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Trump supporters convicted of bringing guns near the 2020 Philly vote count, but cleared of election interference

Joshua Macias and Antonio Lamotta were convicted Wednesday of weapons offenses — but cleared of the rare election violations they also faced.

Antonio Lamotta and Joshua Macias were accused of driving this Hummer with guns and ammunition to Philadelphia after the 2020 presidential election.
Antonio Lamotta and Joshua Macias were accused of driving this Hummer with guns and ammunition to Philadelphia after the 2020 presidential election.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

Two Virginia men who were arrested in 2020 for carrying guns near the Convention Center as votes from the presidential election were being counted were convicted Wednesday of weapons offenses — but cleared of the rare election violations that city prosecutors had also filed against them.

Common Pleas Court Judge Lucretia Clemons found Antonio Lamotta and Joshua Macias guilty of two gun charges each, ruling that the men — Donald Trump supporters who drove to the city in a Hummer loaded with handguns, an assault rifle, and ammunition — had carried weapons in the city without proper permits on Nov. 5, 2020, as votes were being tabulated.

Clemons, without explaining her ruling, acquitted Lamotta and Macias of counts including election interference and hindering performance of duty. The District Attorney’s Office had argued that the men should be convicted of those infrequently used charges because they told FBI agents they had come to Philadelphia to ensure that all votes in the election were being properly counted.

» READ MORE: Two men outside Philly vote count in Hummer with QAnon stickers face weapons charges, police say

They also sent text messages to each other and to friends, imploring people to visit swing states with close or contested vote counts to “poll watch,” prosecutors said, using phrases such as we need patriots or #StopTheSteal before getting into their SUV — emblazoned with a QAnon conspiracy sticker — and visiting Philadelphia.

“They [had] the intent of taking matters into their own hands,” Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Palmer said in his closing argument during a bench trial before Clemons.

Attorneys for the men — William J. Brennan, Alan Tauber, and Lauren Wimmer — vehemently disagreed, telling Clemons that although the men may have lacked proper permits to carry their firearms in the city, they were licensed Virginia gun owners who did not threaten any city election official or make any attempt to see or interfere with the counting of the votes.

“They came to Philadelphia, they didn’t bother anybody,” Brennan said.

Wimmer said: “There’s no attempt here to do anything — they’re walking the streets.”

Speaking outside the courthouse afterward, Tauber said: “There was no evidence whatsoever that these gentlemen had any intention of interfering with the election or disturbing it in any way.”

District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement: “Let this be a lesson not to illegally bring firearms to Philly’s elections. If you commit a crime while seeking to undermine people’s right to vote, and to have their votes appropriately counted, you will be held accountable.”

Macias and Lamotta are scheduled to be sentenced in December.

The District Attorney’s Office had alleged that on Nov. 5, 2020 — two days after Election Day — Macias and Lamotta drove to the city from Virginia with handguns, an AR-15-style rifle, and 160 rounds of ammunition.

Text messages presented to Clemons on Wednesday showed both men sending messages and chats asking friends to take action in an election Trump was falsely saying had been stolen.

Macias, a cofounder of the group Vets for Trump, sent one flier-like image that read in part: “If you are in a neighboring state, take your vacation now and help the cause!”

And the day before Macias and Lamotta had come to the city, prosecutors said, they’d exchanged texts about bringing guns on their trip to Philadelphia.

“We need arms?” Lamotta wrote to Macias on Nov. 4, according to evidence prosecutors presented.

“For each of us,” Macias replied.

The next morning, Lamotta wrote Macias: “I’m ready ... Hummer cleared out.”

The men arrived in Philadelphia on Nov. 5 and were arrested that night on the street near the Convention Center. Officers had noticed them carrying guns, and a search of the Hummer turned up the rifle and additional ammunition.

» READ MORE: Virginia men arrested for gun offenses during Philly vote count face new election-interference charges

Prosecutors at first charged the pair with only weapons offenses. But last year, they added a set of election interference charges.

They also repeatedly asked the courts to revoke bail for the men as the case wound its way toward trial. And Krasner described the incident as a potential mass shooting situation averted only by the swift action of law enforcement.

Earlier this year, Lamotta was federally charged with taking part in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. And video emerged capturing Macias meeting with leaders of the extremist groups the Oathkeepers and the Proud Boys in a hotel parking garage the day before the riot. That footage was featured during a hearing organized by the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.

Without addressing those allegations, Brennan, one of Macias’ attorneys, said the pair did not deserve to face the election-related offenses they’d been charged with here. And he disputed Krasner’s suggestion that they could have turned to violence if they hadn’t been arrested.

Macias and Lamotta were “a couple of knuckleheads who drove up here to stare at the building and watch what was going on,” Brennan said. “And while that may be offensive to some people, and that may be unpleasant, and may be impolite, it’s not illegal.”