Information gathered and posted by a network of online sleuths led to the arrests Tuesday of two men charged separately with storming the U.S. Capitol last year, the FBI said in court filings.
One of the men — Matthew Jason Beddingfield, 21, of North Carolina — also is charged with attacking police officers with a flagpole during the riot in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
Beddingfield and Eric Gerwatowski, 31, of New Hyde Park, New York, were arrested in their respective home states Tuesday after their cases were unsealed.
The FBI has cited information compiled by online sleuths in many of the more than 730 riot-related cases filed in federal court so far. In a court filing, the FBI says one of the leads that it received from “previously unaffiliated private citizens” helped investigators identify Beddingfield as a rioter.
In March, HuffPost reported that online sleuths used facial recognition software to connect images of Beddingfield at the Capitol to his mugshot after a December 2019 arrest in North Carolina. One of the hashtags associated with Beddington was #NaziGrayHat, “possibly because he appeared to make a gesture that is commonly associated with the Nazis,” an FBI agent said in a court filing.
Beddingfield, 21, jumped over a barricade and charged at a group of Capitol police officers, jabbing at them with a metal flagpole that he brought with him, the filing says.
More than an hour later, Beddingfield entered the Capitol and waved his American flag as he walked some laps, the agent wrote. After joining a group of rioters who tried to storm the Senate Wing, Beddingfield appeared to use his flagpole again to hit or try to hit law enforcement officers, according to the agent.
Beddingfield, a resident of Johnston County, N.C., spent about 30 minutes inside the Capitol, the FBI says.
Beddingfield was on probation for a criminal conviction in North Carolina, and his probation officer identified him in photos of the riot, the FBI says.
Twitter users crowdsourcing information about rioters used the hashtag “#lordlonghair” to organize leads on the suspect the FBI has identified as Gerwatowski. The FBI said it reviewed Twitter posts featuring that hashtag and also received two tips about Gerwatowski from callers who said they knew him personally.
A video showed Gerwatowski at the front of a crowd where police were trying to close doors to stop rioters from entering the Capitol. He pulled open one of the doors that police had just closed, turned to the crowd, yelled, “Let’s Go!” and then entered the building, the FBI says.
One of those officers told the FBI that he made a tactical decision not to engage Gerwatowski and other rioters.
“The Officer said he made this decision because he had just come from the Gallery area of the Capitol where another rioter, Ashli Babbitt, was shot. The Officer told the FBI that he was exhausted, outnumbered, and had already been attacked and sprayed with several chemicals by rioters earlier in the day,” an FBI agent wrote.