Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol: Planned online, broadcast online

The very platforms that that who stormed the US Capitol on January 6th used to plan their insurrection are now a treasure trove of evidence as federal agents round up the people who broke into and ransacked the building, in an effort to overturn an election.

On Saturday, Nov. 7th Dunnellon resident Kelly Meggs posted a video of himself in front of the traveling Vietnam Veterans War Memorial discussing the importance of history and freedom. Two days later, according to court documents, he was on Facebook asking if others would join him in “doing (expletive)” rather than just “talking on Facebook,” adding that those who were ready to “join the fight” should message him directly.

Meggs, the purported leader of the Florida Oath Keepers, a right-wing paramilitary group, was arrested on Feb. 17th and charged with three felonies, including conspiracy related to his posts and emails planning the trip to Washington, D.C., and even securing hotel rooms before the insurrection. He has pled not guilty to all charges but remains behind bars.

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“If anything happens — we get (expletive) up, arrested, or killed — just know I love you all and I did what I believed in,” said Michael Curzio of Marion County in a Facebook video posted before the riot. Curzio was subsequently arrested and charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building, along with three other charges.

“This is pretty much the way we’ve gotten used to communicating and getting our information it is also the way we get together in organized groups and movements,” says Dr. Bhaskar Chakravorti of The Fletcher School at Tufts University. “In many ways this is a steady evolution of the organizing of movements and protests or events which bring together large numbers of people, you’ve always relied on a medium to get the word out and back in the day you used to have to circulate pamphlets, these days the primary form in which we communicate is online.”

Well that online communication is capable of distributing information much more broadly and much faster than traditional methods, it also leaves behind a digital footprint which is evidence if a crime is committed. In fact, the FBI has an entire webpage dedicated to the videos, many taken by the insurrectionists themselves, to help track down suspects.

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“If a criminal is going to film his lawbreaking and he’s going to date and timestamp it and identify himself that’s going to save a lot of work‚” says former FBI agent Joe Judge. “Things have progressed so much now you don’t even have to have a tape you can put it on a thumb drive and identify a suspect.”

Security camera video coupled with videos posted to social media is how law enforcement identified Steve Maldonado of Palm Bay and Orange County’s Arthur Jackman, both of whom were photographed inside the Capitol.

“People need to share what they’re doing and when they share it they get likes,” says Dr. Chakravorti. “People crave affirmation and the fact that they’re getting attention from people they don’t even know but they consider these people their peers and their digital friends.”

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