FBI tracks riot suspects through private messages on Facebook

Facebook is cooperating with federal authorities and turning over private messages by users who discussed taking part in the deadly Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol.

U.S. lawmakers have been pushing social media platforms to expose user data in the ongoing effort to round up hundreds of perpetrators across the country.

Numerous Facebook groups and accounts, public and private, were found to have helped organize the insurrection, contradicting Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, who took criticism for saying the mob attack had been planned on smaller fringe sites, reports said.

Other threats of violence, planning and boasting about the riot were widely found on right-wing social media app Parler, whose hosting was shut down after the riot, which removed it from the internet entirely for failing to contain violent content.

Of the 92 criminal complaints filed by the Justice Department related to the riot, 78% have referenced social media including Facebook, according to Forbes citing an analysis by George Washington University. Of those cases, 38% included social media posts by an individual who was later charged.

A criminal complaint filed Wednesday revealed how social media was helping the FBI locate additional suspects.

Christopher M. Kelly, a New York man, is wanted by federal authorities after he posted social media photos of himself at the riot, reports said. Law enforcement received a tip about the images and obtained a search warrant against Kelly’s Facebook account, according to reports.

The FBI sought the man’s private messages with other Facebook users, along with his IP address, phone number and gmail address.

“I’ll be with ex-NYPD and some Proud Boys,” Kelly allegedly told an associate who advised him to watch out for Antifa, a left-wing protest movement, ahead of the trip to Washington. “This will be the most historic event of my life,” Kelly responded.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump tried to overthrow Congress during a ceremonial vote to confirm Joe Biden’s election win.

The rioters were incited by months of false claims by Trump and others in the GOP who spread the notion that widespread voter fraud got Biden elected and cheated the incumbent out of a second term.

However, judges across the country — including many appointed by Trump — dismissed at least 60 cases challenging the election results, citing lack of evidence. The Supreme Court also twice refused to take up the issue.

As congressional offices and chambers were ransacked Jan. 6, and the crowd chanted “Kill Mike Pence,” lawmakers hid the Electoral College ballots and took shelter from the angry mob. Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer. A Georgia man who participated in the insurrection later died by suicide.

Several suspects arrested since the riot have been tied to violent right-wing extremist groups including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, according to reports.

Investigators were also looking at whether fringe groups plotted the uprising with more sinister aims after photos and video revealed certain actors weaving through the raucous crowd with military-like precision and carrying flex-cuffs to presumably take hostages.

The teams appeared to be tactically trained and were observed using hand signals and two-way radios to communicate amid the chaos, The New York Times reported. Dozens of current and former military servicemembers and public servants like police officers and firefighters also participated in the riot, according to reports.

The FBI said Kelly revealed that his brother, a retired police officer, planned to go to the Capitol with him.

On the day of the riot, Kelly sent a private group message saying: “Tear gas, police, stopped the hearing, they are all headed to the basement.” And later: “F--- these snakes. Out of OUR HOUSE!”

In another chat three days after the uprising, Kelly shared a photograph of himself outside the Capitol, shirtless and wielding an American flag among the mob scene.

“That’s me,” he wrote, according to the complaint. “My brother took it.”

Facebook also gave up Kelly’s IP log history, which allowed authorities to track his movements on Jan. 6 from New York to Silver Spring, Maryland, and near Washington, D.C., reports said.