Six months ago, on a cold Wednesday night, a 20-something communications professional in Washington, D.C., was watching a remarkable and disturbing scene unfold on her television screen.
Supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump, who believed online conspiracy theories and the president’s lies about a stolen election, had breached the U.S. Capitol in a brutally violent attack that police officers would later describe as “medieval.” They brought bats. They brought hockey sticks. They brought Molotov cocktails. They brought stun guns. They brought firearms. They brought pepper spray. At least one Trump fanatic was carrying a metal whip.
A citywide curfew was in place, and she could hear the helicopters hovering in the sky. Outside her window, “Claire” could see Trump supporters streaming back from the Capitol to a hotel near her home, carrying their flags and wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.
“I was watching on the news and seeing everyone walk back,” Claire told HuffPost. “It felt kind of useless for me to be that close and not kind of do anything proactive about it.”
By that evening, before Congress had formally certified President Joe Biden’s win in the early morning hours of Jan. 7, the FBI was seeking information from the public. The bureau wanted Americans to identify the rioters.
“OK, fine,” Claire thought. “I will.”
Claire had put a pause on online dating during the coronavirus pandemic. But she decided to fire up Bumble. She’d had what she described as an “on-and-off relationship with Bumble” (she tended to prefer Hinge) but knew that Bumble would let her “endlessly scroll through these guys” based on location and political affiliation.
She deleted a few photos that showed her doing “non-MAGA things” and “clearly liberal stuff”: that image of her in the pink pussy hat at the Women’s March wasn’t going to fly. She settled on a main profile image (it may have been a shot of her on a boat, or perhaps a photograph of her engaged in a “vanilla recreational activity” like visiting a brewery, she can’t quite recall). She turned on the “conservative” filter, and she got to swiping. For democracy.
“One of my friends was like, ‘You basically got all these confessions just being, like, ‘Haha! Then what?’”
Bumble is the dating app where “women always make the first move.” Over the course of the next few days, Claire made plenty of them. Like many singles in D.C., Claire has “almost always” passed on potential suitors who lived across the river in northern Virginia. Her MAGA alter-ego, on the other hand, didn’t have any reservations about bros located in Arlington and Alexandria. So when Andrew ― a 32-year-old from Houston who was located eight miles away in Alexandria ― popped up on her screen, Claire swiped right.
“Hey how’s it going?” she wrote.
They got to chatting. She made small talk, and basically tried to get Andrew thinking they were on the same page. Eventually, Andrew told Claire he was at the Capitol.
“Were you near all the action?” she asked. “Yes,” he replied. “From the very beginning.”
When Andrew claimed he’d stopped “agitators” who “were clearly antifa people” during the attack, Claire stayed in character and kept pushing for more info.
“Wait wow they were in the crowd? That’s wild, how could you tell?” she asked. Andrew continued mansplaining his conspiracy theories about how undercover left-wingers had actually been responsible for the actions of the pro-Trump mob.
“Majority of the people attacking police and smashing windows were all antifa. They just threw on a Trump hat or shirt they bought on the street,” Andrew told Claire. “They have had this planned out for weeks.”
Andrew continued to open up, sending Claire an image of himself he said he’d taken about a half-hour before being “sprayed.” He was “just standing there” when an officer sprayed him, he claimed.
Claire wanted to know whether Andrew had plans to return to D.C. to interrupt Biden’s inauguration, so she kept the conversation going. When Andrew proposed a video chat, she told him she was at a beer garden with friends. (She was not.)
Still in character, she suggested she could show him the beer garden if he returned. Andrew seemed open to it: He might be headed back to D.C. soon with other “Patriots ready and willing to head back.”
Claire had picked up a skill on dating apps that ended up being very helpful for finding insurrectionists. She knew how to take the limited amount of information disclosed in a dating app profile and connect it to a guy’s real identity.
Andrew’s Bumble profile gave away plenty of details, including the name of the business he co-owned, so Claire didn’t have much trouble finding his full name — Andrew Taake — after searching around a bit on Facebook.
Claire estimates she chatted with about a dozen conservatives who attended Trump’s Jan. 6 rally. With the kind of “comically minimal ego-stroking” she used with Andrew, she says, she got three of them to admit they were unlawfully present on the grounds of the Capitol. She sent all three, including Andrew, to the FBI.
“I basically just asked, ‘Wow, crazy, tell me more’ on repeat until they gave me enough,” she said. “One of my friends was like, ’You basically got all these confessions just being, like, ‘Haha! Then what?’”
About three months after the Capitol attack, an FBI special agent from Texas got in touch with Claire. The female special agent (“Let the women do the work,” Claire joked) asked a bunch of questions that made it evident they were in somewhat new territory: Not many FBI cases involve dating app stings. “Clearly, it’s not a common scenario,” Claire said.
More than six months after Jan. 6, Claire was scrolling through Instagram over the weekend when she saw a headline: “Capitol attack suspect turned in by Bumble match.” The post included a familiar name: Andrew Taake. He’d been arrested in Houston on Friday, July 23.
On Bumble, Taake had claimed that “antifa” was actually behind the violence at the Capitol. The video showed otherwise. The feds say Taake was caught on video pepper-spraying officers and attacking others with a metal whip.
Online sleuths who are part of the “sedition hunters” community would label Taake ― who was known as 257-AFO (Assault on Federal Officers) on the FBI’s Capitol wanted list ― as #MacerInBlack, and track his actions throughout the Jan. 6 attack. They’d separately identify him using a facial recognition website that turned up mugshots from his prior arrests.
But Claire’s work on Bumble in the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6 had already given the FBI a way to build the case unveiled last week.
One “sedition hunter” told HuffPost that arrests like Taake’s are “very comforting” because they make the community realize they are not operating in a “black hole,” even if the FBI takes longer than they would like to make an arrest.
“It gives us hope that all of these other people who have yet to be arrested have been IDed by other people,” the person said.
Claire has been around D.C. for a few years now, so she was perhaps more jaded than most Americans about how long the process would take, given how much information was being sent to the FBI.
“I had read they were drowning in tips,” she said. “I kind of expected, as a federal entity, that it would move a little bit slower ... I figured it was going to be a lot of red tape and bureaucracy.”
Women on dating apps in D.C. got to work after the Jan. 6 attack, as several media outlets covered at the time. (“Honestly all the girls in DC bragging about being better than the FBI at tracking down guys better step it up right now,” read one post on the popular Instagram account Overheard District, which also posted about “catfishing the Trump supporting insurrectionists on dating apps.”)
And Taake isn’t the first Jan. 6 defendant arrested off of a Bumble tip: Another dating app user told Robert Chapman “We are not a match” before turning him in to the FBI. But Taake certainly is the most violent defendant caught off of a Bumble tip to date.
“It didn’t take a lot of arm twisting to get them to start talking about it.”
“It definitely does feel like it’s kind of a team sport,” Claire said. “It was something that I literally just did alone in my apartment, but also it feels not like an isolated incident. It feels like a drop in a larger bucket.”
Several of Claire’s potential targets didn’t fully take the bait. One, who said he was on a metro train back to Arlington when the Capitol attack unfolded, seemed to catch on to what Claire was up to. “Also, for clarity up front, your profile says conservative, is that genuine?” Greg wrote. “It’s simply pretty rare in this area, that’s why I ask :).”
But many of those she spoke with were happy to talk about conspiracy theories and how they believed the election was stolen.
“A couple of guys were parroting election fraud talking points that were very on-brand for the MAGA rally,” she said. “They wanted to regurgitate a lot of these ideas to somebody, and I seemed like a willing participant. It didn’t take a lot of arm twisting to get them to start talking about it.”
Taake does not have a court date set in D.C., and there’s no attorney listed on his court docket. But federal Magistrate Judge Christina A. Bryan of the Southern District of Texas had him remanded into custody.
So Taake will be coming back to D.C. after all — in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.