As he watched footage of the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol, Chris Sigurdson, an out-of-work actor in Canada, found himself drawn to a disturbing image: a man in an olive sweatshirt spraying chemicals at the police. On the man’s face, Sigurdson says, was a look of “demented glee.”
Sigurdson, 58, had been growing obsessed with the riot, spending 40 hours a week combing through photographs and videos. He noticed a resemblance between the man in the sweatshirt and a rioter who bragged about attacking police officers in a different video recorded at a hotel in Virginia. When he looked closely, he could see that they were the same person, carrying the same backpack.
Sigurdson posted his findings on Twitter at the end of January. Two weeks later, the FBI arrested Daniel Ray Caldwell of The Colony, Texas. An affidavit cited Sigurdson’s tweet as evidence. (Caldwell has pleaded not guilty to the seven federal crimes he’s charged with.)
The arrest was an early triumph for the growing community of self-proclaimed sedition hunters—a motley assortment of internet sleuths who’ve spent hundreds of hours analyzing the reams of footage that emerged from the insurrection. Over the past few months, the sleuths have coalesced into an expansive network that shares and cross-references videos and social media posts, dissecting the material on Twitter or in private group chats on platforms such as Discord.
“Every person brings a piece of the puzzle together,” Sigurdson says. “People are only able to really hone in on somebody based on the work that everyone else is doing.”
Senate Republicans recently blocked a bill in Congress to create an independent Sept. 11-style commission to investigate the riot, making it increasingly unlikely that the U.S. government will ever produce a comprehensive and impartial accounting of the attack. On the internet, however, ordinary people are conducting investigations of their own, bolstering the FBI’s official inquiry while raising concerns that untrained vigilantes might broadcast the personal information of innocent people.
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