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Facial Recognition, Social Media Could Help ID Capitol Rioters

The search for pro-Trump rioters that stormed and defaced the U.S. Capitol building last week has intensified and federal law enforcement is using every means at its disposal to investigate the incident.

by Alex N. Gecan, Asbury Park Press / January 13, 2021
Shutterstock/Alex Gakos

(TNS) — If it looked like the unmasked throngs who stormed the Capitol last week would simply walk away from the deadly insurrection, the long arms of social media, Internet sleuths and federal officials are telling a different story.

While at least 55 criminal cases have been brought against rioters — including several of the most brazen figures seen in widely circulated photographs and video — the top federal prosecutor in Washington says hundreds more could face charges.

In some cases, the rioters themselves brought law enforcement to their door, after posting pictures of themselves on social media mugging with artifacts of the siege or showing themselves inside the Capitol. Technology is doing the work in some cases.

"The police are basically going to be relying on facial recognition technology and social media investigation due to the copious amounts of video that were taken by the rioters themselves," Adam S. Wandt, a public policy professor at John Jay College in New York, told the Asbury Park Press. "Fortunately, these rioters, they're really insurgents once you enter the Capitol...they didn't have masks on and they're brazenly showing their faces."

"The social media blitz adds to the trove of video from the high-definition cameras pointing at every entrance to the Capitol building," Wandt said.

WHY WOULD SO MANY SO WILLFULLY INCRIMINATE THEMSELVES?

“They're proud of it. They post about it because this is something that they want the world to see," Alexandra Stratyner, a psychologist who practices in Manhattan, told the USA TODAY NETWORK earlier. "In fact, they're domestic terrorists, but they believe that what they're doing is a valiant, brave act.”

Whether the investigation will turn to the Jersey Shore is unclear.

“At this time, no suspects have been traced back to Ocean County but we will certainly assist our Federal law enforcement partners should circumstances change,” Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said in an email response to an inquiry from the Asbury Park Press.

A spokesman for Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said there were no known suspects in Monmouth County either as of Monday. 

Law enforcement agencies have other digital tools to put perpetrators at the scenes of their crimes, especially when they smilingly pose for videos there.

Social media companies can keep location information when a post goes up, and law enforcement agencies can subpoena those data, which are more reliable than a conventional triangulation of a cell phone's location, Wandt said.

The Department of Justice had announced 53 arrests, including 13 people charged in federal criminal court, stemming from the riot as of Friday.

They may eventually face charges of seditious conspiracy, rioting and insurrection, Michael Sherwin, interim U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, said.

And the death of U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, a New Jersey native who grew up in South River, is being investigated as a homicide.

The FBI is seeking information to help identify individuals who unlawfully entered the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and assaulted federal law enforcement personnel. If you recognize someone, submit a tip here

The FBI has posted on social media itself, circulating photographs of suspects wanted for assaulting police officers and other alleged crimes. The photographs overwhelmingly show white men, many wearing "Make America Great Again" baseball caps, some in ballistic helmets or woodland camouflage.

©2021 the Asbury Park Press, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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