At least several users of the far-right social network Parler appear to be among the hoard 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 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 analysed 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.
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 a distance of 12 yards (11 meters).
The red dot just south of the Capitol Rotunda’s centre 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 Rotund 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.
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, in addition to 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.