Parler Users Breached Deep Inside U.S. Capitol Building, GPS Data Shows

Illustration for article titled Parler Users Breached Deep Inside U.S. Capitol Building, GPS Data Shows

Graphic: Dhruv Mehrota / Gizmodo

At least several users of the far-right social network Parler appear to be among the horde of rioters that managed to penetrate deep inside the U.S. Capitol building and into areas normally restricted to the public, according to GPS metadata linked to videos posted to the platform the day of the insurrection in Washington.

The data, obtained by a computer hacker through legal means ahead of Parler’s shutdown on Monday, offers a bird’s eye view of its users swarming the Capitol grounds after receiving encouragement from President Trump — and during a violent breach that sent lawmakers and Capitol Hill visitors scrambling amid gunshots and calls for their death. GPS coordinates taken from 618 Parler videos analyzed by Gizmodo has already been sought after by FBI as part of a sweeping nationwide search for potential suspects, at least 20 of whom are already in custody.

The siege on January 6, which lasted approximately two hours, resulted in five deaths, including that of a Capitol police officer whom authorities say was bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher and later succumbed to his injuries. Windows were smashed, tables overturned, and graffiti scrawled and scratched into the walls of the 220-year-old building—some calling for the murders of journalists sheltering in place nearby.


Illustration for article titled Parler Users Breached Deep Inside U.S. Capitol Building, GPS Data Shows

Graphic: Dhruv Mehrota / Gizmodo

Gizmodo has mapped nearly 70,000 geo-located Parler posts and on Tuesday isolated hundreds published on January 6 near the Capitol where a mob of pro-Trump supporters had hoped to overturn a democratic election and keep their president in power. The data shows Parler users posting all throughout the day, documenting their march from the National Mall to Capitol Hill where the violent insurrection ensued.

The precise locations of Parler users inside the building can be difficult to place. The coordinates do not reveal which floors they are on, for instance. Moreover, the data only includes Parler users who posted videos taken on January 6. And the coordinates themselves are only accurate up to an approximate distance of 12 yards (11 meters).

The red dot just south of the Capitol Rotunda’s center on the map above is linked to a video Gizmodo verified that shows rioters in red MAGA hats shouting obscenities about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose office is a short walk to the west. But other dots nearby could indicate videos captured in adjacent offices, stairwells, or hallways leading toward the House and Senate chambers. A second video successfully linked to the Parler data belongs to a rioter who filmed a mob in the Rotunda chanting, “Whose House? Our House?” (while facing the Senate side of the building).


Other coordinates pulled from Parler point to users roaming the north side of the building near the Senate chamber, either near leadership offices or the press gallery, depending on which floor they were on.

Moments before the siege, Vice President Mike Pence was presiding over a debate to certify the vote entangled by the baseless allegations of election fraud endorsed by his Republican colleagues. Reporters observed from the gallery. Sen. Ted Cruz, who had for weeks amplified false claims of a stolen election, was seemingly oblivious to the violence outside as he stood to argue against certifying Arizona’s electoral votes.


A map created using Parler GPS data shows a flood of protesters leaving the National Mall after a speech by President Donald Trump and heading toward the U.S. Capitol building where a riot ensued.

A map created using Parler GPS data shows a flood of protesters leaving the National Mall after a speech by President Donald Trump and heading toward the U.S. Capitol building where a riot ensued.
Graphic: Dhruv Mehrota / Gizmodo

Other location data from outside the Capitol follows the precise route the crowd took from the National Mall shortly after a speech by President Trump, in which he urged his supporters to “fight like hell,” saying they could not “take back [their] country with weakness.”


The FBI did not respond to a request for comment; however, Bureau investigators have already expressed an interest in examining Parler’s GPS data, according to a source with knowledge of the effort.

The Parler data was first obtained by a hacker identified by her Twitter handle, @donk_enby, as reported by Gizmodo on Monday.


In an interview Monday, @donk_enby said she began to archive posts from Parler the day of the siege, documenting what she described as “very incriminating” evidence linked to a mob of Parler users on the Hill. When it later became clear that Amazon intended to expel the app from its servers, she expanded her efforts to vacuum up the entirety of its content.

According to @donk_enby, more than 99% of all Parler posts, including millions of videos bearing the locations of users, were saved. Unlike most of its competitors, Parler apparently had no mechanism in place to strip sensitive metadata from its users’ videos prior to posting them online.


Authorities have launched sprawling investigations across the country to locate suspects who took part in the siege, including a man photographed in a grey hoodie suspected of placing explosive devices outside the offices of the Republican and Democratic National Committees. Among the twenty arrests so far, a Colorado man who allegedly brought guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition with him to Washington, saying he wanted to murder Pelosi.

Two Capitol police officers were suspended on Monday, including one who took selfies with rioters inside the Capitol building and another who reportedly donned a MAGA hat while directing them around the building.


Parler’s Implosion, Explained

This illustration picture shows social media application logo from Parler displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia on July 2, 2020

This illustration picture shows social media application logo from Parler displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia on July 2, 2020
Photo: Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images (Getty Images)

Parler, which rose to prominence as the “conservative Twitter” thanks to its lax content moderation, is having one of the worst weeks of its existence—indeed, after the time it’s had, Parler may cease to exist at all.

Like an old-world pariah cast out of its village for various social crimes, the app was driven literally off the internet over the weekend, as Google, Amazon, and Apple all banned the app from their platforms. It was a whiplash-inducing turn of events for a company that, until this weekend, was one of the fastest-growing apps on the internet.

So what has Parler been accused of, exactly?


According to a sea of critics, the platform served to enable the violent, pro-Trump melee at the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday that ended with five people dead and untold damage to federal property. Indeed, screenshots of apparent Parler user accounts appear to show rampant violent ideations in the run-up to the Capitol siege: Users mention bringing zipties to bind “Antifa,” arming themselves with firearms, and stabbing people with ice-picks, among other horrors.

Google, Amazon, and Apple used similar justifications for banning Parler: A sufficient content moderation policy was not put in place to stem the tide of violent content on its site.

The first cancellation came Friday, days after the Capitol chaos, when Google announced it would be suspending Parler from the Google Play store until the company “committed to a moderation and enforcement policy” that could cut down on the allegedly violence-inducing posts hosted on its platform. Around the same time, Parler saw a huge spike in traffic on other digital distribution platforms, temporarily becoming the number one app in Apple’s app store as conservative users flocked to the service. (Its global install rate reportedly rose some 281% on Friday). Yet Parler’s glory was short-lived. By Saturday night, Apple had booted Parler from the App Store. And at 11:59 p.m. PST on Sunday, Amazon yanked the social network from its hosting service, effectively kicking it offline on the grounds that it posed “a very real risk to public safety.”

The end result of this de-platforming gamut was the company’s total exile from the web. Parler lashed out Monday, announcing a lawsuit against Amazon for alleged antitrust infractions and accusing the tech giant of using its influence to “kill” its business at the “very time it is set to skyrocket.”


Whether Parler did play an inordinate role in fueling the Capitol crisis could become more clear in the weeks to come. Though the app is currently down, a hacker claims they downloaded almost all of the content on the platform before it was shoved offline on Sunday night. The millions of photos, videos, and posts could be of interest to law enforcement agencies as they seek to investigate those responsible for the violent storming of the Capitol Building.

Parler executives are naturally refuting the view that the company was the sole instigator behind the violence last week. The company’s chief policy officer, Amy Peikoff, told Fox and Friends Weekend that she felt Parler had been “singled out,” and that they had potentially been “set up.”


“We’re not necessarily being singled out by those tech companies, but certainly by the people who have been putting pressure on them and, in fact, we think we’re being set up in a lot of ways because in looking at some of the content, these are accounts that have been created two days ago and they have few pieces of content and some of them are parodies of what you would think a right-wing insider of violence would be,” Peikoff added.

This argument isn’t wholly without merit, considering Twitter and Facebook are hardly bastions of non-violent rhetoric and both surely acted as platforms for coordination in the lead-up to Wednesday’s attack. The (questionable) Parler lawsuit also points this out, noting that one of the top trending tweets on Twitter as of Friday night was “Hang Mike Pence.” (Twitter did eventually step in and block that hashtag). On the other hand, both Facebook and Twitter have established content moderation policies that the companies ostensibly try to uphold.


Parler launched in late 2018, branded as a rightwing “antidote” to the perceived liberal-dominated social media networks like Twitter and Facebook. It always had conservative foundations: It was co-founded and received healthy funding doses from Rebekah Mercer, whose hedge fund managing father, Bob Mercer, controversially bankrolled Cambridge-Analytica, the political consulting firm that infamously helped Donald Trump win the presidency via shady targeted advertising practices and famously caused a nightmare for Facebook.

At the time of the app’s launch, daughter Mercer hoped Parler would be “a beacon to all who value their liberty, free speech, and personal privacy” against the “ever-increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords.” Clearly, that isn’t working out too well.


Parler Sues Amazon Over Supposed Antitrust Violation

Illustration for article titled Parler Sues Amazon Over Supposed Antitrust Violation

Photo: Hollie Adams (Getty Images)

Parler is now suing Amazon after the company—along with fellow tech giants Apple and Google—refused to continue hosting the “free speech” platform in the wake of last week’s violent rush on the U.S. Capitol.

This news comes after Amazon gave Parler about a day’s notice that it would be booted from its web hosting service—Amazon Web Services—by midnight this past Sunday. In an email from the AWS Trust and Safety team that Buzzfeed News managed to obtain, the company explained that it had seen “a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms,” and that it “cannot provide services to a customer that is unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence against others.” (In response, Parler CEO John Matze announced in a Fox News interview that the site could be down “for a while.”)

In the suit, Parler supports its grand claims of an antitrust violation with, well, not a whole lot. For starters, it claims Amazon is in breach of contract for failing to provide 30 days’ notice before pulling the plug. This is, at best, a willful misreading of AWS’s terms, which are publicly available, and which give Amazon the option to revoke service at any time without notice if “you are, or any End User is, in breach of this Agreement.” Must have missed that section of the contract before escalating thing to Washington’s Western District Court. Whoops!


More puzzling, the suit claims Amazon didn’t boot Parler for its role in the Capitol riots that left five people dead, the various unmoderated posts which threatened violence ahead of that event, or the even more rampant threats that proliferated on the site afterwards. No, instead, the primary purpose, according to Parler, was because Parler was gaining too much of an edge on Twitter. As the docket reads:

When Twitter announced two evenings ago that it was permanently banning President Trump from its platform, conservative users began to flee Twitter en masse for Parler. The exodus was so large that the next day, yesterday, Parler became the number one free app downloaded from Apple’s App Store. […] AWS’s decision to effectively terminate Parler’s account is apparently motivated by political animus. It is also apparently designed to reduce competition in the microblogging services market to the benefit of Twitter.

What Amazon would possibly gain by acting on Twitter’s behalf is left a mystery. And while there’s truth to the fact that retrofitting Parler’s existing codebase and hardware would be time-consuming and possibly more expensive than it’s worth, the claim that “without AWS, Parler is finished as it has no way to get online,” at best ignores the long history of websites that existed prior to cloud computing.

Parler goes onto explain that AWS isn’t only violating the Sherman Antitrust act by taking its site down, but that it is “committing intentional interference” on the economic advantage that Parler was expected to gain, “given the millions of users” that were expected to flock to Parler “in the near future.” That seems unlikely to hold water, given that even this bit of speculation is undercut by Parler’s removal from both the App Store and Google Play Store.


We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment on… all of this, and will update the piece when we hear back.

Dropped by Virtually ‘Every Vendor,’ Parler Is Scrambling to Find a New Safe Space Online

Illustration for article titled Dropped by Virtually Every Vendor, Parler Is Scrambling to Find a New Safe Space Online

Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty Images)

Parler is learning a hard lesson this week that freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences.

Amazon, Apple, and Google, and virtually all of Parler’s business alliances have cut ties with the social network du jour for deplatformed conservatives and extremists following this week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol. The platform is set to go offline just before midnight on Sunday evening unless Parler can find another hosting service willing to work with it—and there are none, according to the company’s CEO.

“Every vendor from text message services to email providers to our lawyers all ditched us too on the same day,” Parler CEO John Matze told Fox News on Sunday.


Honestly, that’s understandable given that Parler was reportedly one of several pro-Trump corners of the internet where extremists conspired to storm Capitol Hill and threatened violence against political figures to try to prevent Congress from validating the results of the election.

Not wanting any potential ties to the rioters who literally built a gallows in front of the Capitol building and chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” Parler’s business alliances began dropping like flies. Google and Apple kicked the app from their app stores until it implements stricter content moderation policies. Now multiple outlets are reporting that Amazon is indefinitely suspending Parler’s account on its cloud hosting service, Amazon Web Services, because the company’s insufficient content moderation policies violate its terms of service. Matze claimed to Fox that the e-commerce giant gave Parler 24 hours to migrate its data from Amazon’s servers and take its business elsewhere, a task that’s left the company scrambling to find hundreds of servers before the deadline.

When reached for comment on the suspension, Amazon pointed Gizmodo toward Buzzfeed News’s coverage of a letter AWS sent to Parler, which you can read in full here. In it, Amazon says that because Parler failed to “comply with our terms of service and poses a very real risk to public safety,” its account is being suspended by the end of the day on Sunday. Amazon goes on to say that it will ensure all of Parler’s data is preserved and promises to work with the company “as best as we can” during the transition process.

In his interview with Fox, Matze called this sweeping purge from major online platforms “an attempt to not only kill the app, but to actually destroy the entire company.” Parler could stay dark for up to a week as its developers try to rebuild the platform from the ground up, he said in a post there.


Matze vehemently disputes the reasoning behind these suspensions, telling Fox that Parler has never allowed violence on the platform and it was not used to coordinate Wednesday’s riot. As a note, Parler’s user agreement doesn’t explicitly prohibit violent content, but it does state that the company may terminate accounts or remove content that engages in illegal conduct or endeavors to “infringe the legal rights of others.”

Of course, since Parler bills itself as “the world’s premier free speech platform,” how strictly it enforces this policy is doubtful. Particularly given that threats of violence and discussions about storming the capitol were spotted on Parler as well as the encrypted messaging app Telegram and the pro-Trump forum in the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s insurrection attempt.


But here’s the thing: Parler wasn’t brought down by its own stubbornness and inability to moderate violent extremists on its platform. No, it was brought down because Big Tech is conspiring against it! Parler got too big too fast, and now Apple, Amazon, and all of those losers are trying to take out their competition!

At least, that’s what Matze argues.

“This was a coordinated attack by the tech giants to kill competition in the market place,” he wrote on Parler. In support of his conspiracy theory, he cites the fact that Parler shot up to the No. 1 spot on Apple’s app store after Facebook and Twitter banned President Donald Trump. On Friday, Parler saw roughly 182,000 installs in the U.S. alone, up 355% from the day before, a rep from the analytics service Sensor Tower told TechCrunch. But given the circumstances—i.e. the looming threat of Parler’s imminent removal from several major platforms—it’s essentially bragging about getting the pity vote.


In another post, Matze paints Parler as a martyr in some kind of bizarre class war by proxy wherein a nebulous, cryptic “elite” cohort is conspiring to drive a wedge between… everyone else I guess?

“Parley—brings two people with conflicting ideas together. Our mission is free speech, democracy and us the people having the power. The elite don’t want us to be free, they want hate division and power!”


Look, some people you just can’t reason with. Parler did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment (on this or any other day). But with that extremist echo chamber going dark this week, the internet is just a bit brighter for it. 

Police Use of Clearview AI’s Facial Recognition Tech Spiked After Capitol Raid

Pro-Trump insurgents storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

Pro-Trump insurgents storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Samuel Corum (Getty Images)

Clearview AI’s controversial facial-recognition app has seen a spike in use as police track down the pro-Trump insurgents who descended on the Capitol on Wednesday. With so many of those idiots snapping selfies and livestreaming the raid as if it was a school field trip, I’m surprised police even needed the help.

First reported by the New York Times, Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That confirmed to Gizmodo that the app saw a 26% jump in search volume on Jan. 7 compared to its usual weekday averages. Given the aforementioned treasure trove of potential evidence documenting the attack—from live cable news broadcasts to hundreds of images and videos—the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Washington, D.C. police have called for the public’s help in identifying participants. Roughly 2,400 polices agencies nationwide have contracts to use Clearview’s facial recognition software, according to the company, and several of them have reportedly been turning to it to assist federal investigators.

Detectives at the Miami Police Department are using Clearview’s tech to identify rioters in images and videos of the attack and forwarding suspect leads to the FBI, per the Times. Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that an Alabama police department was also employing Clearview’s tech to ID faces in footage and sending potential matches along to federal investigators.


“We are poring over whatever images or videos are available from whatever sites we can get our hands on,” said Armando Aguilar, the assistant chief of Miami Police and head of the department’s investigations arm, in an interview with the Times.

A Clearview spokesperson did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s inquiry about whether usage data fluctuated on any other days since the insurgency.

Of course, even when arguably used for good in cases like this, that doesn’t make Clearview’s tech any less of a privacy nightmare. Other facial recognition tools used by police rely on databases of government-provided photos, i.e. driver’s license photos and mug shots. However, Clearview has said its database uses some 3 billion images scraped from social media sites and other public servers, a quasi-legal practice that’s straight out of dystopian fiction and has come under fire from civil liberties activists who argue that the data is gathered without the consent of the people being profiled.

As a result, the company’s currently fighting legal battles on multiple fronts. Clearview suspended operations in Canada after the federal Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada opened an investigation into whether the company violated the country’s laws protecting personal information online. The state attorney general of Vermont filed a lawsuit against the company alleging violations of multiple state laws. Tech giants like Twitter and Google have sent Clearview cease-and-desist notices to keep them from scraping data from their platforms.


Some police departments have banned officers from using third-party facial recognition software altogether. And honestly, that’s for the best given the host of current problems with facial recognition technology in general, which include often being wildly inaccurate and misidentifying people of color.

Mozilla Calls for Sites to Go Beyond Just Deplatforming Bigots

Illustration for article titled Mozilla Calls for Sites to Go Beyond Just Deplatforming Bigots

Graphic: Mozilla

Online platforms are hastily cutting ties with President Donald Trump and his ilk after years of milquetoast responses to the hateful and violent rhetoric fomenting under their watch, and all it took was a deadly insurgency at the nation’s capital. However, Mozilla says deplatforming doesn’t go far enough and has called for investigations and increased transparency into how sites target users for advertising and content recommendations.

On Friday, Mozilla, the privacy and security nonprofit behind the Firefox browser, denounced this week’s events and the role it believes online platforms had in stoking the flames. Mozilla characterized the assault on the Capitol as “the culmination of a four-year disinformation campaign” by Trump.

“Donald Trump is certainly not the first politician to exploit the architecture of the internet in this way, and he won’t be the last,” wrote CEO Mitchell Baker in a company blog post. “We need solutions that don’t start after untold damage has been done.”


Because while it’s still important for sites to temporarily or permanently silence bad actors, they’re stuck playing a neverending game of whack-a-mole with bigots if they fail to incorporate preventative measures.

To change the “dangerous dynamics” online that facilitated this kind of violent uprising, Baker urged platforms to be more open about their ad targeting practices by revealing who has been funding ad campaigns, how much they paid, and who they targeted. All of which is inarguably in users’ best interest to know, if the 2016 presidential election has taught us anything.

She added that platforms need to “commit to meaningful transparency” of their algorithms for recommending content, and automatically enable any settings or tools designed to amplify verified sources of information. Finally, she called for social networks to work with independent researchers to better understand the wider impacts their platforms and moderation policies have on people.

“The answer is not to do away with the internet, but to build a better one that can withstand and gird against these types of challenges,” Baker wrote.


It’s a tall order, but one that echoes complaints that have been haunting Silicon Valley for years. Wednesday’s riot is just the latest example of how extremists groups and other political interests have weaponized social media to orchestrate violence and sow disinformation. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have repeatedly come under fire for not doing enough to keep misinformation from spreading on their respective platforms. Some tech experts have gone so far as to draw a line from Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube’s moderation missteps to this week’s insurrection. Tech venture capitalist Chris Sacca directly singled out Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a tweet Wednesday night:

“You’ve got blood on your hands, @jack and Zuck. For four years you’ve rationalized this terror. Inciting violent treason is not a free speech exercise. If you work at those companies, it’s on you too. Shut it down.”


It’s not enough to shut it down, though. As Mozilla suggests, online platforms will have to take a proactive approach to stamping out these fires if they don’t want to get burned again. 

Twitter Cracks Down on Qanon Accounts for Role in Capitol Riot

David Reinert holds up a large “Q” sign while waiting in line to see President Donald J. Trump at his rally on August 2, 2018 at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.

David Reinert holds up a large “Q” sign while waiting in line to see President Donald J. Trump at his rally on August 2, 2018 at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.
Photo: Rick Loomis/Getty Images (Getty Images)

Twitter removed the accounts of a number of high-profile supporters of the Qanon conspiracy theory this Friday after their alleged role in spurring on the violent, pro-Trump insurgency at the U.S. Capitol building Thursday.

Among the purged were former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who not only has shown a willingness to Tweet out Q-related, conspiracy-laden messages to his followers but also sells Q-merch; Sidney Powell, the former Trump team lawyer who has made an apparent mission out of spreading claims of election fraud and conspiracy theories involving election vendor Dominion Voting Systems (which is now suing her for defamation); and Ron Watkins, son of administrator of the Q-saturated image and message board 8kun, Jim Watkins. Some people actually think Watkins is Q, the mysterious figure behind the online posts.

Watkins and Powell, in particular, have “spent recent weeks pushing false claims about Dominion Voting Systems and the company’s role in the U.S. elections, as well as targeting private citizens with false claims of election fraud,” NBC News notes.


“The accounts have been suspended in line with our policy on Coordinated Harmful Activity. We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm, and given the renewed potential for violence surrounding this type of behavior in the coming days, we will permanently suspend accounts that are solely dedicated to sharing QAnon content,” a Twitter spokesperson wrote.

The Qanon conspiracy theory—which believes that a cabal of pedophile Satan worshippers is trying to destroy Donald Trump’s presidency —has been popular among certain segments of the Trump-supporting electorate. With yesterday’s carnage at the Capitol, researchers online were quick to analyze how the online narratives helped motivate people to turn out to the protest that turned bloody.

On top of that, some prominent Qanon supporters played very visible roles at yesterday’s maelstrom—including the face-painted, Viking-hat-sporting Jake Angeli (also known as “Q Shaman”), who, among other things, could be seen prancing around the Senate chamber, gripping a megaphone, and shouting various pro-Trump messages. Angeli, who is a supporter of the Qanon conspiracy theory, is now wanted as a “person of interest” by Metropolitan police in Washington.

There Is Such a Thing as Too Late

A supporter of President Donald Trump wears a gas mask as he protests after storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.

A supporter of President Donald Trump wears a gas mask as he protests after storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.
Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP (Getty Images)

No one needed to predict a frothing hoard of Trump supporters would lay siege to the Capitol on Wednesday because they told us that was the plan all along.

They told us not just on Twitter, TikTok, and TheDonald in the weeks leading up to the attack. They’ve been telling us for years from the racists who showed up in Charlotteville in 2017 to the armed “protesters” who took over the Michigan Capitol last year. Experts listening sounded the alarm, and yet when the wave crashed into the Capitol, there was still a sense of shell shock and now, a scramble for justice.

This scramble is not victory, it’s the luxury allowed by this particular crisis. The comforting self-righteousness of those who warned that Trump would lead us to disaster is the sour reward of waiting too long. But if we continue this opulent pattern of collective inaction, it will one day destroy not the windows of the Capitol building but life on Earth as we know it.


The climate crisis has followed a seemingly similar path. Just as the evidence of the past four years made clear the ugly culmination of Trump’s presidency, more than 100 years of scientific research has made clear that carbon emissions are warming our planet, resulting in rising seas, widespread wildfires, catastrophic weather events, mass extinction, human suffering, and death. Just like today, opportunistic politics and craven corporate greed have grease-stained the truth, creating a shimmering illusion that there is more than one side to reality.

But unlike a political crisis, with climate change, there is no voting out the problem, no bringing in new leadership, no investigation that will clarify a path forward. There is no last straw that allows you to realize the errors of your ways and make up for them. Climate change is a different kind of crisis—there is no going back once we’ve failed.

There is such a thing as too late.


If we allow carbon emissions to follow their current trajectory, the global temperature will rise roughly 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) by century’s end, resulting in catastrophe the world over. The planet would be hotter, the weather (and society) more violent, and conditions would be unlike anything remote close to resembling the one that humanity has thrived on. That’s the trajectory we’re on now.

The greatest contributor to the current warming is the extraction, production, and use of fossil fuels. To retain a habitable planet and prevent as much pain as possible, we must rapidly stop using oil, gas, and coal, which requires historic investment.


We can choose to make that investment to save ourselves before the unthinkable happens. We can choose to create a just transition for workers in polluting industries. We can choose to create safety nets for communities that will be impacted regardless of what steps we take today and tomorrow because of the inaction we’ve chosen to take thus far.

What we cannot do is wait until we pass critical warming thresholds and then scramble to fix the problem because with climate change, there is no quick fix. Once emitted, greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for decades, further warping the climate. That’s not say we just throw up our hands later—every ton of carbon not emitted matters—but our best option is to act now.


The challenges of meeting this moment stretch the limits of comprehension. The slow-burn nature of the climate crisis means devastating wildfires, monster hurricanes, and disappearing glaciers become normalized—just the way things are. The contentious divide in America—even with the White House and Congress about to be under the control of a single party that wants to implement climate policy—pushes desperately needed policy solutions to the edge of impossible. And even as a growing majority of Americans see climate change as a defining challenge, deniers, liars, and enablers stand in the way, ready to deflect your attention away from the truth about what’s needed in this moment.

Perhaps the most pressing and monumental challenge we face is that reality itself is a partisan choice. This, to me, is the most shocking element of Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol: The entire thing is, at least on its surface, founded on the lie of a stolen election. But no matter what the seditionist senators said to justify disputing President-elect Biden’s victory, believing something is true does not make it so. The same is true for climate change; Earth is warming regardless of what you believe.


As this week has made abundantly clear, there are always—always—justifications for failure. In this shocking moment, please, do not let this shock go to waste—hold onto it and fear it. Feel embarrassed by it. Mold that shock in your heart into shame and let it harden into anger. For enduring, collective, widespread anger is the only antidote to future inaction as we face an even greater threat—one that forbids the luxury of hindsight.

Thanks For the Evidence, You Seditious Dweebs

Illustration for article titled Thanks For the Evidence, You Seditious Dweebs

Photo: Saul Loeb (Getty Images)

Yesterday, a nauseated and tired public witnessed a clear, on-the-ground, real-time feed of Trump supporters committing countless potential felonies and misdemeanors. They saw it not through security footage or journalists’ reports but mostly from the culprits themselves, who gleefully livestreamed and tweeted from the Capitol building as if it was a field trip. As the high wore off, tweets and videos vanished—some deleted by the platforms themselves, others likely pulled by slack-jawed Trumpers covering their own asses.

Fortunately, archivists familiar with digital mass takedown events had the foresight to immediately crowdsource the evidence of rioting, and potential destruction of government property, weapons-related offenses, and unlawful entry, to name a few examples.

An extensive directory can be found on the New Zealand-based file hosting service MEGA; it’s the miraculously tidy result of a miles-long thread on the datahoarder subreddit, which amassed over 1,700 comments abounding with links to tweets and videos cross-posted all over the internet. A parallel archive mostly containing the same content can be found on the Prague-based search engine and data archive Intelligence X. (While redditors need to rely on MEGA, a third-party platform which can remove content if it likes, Intelligence X owns its own infrastructure. Intelligence X specifically preserves content which might be wiped elsewhere—which can mean Hunter Biden’s emails and private Bitcoin keys). The combined dossiers include MAGA rioters’ posts on DLive, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, some of which are still live on those platforms at this writing.


While platforms generally look better without these posts stoking government overthrow, yesterday made abundantly clear why laypeople need to preserve this content before social media companies remove it. It’s useful to know the face and badge number of a law enforcement officer taking a selfie with a rioter, for example.

The relatively consequence-free siege feels similar to the infamous white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, when organized street brawlers injured dozens and a neo-Nazi terrorist rammed his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing protester Heather Heyer and wounding over a dozen others. Donald Trump failed to denounce that violent mob, too. It was thanks to far-right groups’ brazen, publicity-hungry tactics that directly resulted in many of their members being doxxed in the aftermath. Numerous attendees, many of whom had previously attracted the attention of anti-fascist groups and/or had left extensive trails of digital evidence, were easily identified and doxxed from footage by both activists and the professional media. Some lost their jobs, while a number were prosecuted. Others simply lost the anonymity that allowed them to comfortably espouse violent, bigoted beliefs without consequences.

In this case, maybe the most self-incriminating evidence originated on DLive—a gaming platform and known alt-right haven—which was quick to remove some of yesterday’s streams. Popular right-wing streamer BakedAlaska, who recently tested positive for covid-19 and is banned on virtually every other platform, offered a full display of himself and fellow rioters damaging government property, and breaking into an office and a conference room while cops mulled around like they were on recess. Fellow traveler Zykotik documented himself and others outside, stomping a pile of camera equipment, and shouting “this is the real news media!” and “fuck fake news!” (This is still viewable on DLive, and you can see a Bloomberg reporter’s view of the destruction here.)

Illustration for article titled Thanks For the Evidence, You Seditious Dweebs

Screenshot: BakedAlaska


While we await to see whether law enforcement plans to pursue charges, archivists have made sure to keep unmistakable photo and video evidence available for public scrutiny. Founder and CEO of Intelligence X, Peter Kleissner, told Gizmodo via email that the company “sprung into action at midnight local time” in Prague as they noticed Twitter and Facebook removing posts. He says his company has now gathered around 1,000 files.

“Shame on Facebook for deleting evidence related to yesterday’s riots while keeping up accounts and videos of violence and extremism (including ISIS propaganda and QAnon content) for years,” Kleissner wrote. “Didn’t Mark [Zuckerberg] say they ‘Won’t Be ‘Arbiter of Truth’? While censorship is a complicated topic, one thing is for sure: Mark is usually on the wrong side.” Kleissner believes that these self-incriminating acts should be preserved for historical purposes. “Thinking long-term, people in 2121 will hopefully benefit and appreciate these efforts that we take in this moment,” he said. “Looking back in history and the 1812 breach of the Capitol as well as other events such as the 1933 German Reichstag fire highlight the need for accurate and original data in historical context.”


In the immediate future, the act of group documentation can also backfire disastrously for far-right groups as all it takes is one security slip-up or revealing a few too many personal details for police, activists, and the media to compile enough information to identify the individual behind a username or expose their poorly-laid plans.

For example, left-wing media collective Unicorn Riot has repeatedly leaked Discord chat logs detailing the inner workings of white supremacist groups such as Identity Evropa, Atomwaffen Division offshoot Feuerkrieg Division, the now-defunct Traditionalist Workers Party, and the National Socialist Legion, as well as a bevy of others based in the Pacific Northwest. In 2019, an unknown individual or individuals leaked the SQL database for Iron March, a message board that served as one of the major hubs of the white supremacist movement until its dissolution in 2017. That data exposed numerous individuals who had hitherto kept their offline identities hidden, including a Canadian Royal Navy sailor who had advertised arms deals to other users, a U.S. Navy sailor who had previously recruited members for Atomwaffen, and a prison guard captain at a Nevada detention center used to house federal immigration detainees who had attempted to create a white nationalist group.


While Twitter has treated Trump’s account as a national emergency and temporarily locked him out, the company seems to be using a lighter touch on people who’ve glorified rioters. Though many of the more incriminating first-person tweets have been removed, other viral tweets spreading conspiracies and cheering on the insurrection remain up.

After complaints yesterday, YouTube told Gizmodo via email that it has demonetized the YouTube channel for Elijah Schaffer—a right-wing Blaze TV reporter who tweeted an image of an open inbox on a computer inside Nancy Pelosi’s office—and suspended him from the Partner Program, as the channel doesn’t follow YouTube’s advertiser-friendly guidelines. YouTube told Gizmodo that it’s looking into other posts that are still live.


Facebook, which has blocked Trump until the end of the presidential transition, and DLive were not immediately available for comment.