The case of Joshua Macias and Antonio LaMotta, two armed Virginia men who drove to Philadelphia on Nov. 5 to “straighten out the vote," should be treated as a “mass shooting that was narrowly averted,” District Attorney Larry Krasner wrote to the court in a letter filed Monday.
Krasner was arguing against a reduction of bail, which has been set at $750,000 for Macias, who was arrested near the Pennsylvania Convention Center and charged with carrying an unlicensed gun, a third-degree felony.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Crystal Bryant-Powell denied the bail reduction. A similar motion on LaMotta’s behalf will be heard Friday.
According to prosecutors, the two men drove a Hummer loaded with a homemade AR-15-style rifle with 117 rounds of ammunition, and decorated with a sticker referencing the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. Their plan, according to a text message found by investigators: to raid “a truckload of fake ballots.”
Neither man has yet had a preliminary hearing, and the investigation is ongoing, but Monday’s bail hearing provided an early window into what Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock called “a case that borders on sedition.”
Macias' lawyer, A. Charles Peruto Jr., described a case that borders on persecution.
“I have a 48-year-old disabled veteran with no prior criminal record," Peruto said. "His political beliefs may be different than ours. That’s why he is detained.”
According to Peruto, Macias — a born-again Christian who changed his name from the Semitic-sounding Blum — had visited five different states to rally support for President Donald Trump. Macias was accustomed to traveling with a gun, but it was only for self-defense, Peruto said. And, he added, Macias had believed his Virginia concealed-carry permit would be recognized in Pennsylvania.
Wellbrock argued the case should be considered in the context of the heated rhetoric around the “Stop the Steal” movement, including death threats to Philadelphia’s election officials. The “trip was urgent and armed, with enough rounds of ammunition to kill well over 100 people and a weapon well suited to carrying out a mass shooting,” Krasner argued in his letter.
A 16-page filing opposing Macias' release describes photos of the two men holding assault rifles, and lists at least five arrests in Macias' past.
It also documents LaMotta’s internet history: a trail of QAnon posts, anti-Semitic cartoons the DA called “chilling and reminiscent of the worst Nazi propaganda of the 1930s," and a warning that “we may have to take lawless cities like New York and [Seattle] with military tanks to topple Soros funded Governors' state militias.” According to the DA, LaMotta also created a GoFundMe page to “organize armed patriots” in Virginia and posted conspiracy theories accusing government officials of manufacturing the COVID-19 crisis, adding, “Therefore, killing these people is a legitimate act of self-defense and not a crime.”
“This case reeks of the defendant’s resistance to legitimate government,” Wellbrock argued in court.
In denying the bail reduction, Bryant-Powell said she had ignored many aspects of the DA’s filing that plumbed the men’s online postings and messages. “They’re trying to make the case that this goes well beyond carrying a gun without a license,” she said.
Of greater weight, she said, was Macias' out-of-state residence, near Virginia Beach, and lack of connection to Philadelphia.
“One of the main factors I consider is him appearing in court,” she said. “It would be costly to the county to go and extradite him.”