The MAGA Tourist Geofence and the Violent Confederate Flag-Toting Geofence

By my rough count, Judge Tanya Chutkan has presided over the cases of more than 25 January 6 defendants, in addition to Donald Trump. Nevertheless, Trump keeps trying to lecture Chutkan about what happened, often by pointing to reports from journalists who have not otherwise covered the investigation closely.

Contrary to their false claims about how much video she has seen, Judge Chutkan knows these details far better than Trump’s attorneys.

For example, Trump keeps pointing to a December 2021 piece from Will Arkin to argue, using very dated numbers regarding the investigation, just one percent of his mobsters qualify as insurrectionists.

The Secret Service and the FBI estimated that at least 120,000 Americans gathered on the Mall for President Trump’s speech. 6 Government agencies estimated that about 1,200 people—at most 1% of the size of the crowd gathered to listen to President Trump—entered the Capitol, and a smaller percentage than that committed violent acts. 7 Thus, we can easily conclude that well over 99% of the attendees at President Trump’s speech did not engage in the events at the Capitol. Moreover, as the Indictment recognizes, a crowd had gathered at the Capitol before President Trump finished speaking, further proving he had nothing to do with those events.

6 William M. Arkin, Exclusive: Classified Documents Reveal the Number of January 6 Protestors, NEWSWEEK (Dec. 23, 2021), at The January 6 Committee estimated the crowd on the Mall at 53,000, while President Trump estimated it at 250,000. Compare Final Report, SELECT COMMITTEE TO INVESTIGATE THE JANUARY 6TH ATTACK ON THE UNITED STATES CAPITOL (Dec. 22, 2022), 585, at with Read Trump’s Jan. 6 Speech, A Key Part of Impeachment Trial, NPR (Feb. 10, 2021), at (emphasis added).

7 Id. (“[T]he facts seem to indicate that as few as one percent of the people who were there fit the label of insurrectionist.”).

There are a slew of problematic assumptions in Arkin’s piece (as well as the follow-up piece that appears to be the actual source cited in footnote 7): about the relationship between militias and others, about the role of non-militia organized groups like QAnon or anti-vaxxers, about the role and increasing percentage of military participants.

The most important misconception is that only people who entered the building, as distinct from the often more violent crowds outside it or Proud Boy seditionists orchestrating things from afar, could be an insurrectionist.

Plus, Arkin’s 2021 numbers were outdated at the time — most outlets put the number of insiders at 2,000 to 2,500 at the one year anniversary and the Sedition Hunters have identified 3,200 specific people who went inside the Capitol (though this includes people, including at least one WaPo journalist, who weren’t rioters).

Given Trump’s reliance on such outdated numbers, however, I wanted to look at a filing in the latest challenge to one of the geofence warrants used in the investigation, this time from Isreal Easterday, a Confederate-flag toting rioter who sprayed two cops before entering the Capitol through the east door.

There have already been two failed challenges to geofence warrants used in the investigation. In August 2022, then-Chief Judge Beryl Howell rejected Matthew Bledsoe’s challenge to a geofence of those who live streamed to Facebook during the riot; he is appealing his conviction, but not that ruling. In January, then-presiding FISA Judge Rudolph Contreras rejected David Rhine’s challenge to the Google geofence tied to voluntary use of Google’s Location History service (there’s no FISA component to this, but FISA judges see more novel Fourth Amendment issues). Rhine does appear to be including that ruling in his appeal, in which his initial brief is due in February.

Like Rhine, Easterday is challenging the Google geofence, but from a Fourth Amendment standpoint, he is different than Rhine in two key ways. First, the investigation into Rhine started from some tips called in as early as January 10, 2021; the FBI didn’t need the Google geofence to find him, though it made it easier to pinpoint video of his path through the Capitol.

With Easterday (probably because two distinctive aspects of his appearance changed that day — he dropped his flag and took off his hat — making it harder to track him), the first really good lead on his identity was the geofence.

The second difference between Rhine and Easterday arises from the technicalities of how the FBI did the geofence.

The FBI did three rounds of geofence with Google. In the first, starting with a January 13, 2021 warrant to Google, they:

  • Obtained the identifiers for all the phones that hit the geofence during the riot
  • Took out the identifiers that were present in the building in the 15 minutes before and after the riot (assuming those were people who were lawfully present in the Capitol)
  • Sorted out hits that were in places (for example, areas where surveillance footage showed no rioters to be present) inconsistent with unlawful activity
  • Eliminated identifiers without at least one hit entirely within the Capitol factoring in margin-of-error radius
  • Added back in identifiers with lower confidence radius that deleted Location History with the week after the attack
  • Asked Google to deanonymize that data

For the second round, they submitted a second request for deanonymization on April 14, based on the logic that those for whom there were only low confidence hits within the Capitol would be high confidence hits for the larger restricted area.

Based on the same logic, on May 21, 2021, the FBI obtained a second geofence warrant to include (per Easterday’s filings) the entire restricted area on January 6.

This time, to cull the data, they:

  • Obtained the identifier for all the phones that hit the geofence during the riot
  • Removed identifiers previously deanonymized
  • Took out the lawfully present identifiers either voluntarily identified by Congressional offices or obtained by law enforcement
  • Removed identifiers present in the 15 minutes before or after the riot
  • Eliminated identifiers without at least one hit entirely within the restricted grounds
  • Asked Google to deanonymize that data

Rhine’s phone identifier was included in the first batch of identifiers the FBI asked to be deanonymized, a group of about 1,500 identifiers; Easterday’s was not. His phone was included in the second batch deanonymized, an additional 2,200 identifiers obtained in the first warrant. His phone was also IDed in the second warrant, but by that point had already been deanonymized.

The details of how the Google geofence worked were described in filings in the Rhine case (see this post and this post), but because Easterday was not identified until the second batch, the second cull gets more attention in Easterday’s filings.

Easterday did enter the Capitol. There are pictures of him wandering hallways and stairs. On October 26, a jury convicted him of trespassing inside the Capitol, 40 USC 5104, along with the more serious assault and riot felonies he committed outside the building.

Easterday was only inside the Capitol itself for 12 minutes — he entered at 2:39 and exited at 2:51; Easterday entered three minutes before Rhine but left 13 minutes before Rhine. But he would have been at the east door — not inside the Capitol, but helping to violently break into it — for at least 22 minutes; the assault on one of the cops was captured in video that starts at 2:17.

There are a number of possible explanations for why Easterday phone would not have had a high confidence hit inside the Capitol geofence but did trigger the broadened geofence. For example, the original hit or hits on Easterday’s phone may have been in a location (such as the east door) where the confidence radius of the location was partially outside the Capitol itself. Some of the relevant hits were surely entirely within that area outside the Capitol but inside the restricted area that day. As the government noted in their response to this challenge, being in that area was also a trespassing crime, 18 USC 1752, even if DOJ charged fewer of the people who were in that area. The jury convicted Easterday of that crime, too.

The government provided a supplement answering specific questions Chief Judge James Boasberg posed after the guilty verdict that provides more possible explanations why Easterday did not trigger the geofence within the building at high confidence. For example, it describes that iPhones capture a lot less activity in Location History than Androids do.

[Location History] is sometimes collected automatically, but is primarily and most frequently collected when a user is doing something with his or her device that specifically involves location information (such as following Google Maps directions or taking photographs or videos that record location as part of their metadata).

Moreover, in the government’s experience examining Google LH returns, the range of activities that generate a LH point is narrower on Apple’s iPhones than Android phones. Apple iPhones apparently collect LH data primarily when the user is specifically using Google Maps.


In contrast, Android phones can collect LH data when the user uses a wider array of Google-based applications, or even when the device is not in use at all, such as when it is sitting on a user’s bedside table overnight. Additionally, if an Android phone detects that a user is moving, the Android phone specifically and automatically requests location data from the server about every two minutes, leading to a LH data point being collected by Google. However, if the phone determines that the user is standing relatively still, or remaining within the same Wi-Fi network’s range, Android phones will request location data much less frequently, as the phone is effectively not moving. Similarly, devices will not automatically request location data from the server—or will do so less frequently—when they are low on battery.

Easterday appears to have made a call while inside the building (which would trigger a different kind of location data, but data that DOJ only obtained with individualized warrants), but that’s less likely to be captured in Location History than taking a picture would.

Judge Boasberg’s request for more information — an order he made after the guilty verdict — appears to stem, in significant part, from the fact that FBI’s initial exclusion set of 215 people is obviously a mere fraction of the people who were lawfully in the Capitol that day.

(2) how could the Control List searches for the Initial Google Geofence Warrant have generated hits for only 215 unique devices/accounts when Google applications are so ubiquitous and presumably between 1,500-2,000 people were lawfully present in the Capitol building in the time periods before and after the riot?

It its earlier filings, DOJ used a dated stat that only 30% of Google users actually use the Location History service, a service that takes several steps to turn on. In this filing, DOJ argues that as the proportion of iPhone users increase, the number of people who trigger Location History will be smaller still, unless they’re using Google maps.

Boasberg is suggesting (and DOJ is not contesting) that their initial exclusion effort may only have included about 15% of those lawfully in the Capitol. While there would be some subset of people lawfully present who weren’t excluded in the first batch (people who were not moving in the 15 minutes before and after but who fled or took pictures during the riot, for example), this filing suggests all these numbers are low — very low.

If just one third of the people who entered the building could be expected to trigger the Google geofence, then the number who entered may be well over 4,000 (a reasonable number given the number Sedition Hunters have IDed).

If just a third of the people who were at the Capitol but not necessarily taking pictures inside it triggered the Google geofence, that number might be closer to 7,000 additional bodies, including those assaulting cops. And there could be another 23,000 people outside the Capitol — some no more than MAGA tourists, but others among the most violent people that day.

Using the Arkin numbers that were outdated when he published them in December 2021, Trump claims that, “we can easily conclude that well over 99% of the attendees at President Trump’s speech did not engage in the events at the Capitol.”

That’s not what the geofence shows. Using the same 120,000 number he uses for his own calculations, about one in ten were right at the building and a quarter may have made it to restricted ground, and the numbers could be double that.

One thing is clear though: the violent mobsters literally carrying the banner of insurrection as they attack cops may not be the ones you’ll find taking pictures inside the Capitol. And once you figure that out, the numbers of potential Trump insurrectionists starts to grow.

And Judge Chutkan knows that.

Take, Robert Palmer, whom Trump raised to complain that Chutkan had presided over the prosecution of someone who said he went to the Capitol at Trump’s behest, where he serially assaulted cops because he believed he needed to stop the voter certification. Robert Palmer never entered the Capitol. But it’s quite clear he believes Trump sent him.

Update: Distinguished between the two trespassing crimes to show one can be applied to both locations.

Timeline Easterday Google Geofence Challenge

June 30, 2023: Motion to Compel, Declaration

August 22, 2023: Opposition Motion to Compel

September 26, 2023: Motion to Suppress Geofence

October 10, 2023: Opposition Motion to Suppress

October 17, 2023: Reply Motion to Suppress

October 26, 2023: Guilty Verdict

November 25, 2023: Supplement Opposition Motion to Suppress

1,500 Investigative Subjects: A Competent Google GeoFence Motion to Suppress for January 6

For some time, I’ve been waiting for a January 6 defendant to (competently) challenge the use of a Google GeoFence as one means to identify them as a participant in January 6. (There have been incompetent efforts from John Pierce, and Matthew Bledsoe unsuccessfully challenged the GeoFence of people who livestreamed on Facebook.)

The motion to suppress from David Rhine may be that challenge. Rhine was charged only with trespassing (though he was reportedly stopped, searched, and found to be carrying two knives and pepper spray, but ultimately released).

As described in his arrest affidavit, Rhine was first identified via two relatively weak tips and a Verizon warrant. But somewhere along the way, the FBI used the general GeoFence warrant they obtained on everyone in the Capitol that day. Probably using that (which shows where people went inside the Capitol), the FBI found him on a bunch of surveillance video, with his face partly obscured with a hat and hoodie.

The motion to suppress, written by Tacoma Federal Public Defender Rebecca Fish, attempts to build off a ruling in the case of Okello Chatrie (and integrates materials from his case) to get the GeoFence used to identify Rhine and everything that stemmed from it thrown out.

The three-step GeoFence Warrant and the returns specific to Rhine are sealed in the docket.

But the MTS provides a bunch of the details of how the FBI used a series of warrants to GeoFence the crime scene.

First, as Step 1, it got a list of devices at the Capitol during the breach, either as recorded in current records, or as recorded just after the attack. At this stage, FBI got just identifiers used for this purpose, not subscriber numbers.

The geofence warrant requested and authorized here collected an alarming breadth of personal data. In Step 1, the warrant directed Google to use its location data to “identify those devices that it calculated were or could have been (based on the associated margin of error for the estimated latitude/longitude point) within the TARGET LOCATION” during a four-and-a-half hour period, from 2:00 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. Ex. A at 6. The target location—the geofence—included the Capitol Building and the area immediately surrounding it, id. at 5, which covers approximately 4 acres of land, id. at 13. Indeed, the warrant acknowledges that “[t]o identify this data, Google runs a computation against all stored Location History coordinates for all Google account holders to determine which records match the parameters specified by the warrant.” Ex. A at 26 (emphasis added). Though not spelled out with clarity in the warrant itself, the warrant ordered that the list provided in step 1 not include subscriber information, but that such information may be ordered at a later step. See id. at 6; see also id. at 25 (“This process will initially collect a limited data set that includes only anonymous account identifiers, dates, times, and locations.”).

This yielded 5,723 unique devices (note, the MTS points to Google filings from the Chatrie case to argue that only a third of Google’s users turn on this location service).

Google ultimately identified 5,653 unique Device IDs that “were or could have been” within the geofence, responsive to the first step of the warrant. Ex. B (step 2 warrant and application) at 6. However, Google additionally searched location history data that Google preserved the evening of January 6. When searching this data, as opposed to the current data for active users at the time of the search, Google produced a list of 5,716 devices that were or could have been within the geofence during the relevant time period. Id. Google additionally searched location history data that Google preserved on January 7. When searching this data, Google produced a list of 5,721 devices that were or could have been within the geofence during the relevant time period. Id. The three lists combined yielded a total of 5,723 unique devices that Google estimated were or could have been in the geofence during the four-and-a-half hour period requested. Id. at 7.

In Step 2, the FBI asked Google to identify devices that had been present at the Capitol before or after the attack — an attempt to find those who were there legally. That weeded the list of potentially suspect devices to 5,518.

In this case, the second step of the geofence warrant was also done in bulk, given the lack of specificity as to the people sought. In the initial warrant, the Court ordered Google to make additional lists to eliminate some people who were presumptively within the geofence and committed no crimes. First, the warrant ordered Google to make a list of devices within the geofence from 12:00 p.m. to 12:15 p.m. on January 6. And second, the warrant ordered Google to make a list of devices within the geofence from 9:00 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. Ex. A at 6.


Google provided these lists to the government in addition to the lists detailed above. Google identified 176 devices that were or could have been within the geofence between 12:00 p.m. and 12:15 p.m., and 159 devices that were or could have been within the geofence between 9:00 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. Ex. B at 6. The government ultimately subtracted these devices from those that they deemed suspect. Id. at 7. However, this still left 5,518 unique devices under the government’s suspicion. See id. The original warrant contemplated the removal of devices that were present at the window before and after the primary geofence time because the government asserted that the early and late windows were times when no suspects were in the Capitol Building, but legislators and staff were lawfully present. Ex. A at 27. However, the original warrant also indicated that “The government [would] review these lists in order to identify information, if any, that is not evidence of crime (for example, information pertaining to devices moving through the Target Location(s) in a manner inconsistent with the facts of the underlying case).” Ex. A at 6.

Aside from comparing the primary list with the lists for the early and late windows, the government appeared to do no culling of the device list based on movement. Rather, the government used other criteria to decide which devices to target for a request for subscriber information. 3.

The government then asked for the subscriber information of anyone who showed up at least once inside the Capitol (as the MTS notes, Google’s confidence levels on this identification is 68%). That identified 1,498 devices.

In step 3, as relevant to this case,4 the government sought subscriber information—meaning the phone number, google account, or other identifying information associated with the device—for two different categories of people. First, the government sought subscriber information for any device for which there was a single data point that had a display ratio entirely within the geofence. Ex. B at 7. In other words, the government sought identifying information for any device for which Google was 68 percent confident the device was somewhere within the geofence at a single moment during the four-and-a-half hour geofence period. Again, the government equated presence to criminality. The government sought and the warrant ordered Google to provide identifying information on 1,498 devices (and likely people) based on this theory. See id.

It also asked for subscriber information from anyone who had deleted location history in the week after the attack, which yielded another 37 devices.

Second, the government sought identifying subscriber information for any device where location history appeared to have been deleted between January 6 or 7 and January 13, and had at least one data point where even part of the display radius was within the geofence. See Ex. B at 7–8. The government agent asserted that such devices likely had evidence of criminality because: “Based on my knowledge, training, and experience, I know that criminals will delete their Google accounts and/or their Google location data after they commit criminal acts to protect themselves from law enforcement.” Id. at 8.


The theory that potentially changed privacy settings or a deleted account as indicative of criminality led the government to request identifying information for 37 additional devices (and likely people). Ex. B at 8.

The MTS notes that at a later time, the FBI expanded the scope of the GeoFence for which they were seeking subscriber information, but that’s not applicable to Rhine.

4 Discovery indicates that the government later sought substantially more data from geofences in areas next to, but wholly outside of, the Capitol Building. However, Mr. Rhine addresses here the warrants and searches most relevant to his case.

The GeoFence was one of a number of things used to get the warrant to search Rhine’s house and digital devices.

I’ll hold off on assessing the legal merit of this MTS (though I do plan to share it with a bunch of Fourth Amendment lawyers).

For now, what is the best summary I know of how the known Google GeoFence reveals how the FBI used it: first obtaining non-subscriber identifiers for everyone in the Capitol, removing those who were by logic legally present before the attack, and then obtaining subscriber information that was used for further investigation.

And that GeoFence yielded 1,500 potential investigative subjects, which may be only be a third of Google users present (though would also by definition include a lot of people — victims and first responders — who were legally present). Which would suggest 4,500 people were inside the Google GeoFence that day, and (using the larger numbers) 15,000 were in the vicinity.

As I keep saying, the legal application here is very different in the Chatrie case, because everyone inside the Capitol was generally trespassing, a victim, a journalist, or a first responder.

To make things more interesting, Rudolph Contreras, who is the FISA Court presiding judge, is the judge in this case. He undoubtedly knows of similar legal challenges that are not public from his time on FISC.

Which may make this legal challenge of potentially significant import.