As The Washington Post’s Dave Jorgenson asked in a TikTok, did this confederacy of dunces want to get caught?
That certainly seems to be the case.
For example, there is Kevin Lyons of Chicago, who originally told the FBI that he had a dream he was in the Capitol that day. Until, that is, they showed him a photo he posted to Instagram outside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office with the caption “WHOSE HOUSE? OUR HOUSE!” causing him to reply, “Wow, you’re pretty good. That was only up for an hour,” according to court documents.
Or Wisconsin’s Kevin Loftus, who took things a step further. After posting a selfie in the Capitol with the caption “one of 700 inside,” he later, perhaps inevitably, posted on Facebook, “i am wanted by the FBI for illegal entry.”
Or Joshua Matthew Black, from Alabama, who appeared in a video posted to YouTube two days after the attack. In it, he admits to entering the Capitol and offers up that he was carrying a knife. “Once we found out Pence turned on us and that they had stolen the election, like, officially, the crowd went crazy. I mean, it became a mob. We crossed the gate,” he said, according to court documents. “We just wanted to get inside the building. I wanted to get inside the building so I could plead the blood of Jesus over it. That was my goal.”
These social media boasts were met with a deluge of arrests — and, this being the Internet, jokes.
“The only way to make it easier for the FBI would [be] for all of them to have name tags,” tweeted one user.
Perhaps the most dunked-on alleged rioter was Texas real estate agent Jenna Ryan, who appeared to use the brazen attack on American democracy as a branding opportunity. She posted a now-deleted, expletive-ridden video from the Capitol in which she shouts: “We’re gonna … go in there, life or death! It doesn’t matter,” before adding, “Y’all know who to hire for your Realtor: Jenna Ryan.”
In another video from inside the Capitol, Ryan says: “You guys, can you believe this? I’m not messing around. When I come to sell your house, this is what I’ll do. I’ll … sell your house.”
“As an American I’m disgusted,” wrote one user. “As a Realtor, I kind of respect the hustle.”
“She was my realtor but I fired her,” tweeted another. “We went to look at a house but instead of getting the key from the lock box she ran and jumped through the window chanting USA USA, and told me to follow her if I was a patriot. I don’t buy the house.”
A few users imagined Ryan pitching prison to her clients. One tweeted: “Hey, Jenna — I’m in the market for a new home, something in the 8x8 range, preferably in a secure community. Anything you can help me with?”
Jason Cilo is no stranger to boneheaded criminals. For more than half a decade, he produced “World’s Dumbest,” a show that focused on the least-intelligent elements of various parts of society, including lawbreakers. He said he’s most surprised that these people aren’t attempting to license their footage for a few quick bucks. But he’s not shocked that they made these posts in the first place, as foolish as they might be.
“Filming yourself in an insurrection and then not understanding why the FBI is knocking on your grandmother’s door to find you is definitely dumb,” Cilo said. “And annoying for your grandmother.”
Still, with video cameras that fit into our pockets, people record themselves breaking the law — and doing other, err, misguided things — all the time. “When we started making [‘World’s Dumbest’] in 2008, it was a lot harder to find these videos than it is now,” Cilo said. “Whereas I could populate an entire 13-episode run of World’s Dumbest with 200 or more clips, right now, from my desk, in about an afternoon.”
The real question many are pondering is why? Why on earth would someone broadcast themselves doing something illegal? What is there to gain, aside from finding yourself behind bars and on the receiving end of Twitter jokes?
Jaron Lanier, author of “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” argues that it boils down to addiction — both to politics and to screens. “The process of addiction does harm to judgment,” he said. “Addicts get stupid, and these people have behavioral addictions fostered by old-fashioned cultism plus new-fashioned cloud algorithms that evolved from the advertising commerce model.”
Christopher J. Schneider, a sociology professor at Brandon University in Manitoba, Canada, and the author of “Policing and Social Media: Social Control in an Era of New Media,” said the self-incriminating social media postings fit into a larger trend that has emerged during “mass criminal events.”
He pointed to the 2011 Vancouver riots, which started when the Boston Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks in the final game of the Stanley Cup. As violence and chaos spilled into the streets, bystanders and participants posted photos and videos to social media, making it “one of the first circumstances where you had a mass criminal event that was happening in real time online.”
“That there are many people engaging in these acts simultaneously makes it feel like a collective endeavor rather than an individual endeavor,” Schneider said. “The people who are engaging in these acts on social media are doing it in the belief or the assertion that they’re engaging in a form of politics.”
Furthermore, he suggested that these rioters — and even bystanders who captured the riots with their smartphones — probably want to feel like they’re part of a historic event.
“When you start thinking about the posting of selfies and videos writ large, part of what you want to demonstrate to your online following is: ‘Hey, look at me. I’m at the Super Bowl. Hey, look at me. I’m with this celebrity,’” he said, adding that this time it’s: “’Hey, look at me. I’m making history.’”
And, like it or not, it might be part of our new digital reality.
“We remember that old saying: ‘The revolution will not be televised,’” Schneider said. “But perhaps it might be live-streamed. It’s a terrifying and unsettling thought. I hope I’m wrong. But I think that’s the beginning of these sorts of things.”