A top FBI official said this week that the U.S. was “grateful” for Americans who made the tough decision to turn in friends and family members who took part in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to keep then-President Donald Trump in power.
“Some of you have recognized that this was such an egregious incident that you’ve turned in your friends and family members,” Steven D’Antuono, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “We know that these decisions are often painful, but you picked up the phone because it was the right thing to do.”
Indeed, some Americans ― like the Texas teen who told the feds about his father’s involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection ― have made difficult choices about turning in someone they love to the federal government.
But others ― old acquaintances of the defendants who are only “friends” with them on social media ― are clearly relishing the moment.
In case after case that federal authorities have brought in connection with the insurrection, there has been a consistent theme. Old associates ― from high school or college or young adulthood ― have gone to the FBI with tips about the people they’ve been following for years on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.
They watched their former associates get sucked into online conspiracy theories and a cultlike dedication to Trump. They read their bigoted posts about Black Lives Matter or their lie-filled screeds about a stolen election. They had their own comments trolled. And when their online nemeses finally crossed the line into outright criminal activity, they turned them in to the feds.
Take the case against Patrick Stedman, a 32-year-old from Haddonfield, New Jersey, who held himself out as a “Dating + Relationship Strategist” on Twitter, where he had 25,000 followers. Witness 1, a college classmate of Stedman’s, told the feds they were “one hundred percent confident” that the individual posting on @Pat_Stedman was the person they knew in college. Witness 2, a high school classmate, submitted a tip to the FBI’s portal two days after the Jan. 6 attack. In a follow-up interview, Witness 2 said they were “one hundred percent sure” that Stedman was posting on @Pat_Stedman. They also pointed out in their FBI interview that they believed Stedman resides with his parents, a fact that the bureau dutifully included in the criminal complaint.
Someone tipped off the feds about Chance Uptmore, a Texas man who took a trip to the Capitol insurrection with his father to celebrate his birthday, when they saw his Facebook comments about his trip to D.C. The witness attached an image Uptmore posted that showed him posing outside the U.S. Capitol during the attack.
Uptmore had plenty of Facebook frenemies. He got into battles with Facebook friends because of his statements about Black Lives Matter and his defense of Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teenager charged with shooting two protesters this summer during demonstrations against racism and police brutality.
Uptmore ― who would go on to confess his conduct to FBI agents and implicate his father in criminal activity as the feds executed a search warrant on his home ― once told another Facebook user that they had a “lack of understanding of how the justice system works.” (The user, who was responding to Uptmore’s attacks on Black Lives Matter, called Uptmore “very sheltered and spoiled” and said that “Mommy and Daddy’s money” kept him “on the rich side of town your whole life and now you’re just a s******* who displays it on the Internet lol.”)
A witness who had known Chris Ortiz since high school gave the FBI copies of videos Ortiz posted to Instagram that showed him screaming “onward, onward” while entering the U.S. Capitol. They also turned over Instagram direct messages they exchanged with Ortiz in which they discouraged Ortiz from going inside and called it “BEYOND the worst idea” that Ortiz ever had.
“Hope you were wearing a mask at least,” they wrote to Ortiz. “You were part of a group of domestic terrorists the fbi is looking [for].”
“I’d storm the Capitol for you any day,” Ortiz replied.
Nolan Cooke, a 22-year-old from Savoy, Texas, was turned in by a tipster who followed him on Snapchat and knew that Cooke went to high school in Savoy.
Another FBI tipster told the feds that they and Andrew C. Ericson ― who authorities said posted on Snapchat from inside the U.S. Capitol ― had “known one another since high school, when they became acquainted through mutual friends.”
William Vogel, who traveled to the U.S. Capitol with a giant, red novelty “Make America Great Again” hat, had a number of acquaintances who had known him “socially” go to the FBI after he posted images on Snapchat and Facebook. Tipster 1 knew Vogel “socially for several years,” as did Tipster 2 and Tipster 3 and Tipster 4, who added that Vogel was “very vocal” about the “Stop the Steal” rally.
A witness who went to high school with both Joshua Wagner and Israel Tutrow of Indiana provided the FBI with a bunch of evidence about their activity and noted that Wagner “vehemently opposes Joseph Biden as President.”
Some FBI tipsters proactively sought out evidence against specific Facebook “friends” before they naturally encountered it on Facebook. A concerned citizen tipped off the FBI National Threat Operations Center about Joshua Lollar before rioters had even left the building. The citizen later told FBI agents that they “were ‘friends’ on the social media platform Facebook” but that they “had little to no interaction” over the years. But, the witness said, “after learning about the events at the U.S. Capitol” they went to their Facebook news feed and “observed that LOLLAR had posted several photographs of himself which he claimed depicted him traveling to, and participating in, the civil unrest at the U.S. Capitol Building.”
Then there’s Brian Gundersen, the 26-year-old former high school football player who wore his varsity jacket to the Capitol insurrection. A search of the FBI’s database “returned a number of tips” about Gundersen, including pictures of Gundersen wearing the jacket “on multiple occasions,” including in photos he had posted with Fox News personalities. One tip said that an entire group of high school alumni, “based on their knowledge of GUNDERSEN and his views,” believed it was him in the jacket.
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