Some of the rioters who stormed the US Capitol last week communicated with each other through walkie-talkie social media app Zello, which has become popular among militias, according to a report.
At least two members of the mob used Zello to talk with other people who appeared to be inciting them from other locations, The Guardian reported, citing audio and chat logs it reviewed.“We are in the main dome right now,” a female militia member was heard saying amid the mayhem, the outlet reported. “We are rocking it. They’re throwing grenades, they’re frickin’ shooting people with paintballs, but we’re in here.”
A male voice replied from a quiet location: “God bless and godspeed. Keep going.”
Another person was heard saying: “Jess, do your s—. This is what we f—- lived up for. Everything we f—- trained for.”
The frantic exchanges took place at 2:44 p.m. Jan. 6 in a public channel called “STOP THE STEAL J6” on the app, which claims to have 150 million users and has avoided the proactive moderation of far-right rhetoric, according to The Guardian.
Zello has been used by the Cajun Navy, a group of volunteers who aid people stranded in storms, but is also home to more than 800 far-right channels that appear to violate its policy that bars anyone who promotes “violent ideologies,” the news outlet reported.
Zello said it was “prepared to take action on those,” adding that it was working on a more elaborate response.
In addition to locking some public features that would help researchers find more extremist content, the app had begun deleting some far-right groups as of Wednesday.
Shortly after The Guardian posted its report, the company purged over 2,000 “channels associated with militias and other militarized social movements.”“It is with deep sadness and anger that we have discovered evidence of Zello being misused by some individuals while storming the United States Capitol building last week,” Zello wrote in a blog post, according to The Guardian.
“Looking ahead, we are concerned that Zello could be misused by groups who have threatened to organize additional potentially violent protests and disrupt the US presidential inauguration festivities on January 20th,” it added.
The Zello user referred to as “Jess” appears to be Jessica Watkins, 38, a Ohio bartender who recently told the Ohio Capital Journal that she had taken part in the siege as leader of the Ohio State Regular and Oath Keepers militias, according to the report.
The Southern Poverty Law center says the national Oath Keepers — which claim to have tens of thousands of law enforcement and military personnel in its ranks — are “one of the largest radical anti-government groups in the US today,” The Guardian reported.
The user’s Zello messages also bear striking resemblance to posts on Watkins profile on Parler, the controversial social media site that major service providers have booted from their network, according to the news outlet’s research.
“Yeah. We stormed the Capitol today. Teargassed, the whole, 9,” she wrote on Parler, The Guardian reported. “Pushed our way into the rotunda. Made it into the Senate even.”
Her profile was one of thousands uploaded by a group of hackers to the Wayback Machine, an internet archive, after the DC unrest.
“We have a good group: 30 to 40 of us. We’re sticking together and sticking to the plan,” the female voice is heard saying on Zello. “The police are doing nothing. They’re not even trying to stop us.”Watkins, who told the Ohio Capital Journal that she did not believe she had done anything wrong, could not be reached by the paper for comment.
Meanwhile, records from other far-right channels show that Zello was used to organize and foment unrest in the lead-up to the riot.
“Once we go operational, this channel will just be for intel gathering and organizing on the backside … All information, once verified, will be put into the Telegram and then shared to boots on the ground from there,” a user named “AmericanRev2” said in password-protected channel “DC 3.0”, The Guardian reported.
On Jan. 4, two days before the insurrection, a militia member said on Zello: “How about if all of us stand the f— up, and take this s— back?”
He added: “I got a problem with f— patriots not growing a f—- set of g—- nuts and standing the f— up, and kicking b— in the f— teeth. And shooting m—- f—- in the f—- head.”
He then tried to walk back his incendiary remarks, according to the report.
“I ain’t talking about doing anything illegal … I want y’all to know I love you … I just wanted to incite enthusiasm,” he said.
In October, a joint investigation from On the Media and MilitiaWatch revealed that Zello resisted calls to enforce its terms of service, which bans “violent extremist ideologies.”
“Zello simply cannot actively monitor millions of concurrent discussions,” the company told On the Media before it eventually banned some white nationalist groups and users.
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