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.
After insurrectionists crashed through barriers surrounding Capitol Hill, overwhelmed police, rampaged through the Capitol building, and left dozens injured and four dead, there were relatively few arrests, and many people were allowed to simply walk out. There were few consequences then — only about a dozen of the hundreds of invaders were arrested at the scene — but that’s very likely to change in the days and weeks to come. Law enforcement and civilians alike are attempting to identify those who allegedly participated. Thanks to the brazenness of many members of the mob, there’s plenty of evidence at their disposal.
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 be 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.
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.
Their arrests 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.”
“Let me assure the American people the FBI has deployed our full investigative resources and is working closely with our federal, state, and local partners to aggressively pursue those involved in criminal activity during the events of January 6,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement Thursday. “Make no mistake: With our partners, we will hold accountable those who participated in yesterday’s siege of the Capitol.”
The DC 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 already accumulated nearly 100,000 followers.
At least two participants have already been fired from their jobs: Goosehead Insurance confirmed Thursday on Twitter that Paul Davis, an associate general counsel at the company, was no longer employed there. Davis posted a video on Instagram from outside the Capitol in which he complained of being tear-gassed. Another man was wearing a clearly visible employee ID badge. He is no longer an employee; Navistar Direct Marketing fired him “after a review of photographic evidence.” Another former employer of the man, Glory Doughnuts, identified him as Nicholas Rodean on its Instagram account.
Tim Gionet, better known as alt-right white supremacist provocateur “Baked Alaska,” livestreamed his stroll through the Capitol building (and attempted to use a desk phone to call Trump) to thousands of followers on DLive, where he is a verified partner.
Two of the most prominently featured members of the mob — the shirtless man wearing facepaint and a furry horned hat and the man who put his feet up on a desk in Pelosi’s office — were identified within hours of the riot by press in their hometowns. The horned man is known as Jake Angeli, of Arizona, a QAnon supporter and right-wing rally fixture whose costume made him easily recognizable. Richard “Bigo” Barnett, of Arkansas, was quickly identified by his local news station as the man in Pelosi’s office. He later bragged to the New York Times that his time inside Pelosi’s office included “scratch[ing] his balls” and taking an envelope, for which he said he paid a quarter.
Another befurred pro-Trump rioter was identified as the son of a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge. Aaron Mostofsky was photographed wearing multiple fur pelts, a vest that said “police” on it, and carrying a police riot shield as well as a large stick.
Former and current local politicians also broadcast their presence at the scene. Connecticut’s Joe Visconti, who ran for governor in 2014, tweeted an image of himself on the Capitol stairs next to graffiti that said “our house” and made sure to tag local publications to alert them of his actions. Former Pennsylvania state representative Rick Saccone boasted on Facebook that he was “storming the capitol” and “our vanguard has broken through the barricades.”
And Derrick Evans, a freshly sworn-in Republican member of West Virginia’s House of Delegates, livestreamed himself entering the Capitol building. (He has since deleted that footage and now claims he was there as an independent member of the media.) West Virginia House Speaker Roger Hanshaw said in a statement that he will “evaluate all the potential consequences once the totality of the situation is understood.”
Finally, the much-circulated photo of a cheerful and waving bearded man walking through the Capitol with the speaker’s podium has been identified by the Bradenton Herald as Florida man Adam Johnson (not “Via Getty”).
Law enforcement has been happy to make use of social media and internet activities to track down alleged criminals in the past. Social media feeds and livestreams led to the arrest of protesters in Portland last July, and the FBI used Instagram, LinkedIn, Etsy, and Poshmark to identify a Philadelphia woman who allegedly set two police cars on fire during the George Floyd protests last June. Arguably, if law enforcement had previously paid this much attention to social media, where Trump fans were openly organizing ahead of the insurrection on Capitol Hill, they would have been better prepared for the riot that followed — and perhaps may have prevented it from happening at all.
So far, none of the Capitol building rioters have been arrested aside from the 14 who were taken into custody on the scene. With seemingly everyone very motivated to hold them accountable — and many of the alleged rioters already identified — expect that number to increase very soon. Acting US Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin said on Thursday afternoon that 55 cases had been filed relating to the riot.
“This is just the beginning,” he said.