How to Identify an Insurrectionist

Culture

Can you break down how you actually found him? Was there an article of clothing that unlocked everything or something?

So the process began with an appeal. Can we find more pictures of this person? In the case of Zip Tie Guy, he had some clues. He was wearing a baseball cap from Black Rifle Coffee Company. They’re a company that sells militaristic AR-branded coffee, and his hat had an AR-15 superimposed onto an American flag, which to me will have to go down as one of the more nauseating pieces of iconography from the last few years—their swag was also worn by Kyle Rittenhouse. (Much later we found postings online by the guy supporting Kyle Rittenhouse.)

He also had a patch that had a thin blue flag superimposed onto the outline of the state of Tennessee. This was like one orbit of interrogation. We ultimately identified the brand of his gloves and his camouflage and got close on his shoes. People made good guesses about his phone and his sunglasses.

At the same time, there were several other important pieces. I had a conversation that first night, right after I posted that first image of him, with a journalist, William Turton of Bloomberg, who said to me, “I think this guy harassed me at the Grand Hyatt that night.” I filed that away. He sent a video he had tweeted, and there was a single frame that had someone in profile in black camouflage. It was very hard to tell if it was the same person. Ultimately someone surfaced a photo of him walking with a woman the moment he walked into the Capitol. He was walking up the staircase with his hand on the back of a woman. Here’s this guy helping a woman up the stairs in body armor. Is this just some guy being chivalrous? What is that?

That moment led to someone finding an image of those two people walking on the grounds of the Capitol. It was being sold by the AP. So hundreds of dollars later, I had a hi-resolution picture and the rights to tweet it once. So I did. Critically, it showed the face of the woman. That became the open sesame that connected him to footage in the Grand Hyatt.

Once we had that, we had his face and we had him talking. Then the clock was ticking—I’d already been talking with people in Tennessee because of the thin blue line patch. Tennessee people started making connections and messaging me potential people. Boy were they right! I pulled down all this guy’s social media and I called the FBI with my level of confidence, the information that got me there, and the identity based on my best efforts.

How much of this process do you personally direct, and how much was a mass movement on Twitter?

I suspect that several of the people surfacing in my threads were also participating on other threads. We don’t really know all the pieces that went into that investigation, which is what’s so beautiful about it. It was just thousands of people doing their best.

It was important to remind people of the difference between surfacing clues and making statements about identification, which is really the last step in the long yellow brick road of open source intelligence gathering.

What should people be wary of on that long road? Is there anything about open source internet sleuthing that can be dangerous?

As I watched the effort grow bigger, I realized the stakes were growing. The only right move was to get directly in touch with the FBI and explain to them once I had found what I felt to be a strong identification. It was not far from my mind that there have been efforts like these that have gotten wrong, and that can have lasting consequences. You can’t put that genie back. So I urged my followers to be careful and didn’t say anything publicly about it until others had done so.

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