A lawyer for one of the two Virginia men charged with gun violations outside the Philadelphia vote count last week on Monday said his client had traveled to at least 10 states on behalf of Vets for Trump and had “an honest belief” his Virginia gun permit was recognized in Pennsylvania.
There was “never any incident of violence or a threat with violence,” the lawyer, A. Charles Peruto Jr., said of his client, Joshua Macias, 42, of Virginia Beach.
Court documents obtained by The Inquirer indicate that after being approached Thursday night, Macias initially told city police he was a Philadelphia resident. The documents also shed new light on how Macias and Antonio LaMotta, 61, traveled to Philadelphia in a silver Hummer, with handguns, 160 rounds of ammo, and an AR-style rifle, to “straighten things out” at the Convention Center where presidential ballots were being counted.
LaMotta’s Hummer displayed insignia of QAnon, a conspiracy movement the FBI described last year as a growing domestic terror threat.
Both men face misdemeanor and felony gun charges and are being held on $750,000 bail. A woman, identified in documents as Macias' mother, accompanied them from Virginia and was not charged.
Philadelphia police had been on the lookout for the men after being alerted by the FBI, which had received a tip that included a screenshot of a text stating that the suspects had several AR-15s and a “ton of ammo," according to the documents.
“They were going to the polling stations in Philadelphia ‘to straighten things out,’ ” the message said.
FBI agents, who interviewed both men that night, and Philadelphia police obtained text messages from LaMotta’s cellphone and laptop after the Army veteran gave permission to search them, the records show.
In one text message exchange, LaMotta asked Macias: " What’s going on in Pa.? Do you need me there?"
Macias replied: “On standby.”
LaMotta: “Is it a problem?”
Macias responded: “We need arms.”
LaMotta: “You up? I’m ready. Hummer cleaned out.”
At one point, one of the men sent a text to an unidentified person that said: “Going to Pa. Have a truckload of fake ballots. We are going to raid." It was unknown if the men actually brought any ballots with them. A prosecutor’s office spokesperson said none were recovered.
LaMotta told officers he didn’t have a gun permit and was placed under arrest. Macias had a Virginia concealed carry permit, which is not recognized in Pennsylvania, authorities said.
According to the police report, LaMotta said the trio came to Philadelphia because they "were worried about shenanigans with the vote counting.” He said that “they were only going to observe.”
Macias, an honorably discharged U.S Navy veteran, is a cofounder of Vets for Trump, and LaMotta, an Army veteran, is a member. On the back window of LaMotta’s Hummer were decals associated with the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy movement. The movement believes that President Trump is fighting a secret war against the “deep state” and that Democrats are led by Satan-worshiping pedophiles.
District Attorney Larry Krasner last week said there was no evidence that the men are members of any known extremist group, but he called it an “alarming incident" that remained under investigation.
Prosecutors wanted both men jailed without bail but a magistrate set bail at $750,000. A spokesperson for the Defender Association, which represents LaMotta, declined comment.
Peruto filed a motion Monday to have Macias released on unsecured or nominal bail, calling the current amount “excessive.” A hearing was set for Nov. 16.