A recent apparent leak from the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington D.C. reveals ongoing surveillance of right-wing activists in the wake of the deadly January 7 Capitol riot and the lead-up to U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
The documents in question were stolen several weeks ago by the ransomware gang Babuk. According to leaked chats between police and the hackers, the gang asked for $US4 ($5) million in return for the documents. The cops countered, offering $US100,000 ($128,700). When negotiations broke down, the hacker gang leaked the data to the internet — where it was picked up by the activist group Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoS), which has since curated the material on its website.
DDoS activists reviewing the data say it includes tens of thousands of emails, the bulk of which came from a member of the MPD’s intelligence division. It would also appear to include extensive dossiers on current and former police officers, as well as troves of intelligence on gang activity in the D.C. metro area. Some of the most interesting material, however, relates to law enforcement’s ongoing surveillance of right-wing elements in and around the nation’s capital in the days preceding President Joe Biden’s inauguration, when police feared that violent extremists would try to foment chaos and terrorist activity.
In one particularly dramatic example, police believed they had uncovered an alleged plot by the Boogaloo Bois — the aloha-shirt sporting, militia-adjacent, mostly-online band of rightwing hoodlums — who claim they want to start a new Civil War. The plot, apparently spoken about in online chatrooms, had been dubbed “Operation Stormbreaker” and its stated goal was to attack well-known landmarks and monuments located throughout Washington D.C.
According to leaked police memos, “Stormbreaker” was scheduled to take place Jan. 19th and was designed to coincide with “National Popcorn Day” because Qanon members said they wanted their “members to ‘pop’ or ‘storm’ on this day” — with adherents targeting large institutions like the World Bank, the U.S. Treasury, the White House, and the Lincoln Memorial, and others. Insider notes that these plans included “a schedule, priority list, and communications strategy for attacking DC buildings and landmarks.”
But this never happened. Like a lot of the other so-called plans talked about in cloistered online chat rooms, “Stormbreaker” turned out to be more or less a verbal larping exercise. In the documents, the MPD’s intelligence division said that it was “monitoring posts on multiple social media platforms calling for armed protests in Washington, DC on January 16, 17, 19, and 20, and have shared this information with our local and federal law enforcement partners” but also noted that “there is no credible information to confirm that these events will actually occur at this time.”
The documents show online chatter about a variety of other right-wing guerrilla tactics and communications. Excerpts of these include:
- “There are reports of plans to disrupt traffic on January 20th at 1200 hours. The plans call for a caravan to encircle the Beltway and drive 16 km/h below the speed limit to cause gridlock.”
- In another document, Boogaloos apparently designed their own flag: the bois “have also created a flag styled after the American flag but with igloos for the stars and their martyrs listed on the stripes. It starts with the Wacko [Waco?] deaths and ends with the woman shot at the Capitol,” one document notes.
- Another brief: “New reports of code words being used by Qanon supporters. New code words include attending the “Cinema”, needing “cinema tickets”, the price being $US17.76 ($23) for each ticket, and the movie being rated Q-17.”
The documents also show concern from law enforcement officials that Boogaloos might attempt far more nefarious activities, such as targeting “data centres, liberal churches, and power plants.”
Altogether, the leaks show a lot of violent albeit juvenile ideations going on in right-wing online chatrooms and the intense scrutiny that state, local, and federal law enforcement personnel were able to exert to track and monitor these conversations in the weeks after the violent Jan. 6th riot.
Emma Best, a researcher and transparency activist with DDoS, said that the D.C. leaks provide “an unprecedented look at police monitoring not just of rightwing movements but of various other groups that have been classified as ‘gangs.’”
“We’ve been given a unique opportunity to examine how these systems of policing are built, how they’re deployed, and an opportunity to perform an authoritative study on how, when and why the system is deployed differently against different groups,” said Best. “While some have expressed dismay at some of the documents’ contents or their origins, the reality is we find ourselves presented with data we don’t have the privilege of ignoring.”
We have reached out to the Metropolitan Police Department for comment on this story and will update it if we hear back from them.