Meet the Watchdogs Exposing the Capitol Rioters

Capitol Terrorists Exposers has been quietly supplying information to a number of major news outlets

Men belonging to the Oath Keepers at the Capitol on January 6. Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Over the past few days, a number of outlets, including the New York Times and the New Yorker, have published bombshell investigations identifying rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 as members of far-right factions, military veterans, and in some cases, former security detail for Trump ally Roger Stone. In those pieces, reporters cited the research done by Capitol Terrorists Exposers, an online group that monitors the far-right, as being instrumental in the identification process. Little else is known about the loosely organized collective, though it appears they’ve quietly been a key source of information on one of the most significant stories of our time.

GEN tracked down one of the group’s co-founders, a Europe-based researcher who agreed to an interview on condition of anonymity.

GEN: How did the group come together?

Capitol Terrorists Exposers: My co-founder and I started on Twitter because we were looking at this video of Oath Keepers going up the stairs on the east side of the Capitol. We were just talking and having public Twitter conversations. We were like, “Okay, we have to figure out who these guys are.” But we felt like it wasn’t appropriate to throw names out in the open, so we started this private chat on Twitter. And then two more people entered the chat, and the next morning, another two. We felt like we needed a better medium, so we created the Discord server.

How did you get in touch with journalists at the New Yorker and the New York Times?

My co-founder got in touch with [Times reporter] Christiaan Triebert, and he ended up joining our server. He’s been working closely with us ever since.

And what about Ronan Farrow at the New Yorker? How did you get him involved?

He had been involved in IDing this lieutenant colonel from Florida, Larry Brock. So we got in touch with him and shared our findings.

Why are you so passionate about identifying these people?

There has a lot been going wrong in the U.S. in the past four years, and it peaked with the Capitol storming. And they were so secure that there would be no repercussions. They had this sense of privilege; they knew that they as white folks that would be treated differently than if they were Black Lives Matter protesters. And I just feel that everything that happens in the U.S. has a geopolitical dimension to it. We in Europe are not unaffected by what happens in the U.S.

Had you done work of this nature before the attempted coup?

I’ve done similar work with a much narrower focus before, like using open source intelligence to find out the name of somebody who was trolling people. I wasn’t doxxing; I just wanted to know who that guy was. But this is the first time I’ve done this for weeks on end. We had some initial success with Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl, and then we weren’t able to ID anyone for 10 or 14 days. But we just kept crawling through all the data, through all the images, and yeah, it ended up paying out.

How many more people have you identified since those first two?

I think it’s between six and eight. We’re very careful in what we’re doing. We won’t just doxx people; we relay the information to journalists, who follow a proper procedure to talk to these people. And if they ID themselves or if their associates ID them, then their name gets published. But we’re not just going to doxx people.

And once you’ve identified people, you reach out to one of your journalists on Discord and say, “Hey, we’ve got another one”?

Yeah, but it really depends on whether or not we find that this person was important in planning the riot. If we find this is a person of interest potentially, then we’ll reach out to the media. But if not, then we’ll maybe take a different approach and take things a bit slower.

How long do you plan on doing this work?

Until it’s done. We’re in this for the long run.

How exactly do you identify people online?

The first part is finding pictures of the person in D.C. and trying to figure out where the person was and trying to find additional photographic material. At the beginning, we started off with this one video where we just saw the back of their helmets. After a couple of days, we had facial shots of most of them.

Then we start to look for visual clues that tell us where these people are from. In the case of Watkins and Crowl, they had these Ohio militia badges on their helmets. So we knew we had to start looking around in Ohio. And then some people found pictures at a rally in Columbus of Watkins, Crowl, and a third person we haven’t identified because he wasn’t in D.C. And then photos of Watkins showed up again in Louisville; she was even wearing a nameplate. We had many photos of Watkins from her Parler account, and she said on her account that she was a bar owner. When we identified this third person and looked through his Facebook page, we found this bar called Jolly Roger in his friends list. We then looked at the Jolly Roger page and found Watkins, wearing military gear, together with this third person. And we looked through public records that showed she was paying the water bill for the bar, so we knew it was her. And then we found Crowl by crawling through the Jolly Roger friends list.

How are you so adept at all this research?

I’m a legal researcher. But everybody in our team has a different role and complements each other quite nicely. There’s one person crawling through hundreds of social media accounts and trying to figure out who could be an Oath Keeper. Then there’s one person who is very closely working with all the video material from D.C. and is working on a timeline. Most of the rest of the team is trying to match social media accounts with people from D.C.

About how many people are working on your team?

We have about 15 people on the server, but the core team is six people.

Have you received any threats or pushback from right-wing groups?

Yeah, from trolls. And some right-wing media called us antifa sympathizers. We don’t take any offense in that, because of course we are anti-fascist, but we’re not actually affiliated with any other group. And we’re not paid by George Soros. [Laughs.]

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Writer and editor. Previously at Medium, Pacific Standard, Wired

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