You may have seen the video yourself on social media. A large anonymous man on a subway stands menacingly over a terrified elderly woman wearing a mask. He shouts “1776!” over and over at her, and other baffling nonsense. He’s enraged because she’s wearing a mask. When a witness tells him to respect his elders he self-righteously proclaims, “I respect freedom! What do you respect?” In an inset in the video a young woman says, “I need your help identifying this clown, right here.”
The video cuts to another young lady standing in front of a photo of the same man from the video, this time wearing a suit and posing with professional colleagues. “Don’t worry, Bessie, I got you,” she says. “Everybody meet 27 year old New Jersey native Ryan Bartels.” Turns out Bartels now lives in Virginia and he used to work for CarMax as recently as May of this year. He is now in hiding. If he has a job it’s safe to bet he won’t have it much longer.
Welcome to the world of crowdsourcing justice. While I’m not a wholesale advocate for social media mob rule, there are occasions when it comes in handy. This is one of those occasions. People like Bartels are a menace to First Amendment rights and the right to quiet and peaceful enjoyment of our lives free of harassment. He is a traitor to his country and to common sense and deserves every proportionate misfortune that befalls him.
Crowdsourcing justice has also been useful in the criminal indictments of rioters in the January 6th insurrection. The sentencing for one of the rioters was abruptly postponed Wednesday after new videos emerged of the man allegedly fighting with police. Robert Reeder of Maryland was charged in February with four nonviolent misdemeanors to which, in a plea bargain, he agreed to plead guilty. He was scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday afternoon, with prosecutors asking he serve two months in jail — in part due to his lack of remorse.
Well he’s probably remorseful now. On Wednesday morning, the online group known as the Sedition Hunters tweeted newly discovered clips and photos, apparently showing Reeder attacking police on January 6th. Prosecutors are now looking at more serious felony charges and a much stiffer sentence for Reeder. Sedition Hunters is one of several online groups, many composed of anti-Donald Trump activists, who have painstakingly sifted through footage from social media from the Capitol attack to identify rioters.
The efforts of these groups have been of enormous help to the FBI. There are simply too many feet of digital video imagery for the agency to sift through on its own. Crowdsourcing has made the identification of many of the rioters possible. Many would have escaped justice otherwise.
The methods they use are at once clever and effective. Danish citizen Tommy Carstensen said he’s watched thousands of videos since January. One tactic he used was to analyze the music playing in the background in various videos of the riot. “Someone later created a playlist,” Carstensen said, “and then if you heard Elton John you would know, OK, this is at 2 p.m.” Using the music as a clue, sometimes he could triangulate on a single individual from several different videos.
Using identifying features — a unique hat, certain specific military badges, sunglasses and so on — Sedition Hunters sift through thousands of photos looking for a single clear image. Then facial recognition software does the rest and — voila!
To date at least 575 federal criminal complaints have been filed against January 6th rioters. Many of those complaints would not have been possible had it not been for online amateurs lending their free time to help. Not only are these groups helping catch these incels, cretins, mouth breathers, losers and traitors, they’re helping the wider effort against Donald Trump and his enablers. A federal case against the man who incited the January 6th attack can only be strengthened in the eyes of a future jury if a thousand of his followers went to prison for carrying out his wishes. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.