South Jersey mom and anti-vax activist directed part of the mob in breaching the Capitol
“More people, we gotta keep going,” Stephanie Hazelton said as she waved people into the West Terrace tunnel, where police were being crushed and beaten.
A South Jersey mom who is prominent in anti-vaccine and right-wing activist circles was among a crowd of people barreling into a line of police and attempting to breach the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, video from the day shows.
Stephanie Hazelton, of Medford, who also identifies herself as Ayla Wolf, can be seen among the mob trying to push through the building’s West Terrace entrance. Video shows Hazelton emerging from the entrance to direct more people to help break through the doors.
“More people, we gotta keep going,” Hazelton said as she waved the crowd toward the entrance.
“Men, we need more men,” she said repeatedly, coughing and wiping her eyes while holding up her pink phone to record herself. “Let’s go.”
Hazelton, who has not been charged in connection with the riot, did not respond to calls, messages, or a letter left at her home Saturday seeking comment. Her Facebook page no longer exists.
The video, uploaded to YouTube by the self-described conservative channel Action 8 News, shows that after a man offered to clear the lingering pepper spray from her eyes with water, Hazelton declined and said, “I gotta go back in.”
“We need more helmets,” she said, before making her way back through the entrance.
It’s not clear from the videos whether Hazelton actively participated in any of the violence moments later. In another video inside the tunnel, recorded by a New York freelance photographer, people beat police with batons and shields. The mob trapped and nearly crushed D.C. metro officer Daniel Hodges between two doors, while inundating him with bear spray and beating him with his own baton. Eventually, metro officer Michael Fanone was dragged on the steps into the crowd, and beaten with pipes and flagpoles.
Federal authorities have charged more than 100 accused insurrectionists in the nearly two weeks since the riot, including five Pennsylvania residents, most of whom were turned in by friends or family members or implicated by photos and videos they posted online.
Hazelton was a prominent face for “Reopen New Jersey” rallies in the spring, particularly outside Atilis Gym, the Bellmawr facility that made national headlines in May for defying Gov. Phil Murphy’s business closure orders. Hazelton stood outside the gym for days with supporters, and led speeches about fighting a war for freedom.
“This war is just as important as our founding fathers,” she said to a crowd at the time. “We are the militia. We are the founding fathers. We are America.”
In late April, Hazelton organized a protest in Trenton demanding to “open New Jersey now,” saying into a bullhorn: “We have the right not to be tested, not to be tracked, not to be vaxxed.” She was then charged with committing an unauthorized act during a threat of emergency after organizing the demonstration, where few attendees wore masks or were socially distanced. She identified herself to the media and public as Ayla Wolf, though Trooper Alejandro Goez of the New Jersey State Police confirmed that is Hazelton’s alias.
More than 600,000 New Jerseyans have contracted the virus, and more than 20,000 have died.
The attendees at rallies at Atilis and elsewhere have included a variety of right-wing activists. In addition to small business owners against closure orders, there were signs that far-right extremist groups were using the gatherings to recruit new members. During one rally outside the gym, a man flew a flag with the logo of the Three Percenters, a militia group the FBI is investigating for its role in the Capitol attack. The New Jersey European Heritage Association, a white supremacist group based in South Jersey, pasted stickers around the gym and handed out literature.
Gym co-owner Ian Smith was photographed in May speaking into a microphone with the group’s logo on it. Smith said he was handed the megaphone, and his lawyer said the owners “can’t control who shows up in a public parking lot.”
Hazelton’s LinkedIn says she’s also the founder of New Jersey for Medical Freedom, the state chapter of a national anti-vaccine network. The local group’s Facebook page — which last week was rife with medical misinformation and members floating conspiracy theories about the coronavirus vaccine — has more than 5,000 members. The group was made private over the weekend.
Last year, Hazelton led members of the group to drape two signs on North Jersey highway overpasses that read: “COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers are exempt from liability.”
And last fall, she co-organized a demonstration that drew hundreds of parents and children to the Statehouse in Trenton. They expressed outrage over proposed legislation that would require schoolchildren to get a flu shot. The bill remains in committee in both the Senate and the Assembly.
Several vaccine-related pieces of legislation in New Jersey have in recent years been opposed by a vocal minority of parents as the rate of families claiming a religious exemption that allows them to send their children to school without being vaccinated increased.
Last year, legislators postponed a vote on a bill that limited those exemptions after a crowd of angry parents stormed the Statehouse.
Staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this article.