Parler GPS Data Shows Users Posting from Military Bases

The analysis comes as Congress wants to know how much white supremacy has penetrated the military.
January 15, 2021, 5:28pm
capitol
Image: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

Users of far-right social media platform Parler included people who posted from inside U.S. military facilities and bases, according to a Motherboard analysis of GPS locations scraped from Parler.

The data is not conclusive evidence of active military members using the platform, and the overlap comes with several important caveats. Some of the people who are on a military base at a given time can include civilians who work there as well as the families of active service members. Motherboard has not confirmed the identities of any of the Parler posters and has also not analyzed the specific content posted from within the bases. But the news comes as prosecutors press charges against current and former military personnel for participating in the Capitol Hill event, and after a massive archive of Parler data showed that Parler users attended the riots.

Do you know anything else about the Parler data? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, OTR chat on jfcox@jabber.ccc.de, or email joseph.cox@vice.com.

Before Amazon cut-off Parler, a team of archivists managed to scrape a vast quantity of publicly available Parler data, including posts, images, videos, and usernames.

"I hope that it can be used to hold people accountable and to prevent more death," donk_enby, the hacker who led the archiving project, told Motherboard on Monday

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As Motherboard previously reported, a wave of hobbyists and computer scientists then pored over the data. One technologist took that wealth of information and filtered the GPS locations and some associated metadata and provided that information to Motherboard.

Motherboard then plotted these coordinates of where Parler users had posted from onto a map and overlaid the location of U.S. military bases using an official dataset published by the Department of Transportation.

The overlay shows dozens of examples of Parler users posting from within military facilities.

example-1.png

Although much of the content on Parler is vitriolic, racist, or directly inciting violence, having an account on the social network does not mean that a user is necessarily far-right. And mapping Parler posts to military sites is not evidence that any military users of Parler attended the Capitol Hill riots. GPS coordinates can also not necessarily be reliably accurate depending on where the user posted from. Nonetheless, it does suggest that at least some of the users of Parler, which is a right-wing site, have ties to the military.

"The dataset depicts the authoritative boundaries of the most commonly known Department of Defense (DoD) sites, installations, ranges, and training areas in the United States and Territories," the data description reads. "This dataset was created from source data provided by the four Military Service Component headquarters and was compiled by the Defense Installation Spatial Data Infrastructure (DISDI) Program within the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, Business Enterprise Integration Directorate," it continues.

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"For inventory purposes, installations are comprised of sites, where a site is defined as a specific geographic location of federally owned or managed land and is assigned to military installation. DoD installations are commonly referred to as a base, camp, post, station, yard, center, homeport facility for any ship, or other activity under the jurisdiction, custody, control of the DoD," the description concludes.

example-2.png

A Parler user posting from inside a military facility, with the green dot representing the GPS coordinates, and the red are representing the facility itself.

The Army is doing additional security screening to determine which National Guard troops will be deployed during the upcoming Inauguration because of concerns that military members could be sympathetic to the ideologies of Capitol rioters, Army Times reported earlier this week. Heavily armed members of the National Guard are currently in Washington D.C. protecting the Capitol building.

Congress has demanded an investigation to determine the extent to which white supremacist ideology has penetrated military ranks.

"It's terrifying and revolting that members of the military and veterans could be involved in an insurrection in an attempt to violently overthrow the government," Senator Richard Blumethal said in a statement on Thursday. White supremacy has become more popular with troops in the past year, according to a senior Defense official told reporters.

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Neo-Nazis are trying to recruit active service members and have called for assassinations, VICE News reported this week.

The Associated Press found at least 21 current or former members of the U.S. military of law enforcement as being at or near the Capitol riot. On Wednesday authorities arrested Jacob Fracker, an infantryman with the Virginia National Guard and Thomas Robertson, an Army veteran, Military.com reported.

This week, Tam Pham, a Houston Police Department officer, resigned after Chief Art Acevedo reviewed social media posts appearing to show Pham inside the Capitol during the January 6 riots. The Chief contacted the FBI and expects federal charges to be filed, The Houston Chronicle reported

A U.S. Army spokesperson told Motherboard in a statement that "The Army is committed to working closely with the F.B.I. as they identify people who participated in the violent attack on the Capitol to determine if the individuals have any connection to the Army.  Any type of activity that involves violence, civil disobedience, or a breach of peace may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or under state or federal law. For any further questions, please contact the DOJ."

This piece has been updated to include a statement from a U.S. Army spokesperson.