Yesterday, a nauseated and tired public witnessed a clear, on-the-ground, real-time feed of Trump supporters committing countless potential felonies and misdemeanours. 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 offences, 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 organised 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 damaing government property, and breaking into an office and a conference room while cops mulled around like they were on recess. Fellow traveller 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.)
While we await to see whether law enforcement plan 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 centre 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 demonetised Schaffer’s YouTube channel and suspended it from the YouTube Partner Program, as it 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.