The Jan. 6 committee has a subpoena for the former head of the pro-MAGA social network Parler who claims he was fired from the company in 2021 in part because of his push to remove extremists from the platform, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
John Matze, the founder and first CEO of Parler, is facing a subpoena from congressional investigators as part of their investigation into the insurrection. Matze has hired Nixon Peabody lawyer Brian T. Kelly, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted notorious Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, to represent him.
In an email to Rolling Stone, Kelly confirmed his representation of Matze in the matter but added that “No decisions have been made yet on how to proceed with respect to any inquiries from the January 6th Committee,” which has been investigating then-President Donald Trump’s responsibility for the deadly 2021 mob assault on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.
A spokesman for the Jan. 6 committee did not respond to multiple phone calls and requests for comment on Wednesday.
In reaching out to Matze, the committee is hoping to hear from someone who was once in charge of a platform where a number of high-profile participants in the insurrection gathered to whip up support for the attack. Since the insurrection, however, Matze has fallen out with some of the titans of Trumpworld who invested in Parler.
In a lawsuit filed against Parler and investors in March 2021, MAGA mega donor Rebekah Mercer and right wing pundit Dan Bongino, Matze claimed he was “abruptly and unceremoniously” fired in late January 2021 after the company rejected his suggestions for “reasonable moderation policies.” Matze claimed his firing was part of “scheme to cheat” him out of his equity in the company and claimed that Mercer cared more about fashioning Parler into the “‘tip of the conservative spear’ for a brand of conservatism in keeping with [her] preferences” than maintaining it as a free speech platform.
The subpoena is part of the Jan. 6 committee’s broader investigation into the role that social media played in the insurrection. In April 2021, the committee announced it was requesting data from 15 social media companies, from mainstream tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Google to less mainstream sites like Gab, 4Chan, and Telegram, where far-right content is prevalent.
The requests — one of which was sent to Parler — demanded the companies turn over “records related to the spread of misinformation, efforts to overturn the 2020 election or prevent the certification of the results, domestic violent extremism, and foreign influence in the 2020 election” dating back to “spring 2020.”
It’s unclear as of yet what information the committee is seeking from Matze in addition to the data it has requested from Parler.
In April 2021, Matze launched a Gofundme page to help pay for his legal fees in the Parler suit as well as what he anticipated would be legal fees associated with a Congressional inquiry. “I also am likely heading into a congressional investigation into Parler, and it is uncertain whether Parler will indemnify me for the inevitable costs of defending this investigation,” he wrote.
On his Gofundme page, which has raised roughly $11,000 thus far, Matze said the insurrection has been “unfairly attributed to Parler, because it fit a convenient narrative.”
“I believe in transparency and Congress has asked for information that the public also wants to know. I plan to cooperate fully with Congress and tell the truth, but with legal counsel,” he wrote.
Parler’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
While apps such as Facebook have been mentioned more often in court documents related to the insurrection, Parler has drawn particular scrutiny for its role in hosting prominent members of far-right groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. At the time of the insurrection, Parler was the most prominent right-wing social media app branding itself as a foil to the stricter moderation policies of apps like Facebook and Twitter.
The company’s lax approach to moderation and its backing from prominent pro-Trump pundits made it a go-to destination for a number of far-right users suspended from mainstream social media. But that approach backfired in the days leading up to the January 6 insurrection, when Parler users posted selfies and updates from the riot along with threats to kill newly elected Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock.
Days after the attack, activists scraped and published 35 terabytes of Parler user data posted to the platform, revealing over 500 videos of the attack uploaded by Parler users present on the grounds of the Capitol that day, according to data analyzed by ProPublica.
In a March 2021 letter to Congress, Parler defended its handling of violent content. The company said it “formalized its relationship with the FBI” following outreach from the Bureau in November 2020 and that it has referred violent content from its platform to the FBI for investigation over 50 times in the post-election period.
Parler’s laissez faire approach to extremist content led Apple and Google to dump the app from their mobile app stores three days after the insurrection. The tech giants said they booted Parler because the “egregious content” and “threats of violence and illegal activity” on the platform violated their terms of service. AWS, Amazon’s web hosting and cloud services arm, suspended Parler on similar grounds two days later, knocking the site offline entirely.
After a brief period offline, Parler has since returned to the Internet with stable hosting and access to the Apple App Store following pledges of stronger content moderation but remains unavailable in Google’s Play Store for Android devices.