Wednesday’s edition of the PBS NewsHour featured veteran journalist Judy Woodruff cheering on an obsessive group of “citizen investigators” who have teamed up with the media’s favorite domestic surveillance organization to turn in people who entered the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021: “How citizen investigators are helping the FBI track down Jan. 6 rioters.”
One suspects these unlabeled, left-wing activist “Citizen investigators” would have been condemned as troubling vigilantes by PBS if they were crowdsourcing video for Black Lives Matter rioters and thieves in 2020.
“Sedition hunters.” The tolerant left’s lexicon certainly sounds McCarthyite these days. This is a “public broadcasting” trend. NPR touted the “sedition hunters” last year at this time.
Woodruff interviewed someone who spends her every waking hour playing detective, seemingly determined to put everyone who walked into the Capitol on January 6 in prison. She won’t give her name, or show her face, but she exposes everyone else.
Woodruff also interviewed Ryan Reilly, NBC News Justice reporter and author of Sedition Hunters: How January 6th Broke the Justice System. Reilly talked casually about the FBI teaming up with the leftist computer geeks: “…now you will have the FBI going to the sleuths, saying, hey, can you help us out?”
Woodruff didn’t question the ethics of the FBI teaming up with vengeful lefty loners to track and prosecute Capitol wanderers, concerned only that the FBI’s own technology couldn’t do it.
It sounds like a sad life.
PBS’s favorite extremist-hunter Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL), regretted law enforcement’s inability “to handle a surge of political violence or hate-fueled violence.” (Miller-Idriss has linked going to the gym with far-right extremism.)
But only “violent extremist acts” from the right are considered dangerous to Miller-Idriss and company.
Not quite 10 years ago, PBS had a much less sunny view of the U.S. surveillance state. In May 2014, PBS aired a two-part episode of its left-wing investigative show Frontline, “The United States of Secrets,” The Part One teaser:
How far PBS has gone down the road of applauding that same surveillance state.
This pro-citizen surveillance segment was brought to you in part by taxpayers like you.
7:32:57 p.m. (ET)
Amna Nawaz: The federal investigation into 2021’s January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol is the largest FBI operation in history. More than 1,200 people have been charged and over 900 convicted so far, and hundreds more charges are expected before the investigation concludes.
But it has stretched the bureau’s resources, and it’s often had to rely on the work of a bipartisan group of citizen investigators who came to be known as sedition hunters.
Judy Woodruff spoke with one of these anonymous sleuths as part of her ongoing series America at a Crossroads.
Sandy, Citizen Investigator: In the beginning, it was intense. I would drop my children off at school, I would come home, and I would be on it almost like a workday.
And then once the kids were in bed, I was up until 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, and then waking up a couple hours later. It takes its toll, definitely.
Judy Woodruff: Sandy, like many Americans, was paying close attention January 6, 2021.
Donald Trump, Former President of the United States (R) and Current U.S. Presidential Candidate: We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.
Judy Woodruff: As an angry mob of then-President Donald Trump supporters violently broke through police lines and stormed the Capitol Building.
Rioters: Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!
Sandy: And I just remember hearing, “Shots have been fired,” and I don’t think I will ever forget that moment in my life.
Judy Woodruff: In the following days, Sandy, not her real name, joined a massive citizen effort to identify the individuals who broke into the Capitol. She’s been directly responsible for helping to put people behind bars, and she now has to hide her identity, for fear of retaliation.
Sandy: One of the more insidious ones would be a J6er who is yet to be arrested. He started sending me like, videos of him racking his gun.
Judy Woodruff: Sandy is today part of an informal community of dozens of ordinary Americans who came to be known as sedition hunters. Over time, they developed their own methodologies, guidelines, even a software application to keep track of every individual rioter, giving each one a pseudonym and compiling dossiers of evidence that they then turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with the rioters’ real identity.
Sandy: One of the first things is just getting a face. And there is one rioter, #OrangeGoggleSpiker is his hashtag, you can see him in the tunnel section of the Capitol beating up the officers.
Eventually, when I found his face, we were able to plug it into some facial recognition software. That popped up a picture of him at his work.
Judy Woodruff: That photo led Sandy and other citizens’ slews to the rioters’ real name, Scott Miller, which they submitted to the FBI, along with evidence of his actions on January 6. He has since been arrested.
Ryan Reilly, NBC News Justice Reporter: One of the sedition hunters pages has all these images that shows you who’s been identified, who has not. So you see like a lot of these, the blue here, are the people who’ve been identified already, but not get arrested.
Judy Woodruff: Also following the investigation closely is Ryan Reilly an NBC News reporter whose new book, “Sedition Hunters: How January 6th Broke the Justice System,” spells out how the FBI has struggled to investigate the thousands of people who stormed the Capitol.
Ryan Reilly: The FBI was so overwhelmed with the number of tips that they were receiving. They had received hundreds of thousands of tips. And now you will have the FBI going to the sleuths, saying, hey, can you help us out? We charge this guy, we want to make sure we got everything that he did that day. Can you give us a full report?
They don’t have the technological capabilities that they need to really pull this together.
Judy Woodruff: Is the FBI that far behind in terms of technology?
Ryan Reilly: They really just are sort of behind on open-source intelligence. One of the jokes within the FBI is yesterday’s technology tomorrow.
Judy Woodruff: Reilly says it’s estimated that about 3,000 people unlawfully entered the Capitol, damaged property or assaulted police officers on January 6. The FBI has charged more than 1,200 of them so far, but the citizen sleuths have identified and submitted tips on about 1,000 more.
Ryan Reilly: They’re not going to be able to get the number of people who could actually be charged with crimes on January 6. We’re going to end this investigation when the five-year statute of limitations expires with people who are identified, but not yet arrested.
Judy Woodruff: The FBI said in a statement that each tip is only the beginning of an investigation and that they are working diligently to gather sufficient evidence for prosecutors to bring charges in these cases.
The FBI did not address the question of whether its technology is outdated, but acknowledged that its work has been — quote — “greatly assisted by the many tips provided by the public” — end quote, adding it hopes these tips continue to come in.
But Reilly says the FBI’s technology isn’t the only reason for what he calls a backlog of January 6 cases.
Ryan Reilly: We do have a lot of people within the FBI who are not so enthusiastic about bringing these cases against people who attacked the Capitol on January 6.
Judy Woodruff: Are there still people in the FBI not enthusiastic?
Ryan Reilly: There are, and I say that because some of these individuals who were at the FBI have come out and said that publicly. They have resigned from the FBI because of these cases.
Judy Woodruff: Reilly points out that, in addition to current and former law enforcement officials pushing conspiracy theories, members of Congress have opposed investigations into January 6 and also contributed to misinformation about what happened that day.
Rep. Matt Gaetz: Some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters. They were masquerading as Trump supporters and, in fact, were members of the violent terrorist group Antifa.
Judy Woodruff: These included the new speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, who in the run-up to January 6 took the lead in filing a lawsuit to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. He has said he plans to make public video footage from January 6, but with faces blurred.
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA): We have to blur some of the faces of persons who participated in the events of that day because we don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ.
Sandy: If he’s going to blur the faces because he’s afraid that sedition hunters are going to identify more criminals, go for it, buddy. Like, it doesn’t matter to us. We can look at their clothing.
Judy Woodruff: This is the largest federal investigation ever undertaken. And although Sandy is at the heart of it, having helped identify hundreds of rioters, almost nobody in her life knows about her work.
Sandy: People want to know what you have been up to, and you have all of these exciting things that you want to say, and you can’t. I will just default to the kids and what they’re doing.
Judy Woodruff: You’re not getting paid for this, are you?
Sandy: No. No. I haven’t gotten paid a dime. This is literally your friends, your neighbors, your fellow citizens dedicating their time, their money, and their energy in holding people accountable.
We have some that voted for Trump, and then after J6 were disgusted by it, because they took the peaceful transfer of power and just stomped all over it, literally. And then they called themselves patriots.
Cynthia Miller-Idriss, American University: I wish we were in a world where we didn’t have to rely on groups of people, but I also think we’re in a world where the FBI doesn’t have the resources to do these investigations.
Judy Woodruff: Cynthia Miller-Idriss is the director of American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab.
Cynthia Miller-Idriss: We don’t have the capacity in any law enforcement agency to handle a surge of political violence or hate-fueled violence when that — when it’s driven by misinformation that is believed by millions and millions of people.
Judy Woodruff: She says now that members of the public are engaging in violent extremist acts, it’s a far greater challenge for law enforcement to prevent and to counter.
Cynthia Miller-Idriss: It’s no longer just on the fringes when you’re talking about people in the mainstream spontaneously taking up violent action for a political goal.
And I know everyone in my field is watching the year to come with a lot of concern.
Judy Woodruff: Although she says she believes the prosecutions in the January 6 investigation have degraded the ability of extremist groups to organize mass mobilizations, Professor Miller-Idriss says that the focus must expand to addressing the root causes of extremism, where radical beliefs originate.
Cynthia Miller-Idriss: We put almost all of our eggs in the basket of Department of Justice and think that the security side of it will solve it. It has to be there, but so does the Department of Education and agencies that work with youths, that work with the elderly, that work with digital and media literacy.
Sandy: I would like to have an ability to counter this disinformation that led us there. It’s incredibly frustrating.
Judy Woodruff: Sandy has seen the effects of disinformation firsthand in her own family.
Sandy: I haven’t spoken to a few of my cousins since January 6 because they support it. We’re divided, and I don’t know how to pull us back together. I don’t know how it’s going to change.
Judy Woodruff: For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Judy Woodruff in Washington, D.C.