Insurrectionists Reportedly Used Walkie-Talkie App Zello To Storm the Capitol

Insurrectionists Reportedly Used Walkie-Talkie App Zello To Storm the Capitol
Photo: Jon Cherry / Stringer, Getty Images

Members of a violent and deadly mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 reportedly communicated with each other through the walkie-talkie app Zello — a company long criticised for its failure to moderate the far-right extremist content it sometimes hosts.

According to audio and chat logs reviewed by The Guardian, at least two individuals who stormed the Capitol used Zello to communicate with other militia members who appeared to be egging them on from offsite locations.

“We are in the main dome right now,” a female militia member can be heard saying at one point. “We are rocking it. They’re throwing grenades, they’re frickin’ shooting people with paintballs, but we’re in here.”

“God bless and godspeed,” a male voice reportedly responds. “Keep going.”

“Jess, do your shit,” says another. “This is what we fucking lived up for. Everything we fucking trained for.”

The exchange reportedly occurred in a public Zello channel called “STOP THE STEAL J6” around 2:44 p.m. The user in question appears to be Jessica Watkins, a 38-year-old bartender from Ohio who recently told the Ohio Capital Journal that she had participated in the insurrection on behalf of both a local militia called the Ohio State Regular and the national Oath Keepers militia.

Zello, which claims to have 150 million users, said in a press release that it was with “deep sadness and anger” that its leadership team had discovered “evidence of Zello being misused by some individuals while storming the United States Capitol building last week.”

In response to nearly 800 channels that were found to be hosting right-wing content, the app said that it had updated its terms of service and “extended the notion of abuse on the platform to include use by organisations whose principles or leaders specifically endorse or espouse violence.”

Zello also announced that it had deleted more than 2,000 channels associated with militias and other militarised social movements. In a chilling conclusion to its press release, the company said that it was “concerned that Zello could be misused by groups who have threatened to organise additional potentially violent protests and disrupt the U.S. Presidential Inauguration Festivities on January 20th.”

As The Guardian points out, Zello likely has inherent broad appeal to militia groups, due to their frequent tendency to fetishise military-style radio communication and warlike modes of operation.