Parler, a veritable breeding ground of far-right extremists, has arguably come under the most fire for its part in the Capitol riots, but let’s not forget that the internet is a big place, and violent radicalisation on the scale we saw on Jan. 6 doesn’t develop in a bubble. Case in point: The Federal Bureau of Investigation said this week that a group of far-right militia members used Facebook Messenger to coordinate their actions during the siege on the Capitol Building.
According to the FBI, Thomas Edward Caldwell, a ranking member of the self-described paramilitary group known as the Oath Keepers, appeared to lead the group’s efforts to track down legislators during the attack. Screenshots of Facebook messages between Caldwell and other rioters show him bragging about “storming the castle” on Jan. 6 and receiving updates about the specific whereabouts of lawmakers as they fled from the flood of violent insurgents raiding the building, per federal court documents shared by the George Washington University Program on Extremism.
While storming the Capitol building — which he stupidly bragged about online in real-time, as did scores of other idiots — Caldwell is said to have received several disturbing Facebook messages goading him on to hunt down lawmakers.
“Tom take that bitch over,” one message read, per the FBI. “Do like we had to do when I was in the core start tearing [out floors] go from top to bottom,” said another.
Other messages went into chilling detail about exactly where he could find legislators, presumably to either attack them or take them hostage, as at least one other rioter was spotted rolling up to Capitol Hill carrying zip ties that day.
“All members are in the tunnels under capital seal them in. Turn on gas,” one message is reported to have said. “Tom all legislators are down in the Tunnels 3floors down,” reads another message. Yet another walks him through specific directions: “Go through back house chamber doors facing N left down hallway down steps.”
It’s some truly terrifying stuff. Those horned fur hat-wearing, podium-nabbing dumbasses have become such a laughingstock in the last few weeks that it’s easy to forget that these psychos were prepared to do so much worse and had been genuinely gearing up for a bloodbath.
The day following the botched coup attempt, the FBI said Caldwell sent a Facebook message to another militia member that said, “Do you like the pictures of us storming the castle?”
Facebook did not immediately reply to Gizmodo’s request for comment. Though it’s far from the only platform purportedly co-opted by violent Trump fanatics seeking to overthrow the presidential election results by any means necessary. The chat app Telegram and walkie-talkie app Zello were also reportedly used to help coordinate efforts on the day of the attack and in the weeks leading up to it. Then of course there’s the “free speech”-focused social network Parler and TheDonald, the home of Trump’s rabid fan club after they were kicked off Reddit, but since they were already home to violent extremists, it honestly would have been more surprising if they had zero to do with the insurrection.
However, that Facebook would be named in federal court documents for its purported role in the attack is particularly hilarious after how much shade the company’s been throwing in recent weeks. Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has pointed the finger at platforms like Parler and Gab to deflect blame and downplay any indication that Facebook might have been guilty right alongside them.
Caldwell, a Navy veteran from Virginia, is facing a bevy of federal charges, including conspiracy to commit an offence against the United States, conspiracy to impede or injure an officer, destruction of government property, and obstruction of an official proceeding. He was arrested earlier this week along with two other militia members, Donovan Ray Crowl and Jessica Marie Watkins, who are both facing similar charges, the Washington Post reports. To date, more than 125 people have been arrested and charged with conspiracy in connection to the attack on Capitol Hill, including one rioter who allegedly stole House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s laptop and attempted to sell it to Russian spies.