Griffin of New Mexico, founder of Cowboys for Trump, posted a video on the group’s Facebook page. He said he “climbed up on the top of the Capitol building.”
Mr. Griffin said he planned to return for the Jan. 20 inauguration: “You want to say that that was a mob? You want to say that was violence? No sir. No Ma’am. No we could have a 2nd Amendment rally on those same steps that we had that rally yesterday. You know, and if we do, then it’s gonna be a sad day, because there’s gonna be blood running out of that building.”
News media stories said Proud Boys, a violent hard-right group, organized for Jan. 6 on Parler. Here are Parler posts used by law enforcement as affidavit evidence:
⦁ Militia leader Jessica Watkins, a so-called Oath Keeper, posted photos. On violence, she said: “Nope. Forced. Like Rugby. We entered through the back door of the Capitol.”
⦁ Troy A. Smocks of Texas posted a day later: “So over the next 24 hours, I would say lets get our personal affairs in order. Prepare our weapons, and then go get’ em. Lets hunt these cowards down like the Traitors that each of them are.”
The Smocks affidavit by a D.C. police detective described Parler: “User of the Parler service communicated with each other through various means, including by writing and publishing posts on the service. Parler had a significant user base of right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists, and posts on the service often contained far-right wing content, anti-Semitic remarks, violent rhetoric, and conspiracy theories such as those espoused by QAnon.”
⦁ Proud Boys organizer Joseph R. Biggs said, “We will not be attending DC in colors. We will be blending in as one of you. You won’t see us.”
Proud Boys wore earpieces and carried walkie-talkies, the affidavit said.
⦁ William M. Calhoun of Georgia posted a message on Jan. 5: “Headed to D.C. to give the GOP some back bone — to let them know this is their last chance to Stop The Steal — or they are going to have bigger problems than these coddled Antifa burning down their safe spaces. DC announced it is ‘banning guns’ when we storm the Capitol tomorrow. Very illegal.”
Ms. Maloney’s letter to the FBI director cited media reports that said Parler had become a planning center for potential violence on Jan. 6. She suggested that Russia influenced Parler messages, noting that the wife of the social network’s founder, John Matze, is Russian.
Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, responded with a tweet: “Democrats are targeting conservatives and wish to shield Facebook & Twitter from any scrutiny. To understand the Capitol attacks, the @FBI must look at ALL tech platforms and the role social media played leading up to the riots.”
Conservatives view Facebook and Twitter as Democratic supporters more willing to censor the right than the left. According to the research group OpenSecrets.org. Facebook employees donated $7.6 million to Democrats for the 2020 elections, compared with $749,000 to Republicans.
Facebook did not respond to a Washington Times press query. It posted a lengthy statement explaining steps to counter the rioters.
“We are appalled by the violence at the Capitol today,” two Facebook executives said. “We are treating these events as an emergency. Our Elections Operations Center has already been active in anticipation of the Georgia elections [Jan. 5] and the vote by Congress to certify the election, and we are monitoring activity on our platform in real time.”
They listed five criteria for removing content that included “praise and support of the storming of the U.S. Capitol”; “incitement or encouragement of the events at the Capitol, including videos and photos from the protesters”; and “attempt to restate violence tomorrow or in the coming days.”
As part of its countermoves, Facebook removed Mr. Trump’s page, including a video on the violence in which he again stated his belief that the election was rigged. Twitter also de-platformed Mr. Trump.
Facebook said: “In recent days and weeks, we have also taken enforcement action consistent with our policy banning militarized social movements like the Oath Keepers and the violence-inducing conspiracy theory QAnon. We’ve also continued to enforce our ban on hate groups including the Proud Boys and many others. We’ve already removed over 600 militarized social movements from our platform.”
The FBI worked around the Facebook removals in two major ways: Tipsters provided screenshots of insurgents’ posts before they disappeared, and agents subpoenaed Facebook to obtain account information.
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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