Mapping the Scenes of the Crimes

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Ahead of the House January 6 Committee’s public hearing Day 6, former FBI agent AshaRangappa published a simple graphic chart depicting many facets of the January 6 coup attempt:

At a glance it depicts many of the major elements leading up to the attack on the Capitol Building.

But the breadth of the conspiracies as well as the chronology don’t appear in this simple chart. Nor does this chart allow for discovery of links to other new subordinate conspiracies and other previously unidentified co-conspirators.

Long-time emptywheel community member harpie has been doggedly compiling data points for a comprehensive timeline. A key challenge with a chronological list is that context and relationships can be obscured, especially when events happen simultaneously, or when events happen which don’t appear related and may have substantial gaps in time between them.

harpie recently shared links to two maps which provide additional context to relationships between and around co-conspirators. This one is a network map by @ValdisKrebs:

The acknowledged challenge is that not every node on this map is a co-conspirator; some may be related through the investigation as their name or testimony was mentioned. Not a difficult fix but one that demonstrates context important to grasping the conspiracy’s reach and impact.

Note where some persons end up on the network — like Brad Parscale, as one example.

Via @RYP_, harpie also shared a link to Wendy Siegelman’s map of network connections for Steve Bannon:

There are connections on this map which may have nothing to do with January 6, others which may be related but as yet don’t clearly connect, and an element of time but not a linear chronology which aligns with a timeline of January 6 events. The possibly related content and possibly related timing need to be surfaced in a different form of map.

MSNBC’s Ari Melber used a timeline to map the different conspiracies as layers:

A benefit to this depiction: a halted subordinate conspiracy is easy to compare against the overarching conspiracy and the other conspiracies attempted.

But conspirators and their relationships and how the different conspiracies interleaved is missing from this approach.

~ ~ ~

As this site’s Timeline Collection shows, emptywheel has long used timelines to map the course of crimes and investigations. They’ve been successful at depicting the development of conspiracy and their unfolding as investigations dug in.

The January 6 insurrection is far more complex to depict in comparison due to the number of perps and the number of conspiracies. How should a series of interrelated conspiracies with more than 1000 perps involving multiple states and at least two branches of federal government be mapped to make the whole accessible and comprehensible, in a way which encourages hidden relationships and obstructive measures to surface?

Other organizations have published timelines of January 6 as well — @capitolhunters’ collection and JustSecurity’s DOD response timeline offer examples — but while thorough in their own way, they’re both flattened representations limited in the first by format and the second by format and field of focus.

We’ll be working on a map based on a timeline of events, but how best to structure and achieve this is still in the air, especially since the underlying data points will change as the investigations into January 6 continue their course. An optimum solution will allow conspirators’ relationships to be self evident, show links between key persons and other subordinate/parallel conspiracies, the chronological course of events, and encourage deeper analysis with flexibility in presentation.

Ideally, a map which effectively depicts the crimes leading up to and committed on January 6 and beyond, will also answer questions for which we don’t yet have answers.

Will we learn from such a map why some GOP members of Congress asked for pardons even though they don’t (yet) have obvious ties to the insurrectionists’ attack on the Capitol Building back on January 6, 2021?

Could the identity of the person who placed two IEDs outside the DNC and the Capital Hill Club adjacent to the RNC’s offices become more clear with the crimes’ context more fully mapped?

69 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    It’s after 2:00 am here. Which means there are likely typos, grammatical errors, other boo-boos. Leave me a note and I’ll get to them in the morning, thanks.

    p.s. This is an open thread. Have at it.

    • grennan says:

      I’d just like to lead a communal three cheers-and-a-tiger* for you and all involved for thinking big, thinking thorough, and telling idiots where to go.

      *From the crazy collegiate crowd 100 years ago. Phone booth stuffing! Teapot Dome, too.

  2. Spencer Dawkins says:

    “Will we learn from such a map why some GOP members of Congress asked for pardons even though they don’t (yet) have obvious ties to the insurrectionists’ attack on the Capitol Building back on January 6, 2021?”

    One possible explanation:

    “I didn’t help plan the attack on the Capitol because I was too busy commiting completely unrelated crimes. But can I have a pardon anyway?”

    • Rayne says:

      Absolutely. And then a recording of Matt Gaetz talking with Roger Stone is caught on a hot mic, released nearly two years later…now we have an intersection between what seemed like a disparate set of crimes like human trafficking and one of the key connectors of the January 6 insurrection. What would an effective map reveal in addition to these nodes’ connection?

  3. d4v1d says:

    I hope when you publish your own graphics they are on a cdn, not social media which I don’t use and whose input and tracking pixels are blocked in my browser. Whatever is posted in this piece, I can’t see any of it. (Is it just me?)

  4. wetzel says:

    In an ideal world, you’d want the data (events, participants, joining tables) to be kept separate from the various presentation methods (timelines, network visualizations, the Jan 6 game, etc). A full stack developer could make something beautiful but then I was thinking ‘Get a grip!’

    I went looking for something off the shelf that might help. Here are examples of a social network visualizer and a timeline maker.

    Hopefully the apps allow you to query a common data-set. Anyway, from my experience, if you divide the number of times a project like this goes smoothly by the boondoggles, I think I have a respectable National League pitcher’s batting average. I’d start with a clear plan and something off-the-shelf to help with the job.

    • rip says:

      I’ve studied ways of mapping people, places, organizations over time and the approach looks very promising. I’m sure that relational data can be fed in fairly easily. As others have suggested having a good DB structure underneath is very important.

      • Lika2know says:

        Check out Ushahidi and similar tools. They are web based open source apps adaptable to track cases ranging from Haiti earthquake & Kenyan election violence. Support all kinds of input and output.

        • grennan says:

          re input and output….

          Yes x a zillion. Displaying the data or generating what are effectively reports can always be rigged or sent to another program to make fireworks if you can export the info.

          Same with how easy it is to input or import — makes it easier to assign or accept lists or datasets input or generated by a variety of people and sources.

    • Savage Librarian says:

      Visually the socnetv (above) is appealing to me because of the color coding and because it seems to more readily envision a hub and spoke approach. As I am completely out of my depth here on the technological aspects, I’m assuming this is or could be interactive.

      If we could click on any particular node to be taken to more info, then it would be helpful to follow a link to a specific photo & name inside a small circle that would be surrounded by a color wheel with the various colors of associations of that individual. So if they were involved in multiple activities or organizations they would have multiple colors in the wheel surrounding their photo.Then a more linear and chronological representation could be linked to those various color codes.

      I’ve recently looked at videos about the brain while performing music. Some of the diagrams and technology showing the network of connections and functions seem similar to patterns seen in the coup and insurrection.

      • rip says:

        My quick perusing of wetzel’s suggestion of socnetv does not seem to indicate that any real interactive exploration is supported. It appears the whole graph is presented but that filters can be applied to only see relevant information. This is not bad, but it doesn’t lend itself to true explorations (where you can get lost in the tubes….)

        • prostratedragon says:

          I think interactive graphs can be built in R or python with plotly or something providing the bells and buttons. Here’s a pretty dumb example that still shows the gist. If you go to the interactive version, you’ll see that pop-up boxes with a description can be enabled on hover, and there can be widgets within the box for such actions as zooming, copying, and selection of nodes. The data can be cleaned and the database managed within R (especially since as dbs go these days, this one will be very small), and other facilities of R are available for statistical or graphical analysis.

  5. Dr.C. says:

    It is of interest to Maryland District 1 voters that our Rep, Andy Harris, was at the Dec. 21 meeting at the White House as shown on one of the charts. He has stated that he was “too busy” to watch the Jan 6 Committee meeting where his attendance was disclosed.

    He refuses to renounce the insurrection or “the former guy.” How the vote for Rep goes on November 8 will be of telling importance as will the vote for Governor.

    • KayInMD says:

      “How the vote for Rep goes on November 8 will be of telling importance as will the vote for Governor.”
      Not just the vote for Rep and Governor, but the vote for Attorney General! The Repub guy is a secessionist, 9/11-denying whack-job. Fortunately Maryland is a Democratic state (if I’m not mistaken, Harris is the only Repub congressman from the state), but when it nominates Repubs it comes up with some doozies. Our districts are pretty gerrymandered, but the quality of statewide candidates they choose explains why it’s prudent to keep it that way. It’s not safe to let them choose representation completely on their own. I’m sorry, Dr. C., that you’re stuck in the district that does have a Repub Rep.

      (I don’t post here very often, and when I do I’m never sure if I’m using the correct nym. Please forgive me if I’ve erred. I think this is right)

  6. Ddub says:

    As a creative, this design conception is fascinating to me. My admittedly amateurish notion of a design space for this information is simple color coding. The colors in this scenario would represent the various plots. Persons and events could carry their respective colors according to which plots involved them.
    Cheers for your fine work!

    • rip says:

      I work with a lot of people that like to use colors to show information. Especially when they use a spreadsheet as a reporting tool. Colors are a no-go for anyone with some level of color blindness (and most of us have some.) They can also be distracting and emphasize/hide important information.

      Any information that can be shown via a color coding can more easily be put in a column of a spreadsheet as a value/category – this makes it capable of being sorted/filtered/etc.

      Just my $0.018.

  7. Bay State Librul says:

    If you are in a bit of a funk, listen to Keith Olberman’s new podcast that premiered today.
    It is funnier than “The Abstinence” episode on Seinfeld.

    • rip says:

      Thanks, Fr. William – this should be part of our meta database.

      I’m so glad we still live in a period of reasonably open and available data. Even though all the governments and corporations have unlimited access and zero accountability.

    • Rayne says:

      Yikes. I just went through the Donor List at that site. So much money to people who want to overthrow democracy.

      Thanks for the link. :-)

  8. klynn says:

    Two things.
    Youngest STEM focused child recommended GIS in order to add geospatial analysis.

    Second. Another suggested thinking out the obvious excel columns and then adding refined columns, making each row a timeline date packed with type of action, location, people involved. Then you can pull all the White House location, data and other specific data out to look for patterns beyond a connections web. Lots of various spreadsheet visualizer programs could be applied.

    • P J Evans says:

      GIS might work, but getting it there is a PITA. (I was doing GIS at a utility company. It took like 10 years to get ours to “maintenance” stage. But it was a largish project, and a lot of the simpler stuff got outsourced.)

    • Rayne says:

      The GIS element is interesting. I’ll mull that over; it may not apply to much of the data, or it may not be available for much of it.

      The Excel/spreadsheet model has been considered; it’s been used to organize some of the earlier timelines. But I think there’s so much data it may not be as workable though it may be where we start, likely in XML for optimum flexibility.

  9. Krisy Gosney says:

    I second the use of color. Also I suggest having ‘buttons’ to click that ‘shuts off’ the other plots or plotters or participants and just leaves up the plots/plotters/etc that you clicked on- that way a reader could zero in on a particular dimension of the coup attempt also it’s a lot of names and info so being able to zero in on something easily could make more friendly.

    And since this an open thread- I’ve wondered in the last couple of days that with Gaetz’s outspoken anti-abortion stance, what kind of birth control did his “dates” use? And with all the sex happening with young women of extremely fertile age, did an unwanted pregnancy occur?

    • Derek says:

      Several of our faculty and students are colorblind, and I take pains to omit any use of color coding in instructional materials, as useful as it can be for those who aren’t affected.

      [Welcome to emptywheel. Please use a more differentiated username when you comment next as we have several community members named “Derek.” Thanks. /~Rayne]

      • bmaz says:

        Hi there “Derek” and welcome. But the simple name of Derek is not going to work here. Please find a way to differentiate it.We all need to know who we are talking to.

  10. GV-San says:

    Hi folks —my first post! Thank you all for the excellent information here.
    Since this thread is open:

    Why did Grassley think he would be presiding over the Jan. 6th electoral-vote counting in place of Pence? Forgive me if I’ve missed a discussion on the topic, but is anyone pulling on this thread?

    • Ravenclaw says:

      As president pro tempore of the Senate, he presides over sessions when the Vice President of the United States is not present. The role is traditionally assigned to the senior senator from the majority party. So had Pence been spirited away, Grassley would indeed have been in the chair. (Incidentally, had the mob killed Pence and Pelosi, and DJT died of a heart attack due to his delighted excitement, Grassley would have become U.S. President for a couple of weeks there…)

      • GV-San says:

        Understood. I guess my question is, why —in advance of January 6th— did Grassley expect Pence not to be present for the count? What inside info did he have (and from whom) on the 5th, when he made the statement that he, rather than Pence, would be presiding???

    • greengiant says:

      List everything down and consider which ones are shiny distractor objects, which ones wild and crazy ideas etc. Consider Trump was still pressing Pence directly in the earlier hours of January 6th.
      The tweet was very early on January 5. I am not sure when the ag-press conference call was.
      Trump attorney Chesebro and Guiliani according to this article had a “conflict of interest” plan.

      • GV-San says:

        What a slimy plan —and it seems as though Grassley was informed of it, and quite possibly on-board for it!

          • GV-San says:

            Grassley’s statement that he didn’t expect Pence to show up on Jan. 6th suggests that *someone* told him that the VP would recuse (it seems odd that Grassley would come up with that idea out of thin air).
            I confess that I’m aware of no evidence of how Grassley would have behaved had he overseen the count that day, and indeed, we may never know. It does seem like he’s worth talking to, however.

            “Who told you the VP would recuse himself?”

            We might get a useful answer.

        • Rayne says:

          “seems” being operative. We need more evidence especially since Grassley is 88 years old. He may well be propped up by his staffers — we’re not asking enough questions about the myriad staffers who worked for GOP members of Congress and surely knew what was going on.

          Look, you’re a n00bie here with three comments under your belt so far, welcome to emptywheel. But know this: our community has higher standards for claims. If you want to speculate, go ahead, but don’t call it “a slimy plan” with any certainty unless you have citations and other evidence to support this.

          • GV-San says:

            My apologies, Rayne. I was referring in that response to the “conflict of interest” plan described in the article which greengiant linked.
            (I failed to be clear about that.)

            According to the Salon article, there are emails from Giuliani which point to the existence a scheme which, if true, could reasonably be described as slimy.

  11. rip says:

    I second (or third) earlier suggestions of using a well-designed DB that contains all of the facts that we know (subject to changes, of course). The exploratory and analytic portions can be done based on the back-end DB. PostgreSQL and many other major relational DBs have GIS modules. Another option for the database might be a graph-oriented one that naturally supports nodes (things/people/places/etc.) and links between these things.

    Timelines are very important. However the design should be able to accommodate the sense of fuzzy time, not just absolutes. So something like “around mid-week”, or perhaps “late in the year” should be supported.

    For the analytic side, having the data in an easily consumable format (DB) is ideal. For the exploratory side, I would hope we could find a web-based tools that allows zooming in on items and exploring connections interactively.

    • rip says:

      I also wonder if mind-mapping software might be of use here, especially in the creation and exploratory portions. Lots of open-source options as well as some polished commercial products. Guessing we’d want whatever is used to be open to all without logins/licenses, etc.

      • grennan says:

        Or heat map with quilted data. They’re designed for geography, the ‘quilted’ part evidently means it’s stitched together in different layers.

  12. civil says:

    Re: “How should a series of interrelated conspiracies with more than 1000 perps involving multiple states and at least two branches of federal government be mapped to make the whole accessible and comprehensible, in a way which encourages hidden relationships and obstructive measures to surface?,” there’s often a difference between (1) exploring data with the goal of identifying relationships and (2) presenting what one has found to others in ways that are accessible and comprehensible. Qualitative research software, such as ATLAS.ti and NVivo, exist to help researchers accomplish (1). You can tag diverse kinds of data (e.g., transcripts, images, video) in multiple ways (e.g., by perp’s name, group affiliation, state, alleged crimes, timestamps, who the exchange involves, who else is mentioned).

  13. grennan says:

    I’d also like to help…data entry, continuity/consistency, documentation/help, research, listwork, anything.

    (was one half of a two-lunatic project in the early 90s that developed and sold one of the earliest history reference software titles. Built on dbase, users could slice and dice our data for about 5,000 individuals over 1200 years. Except for info coming up in Lexis/Nexus or AP on Compuserve, it was all culled from books and papers.)

    • Rayne says:

      Wouldn’t be additional information to the timeline data as I’m fairly certain harpie has collected events related to these individuals and events.

  14. skua says:

    The task seems too complex for a single method of presentation of the data to allow even an above-average viewer to reliably spot new relationships and patterns.
    Those might be quicker found by presenting the data to multiple observers with say 3 different sub-lines emphasized each time.
    The observers would then pool the new relationships they’d discovered..

  15. Zinsky says:

    I am late to comment, but thank you for this post. I am a very visually-oriented person and having graphic models to organize complex ideas or relationships really helps my cognitive understanding. I too found Ari Melber’s timeline on MSNBC, of the various threads of the 1/6 conspiracy to be helpful to see how they all related to one another, and how Trump’s reptilian and singularly focused brain was ping-ponging between these various schemes to get his way, abandoning one after another until all that was left was the raw, animal violence of that day that resulted in the deaths of five human beings.

    • Sue 'em Queequeg says:

      Information design is hard! Not least because it doesn’t work the way you might expect.

      For example, before you choose tool(s) and technique(s), it’s helpful to define the audience and the purpose. In this case some possibilities might be:
      – to develop a resource for highly knowledgeable people to navigate a huge amount of data
      – to develop a fairly robust multi-element summary (perhaps like a multi-layer map, where the user can view individual layers in isolation or in any combination)
      – to paint a high-level, highly readable static-image overview of the entire topic, for those with little time, skill or appetite for anything more; this can also help experts overcome insider blindness (to get out of the trees and into a place with a clear view of the forest)

      There’s no reason you couldn’t meet all these purposes — they would all (one hopes) be founded on the same information — but for best results you might want to approach each presentation separately.

      It’s also helpful — if complexifying — to bear in mind that color, while absolutely a fabulous tool for helping users pick out locations, individuals, strands of a story or any other elements, is far from the only one. Things like size, shape, position and text treatment can all do a lot of work, and probably should in something this complicated.

      I mentioned in an earlier thread I’m happy to help (I run a niche info design/redrafting business for which I developed the IP) and that is still true.

  16. Bay State Librul says:

    Timbo @ 4:24 PM.

    Thanks for the linky on Keith.
    His diatribe brought back many fond memories from Countdown.
    Whatever you think of Keith, he is articulate, turns on his animosity for all things Republican, and doesn’t give a shit what people think of him.
    In other words, he is a wicked good opinionated liberal, who doesn’t serve up soft serve bull shit.
    Remember the bank robbery is still in process.

  17. grennan says:

    “Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline” by Daniel Rosenberg (Princeton) and Anthony Grafton (U. of Oregon) is a fantastic look at the “problem of drawing time”. Discusses and shows examples back to Eusebius. The paperback came out about 10 years ago and was worth even more than its $50 price. Auspiciously, its Kindle edition went on sale yesterday for $3, with all the illustrations.

    Addictive (but only 250 pages), especially to people who present info.

  18. Ginevra diBenci says:

    We need a chronological format that allows for representation of the density of simultaneous events. This would necessarily be interactive; a viewer should first be able to perceive from an icon (like those in map legends denoting town and city size) the relative clustering of things happening on a given day/time, and second be able to use that icon as a gateway to an expanded list. These expanded lists could themselves be linked to others, or expanded themselves.

    The first few days of January, 2021, for example, would comprise a virtual barrage related to fake electors, with internal and external connections–a tree both adjacent, complementary and (for the state-level actors, it seems) separate from Trump’s contemporaneous pressure on Raffensberger.

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