Social media photos helped arrest Capitol invaders in 2021


While coup supporters of Jair Bolsonaro (PL) invaded the headquarters of the Three Powers, in Brasília, this Sunday (8), photos and videos of the depredations began to circulate on social networks. Published by the rioters themselves, the scenes clearly identify many of the vandals.

The same situation happened in the attack on the United States Congress, two years ago, on January 6, 2021, and the images produced by the radicals would later prove to be essential for advancing the investigation of the crimes, in what is considered the largest investigation in the FBI history.

In all, the American federal police claims to have analyzed 30,000 video files, which add up to nine terabytes of information – a volume that, if placed on a single track, would add up to 361 uninterrupted days of recordings. Investigation efforts have led to the arrest of more than 950 people so far.

A good part of the first arrests occurred with the identification of selfies and videos published by the invaders themselves. A Kentucky student, Gracyn Courtright, for example, posted a photo on her Instagram profile in which she stood at the entrance to the Capitol, with the caption: “I can’t wait to tell my grandchildren that I was here.” The message ended up being used in the process in which she was sentenced to 30 days in prison and 12 months of probation.

Another attacker, Edward Lang, reproduced on Instagram and Facebook the moment of a video of a crowd, pointing in the image where he was, with the caption: “This is me”. The photo was also used as evidence in the process – the result of the trial of the action involving him has not yet been released.

In less than two weeks after the 6th of January, 119 people were already being prosecuted for the invasion, and at least 71 cases involved photos and videos shared on social networks — 47 of the processes had images produced by the accused themselves, according to press reports at the time.

In other actions, the publications were an aggravating factor for the determination of penalties. One of the attackers, Russell James Peterson of Pennsylvania, posted on Facebook: “Overall I had a good time. Lol [gíria em inglês para gargalhadas]”. In announcing the sentence of 30 days in prison, Judge Amy Jackson said that the use of the expression made it “extraordinarily difficult” to give another sentence.

“The ‘lol’ got me because, as I hope you understood, nothing about January 6th was funny,” she said. “Nobody locked in a room, curled up under a desk for hours, was laughing.”

In a series of other cases, investigators accessed the cell phones of suspected participants in the invasion and found records and messages confirming that they had been there.

This is the case of Brazilian Leticia Vilhena Ferreira, an engineer who lived in the Chicago area and who entered the Capitol after a speech by then-President Donald Trump. Her process shows an exchange of messages, in which she says: “I’m very irresponsible. Yesterday was amazing.” In another message, she questioned: “Do you think they will go after all the people who entered the Capitol?”.

Even in cases where the attackers deleted the images from social networks in a short time, the FBI was able to access the photos, according to records of some of the lawsuits filed against the invaders.

This was the case for Kevin J. Lyons, a resident of Chicago, who posted a photo of the sign in the room of then-Mayor Nancy Pelosi. When he was confronted by the federal agents, he responded with biting candor: “Wow, you guys are really good, that was only on the air for an hour.”

In all, lawsuits have already been filed against 940 people, according to the George Washington University Program on Extremism, which monitors January 6 cases. More than half of the defendants, 482, pleaded guilty, and another 44 were found guilty. Only one person ended up innocent.

The longest sentence so far was given to a former New York military and retired police officer, Thomas Webster, 56, who was sentenced in September to just over 10 years in prison — for, among other things, hitting a police officer with the flagpole. of a flag and hanged him trying to remove his helmet and gas mask. The aggression was recorded by the agent’s body camera and by other protesters.

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