Rep. Matt Gaetz Staffer Cheered On Capitol Rioters Via Parler as They Overran Police

Pro-Trump protesters gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Pro-Trump protesters gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Photo: Brent Stirton (Getty Images)

As police struggled futilely to fend off a wave of rioters outside the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, Joel Valdez, an aide to Congressman Matt Gaetz, made his way to the rooftop of his boss’s office building across the street on Independence Ave. Surveying the mob as it surrounded the complex, he captured a five-second video with his phone and posted it to Parler—the now-defunct social network where some supporters of President Trump are reported to have openly planned an insurrection for weeks.

“From the top of the Capitol office buildings, WE HEAR YOU LOUD AND CLEAR!” Valdez posted, adding the hashtag “#StopTheSteal”.

Illustration for article titled Rep. Matt Gaetz Staffer Cheered On Capitol Rioters Via Parler as They Overran Police
Screenshot: Parler / Wayback Machine
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Metadata from Valdez’s video, which Pro Publica published last week but did not connect to Gaetz’s press assistant, reveals it was taken at roughly 1:14 p.m. ET that day. The rioters had by that time already breached at least three police barricades and forced officers back onto the Capitol steps where they were violently engaged, according to a timeline of events reported by the New York Times.

Gaetz’s chief of staff, Jillian Lane Wyant, disputed that Valdez’s video depicted him cheering on the mob. Valdez could not have known, she said, that the rioters would break inside the Capitol building.

“A staff member in our office posted on his personal Parlor [sic] account about the President’s rally before the Capitol had been breached or anyone was harmed,” Wyant said in an email. “He also immediately amplified President Trump’s call on social media for those in attendance to go home. He regrets that the post has been misinterpreted as support for violence by some. It was not.”

Valdez’s Parler account can still be viewed via the Wayback Machine and does not appear to show that he amplified Trump’s call for the rioters to disperse. His Twitter account is currently protected and cannot be reviewed. His post cheering on the Capitol mob was seen by Parler users more 58,500 times as of January 10. It’s unclear how many users saw it the day of the attack.

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Valdez did not respond directly to a request for comment. According to his LinkedIn page, he began working for Gaetz in January 2020 and previously worked for the Trump re-election campaign as a “War Room Analyst.” He was also once a member of the right-wing group Turning Point USA.

Illustration for article titled Rep. Matt Gaetz Staffer Cheered On Capitol Rioters Via Parler as They Overran Police
Screenshot: Parler / Wayback Machine
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As Gizmodo previously reported, some of Parler’s users were among the mob of rioters who made their way deep inside the Capitol building the day of the deadly siege. While the social network was taken offline by Amazon days after, nearly all of its posts and videos were downloaded by the hacker @donk_enby prior to the takedown.

Amazon said it terminated its hosting contract with Parler because the company was unable to identify and remove posts by users that called for the “rape, torture, and assassination” of elected officials, police officers, and others, according to a court filing last month.

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Last month, Gizmodo was able to map out the locations of nearly 70,000 Parler videos, including 618 taken in and around the Capitol the day of the attack. Others contain GPS coordinates linked to police stations and military bases. Unlike most of its competitors, the social network failed to automatically remove location data from its users’ video posts.

Correction: An early version of this article identified Joel Valdez as “Joey” in the first paragraph. We regret the error.

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Senior Reporter, Privacy & Security

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