Two Virginia men who drove to Philadelphia in a silver Hummer displaying stickers for the QAnon conspiracy movement are facing firearms charges for carrying guns without proper permits outside the Convention Center, as ballots were being counted for the presidential election, according to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and District Attorney Larry Krasner.
Krasner’s office on Friday identified them as Joshua Macias, 42, and Antonio LaMotta, 61, both of Chesapeake, Va. Macias is a cofounder of a veterans group supporting President Donald Trump, and LaMotta is a member.
Outlaw said at a news conference Friday that a tipster told FBI agents in Norfolk, Va., Thursday that individuals were headed from Virginia Beach to Philadelphia with weapons, and that they were traveling in a silver Hummer, information police in Philadelphia relayed to officers deployed near the Convention Center.
The initial alert police received was that a man and his mother and another person were traveling to the Philadelphia region to “straighten things out” as vote counting continued, according to a law enforcement source.
About 10:20 p.m., police noticed the unattended Hummer with Virginia tags, Outlaw said. Seven minutes later, bicycle patrol officers spotted the two men. Both were armed with handguns. 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, Outlaw said. The woman with them was not charged.
Investigators found an AR-style rifle in the Hummer, along with about 160 rounds of ammunition, Krasner said.
They have been charged with felony and misdemeanor weapons offenses. Krasner is requesting that they be held without bail at their arraignment Friday evening.
“This alarming incident is still very much under investigation," Krasner said.
On the back window of the Hummer were decals associated with the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy movement, including a large “Q” and “#WWG1WGA,” which stands for “where we go one we go all.” The movement believes President Trump is fighting a secret war against the “deep state” and that Democrats are led by satan-worshipping pedophiles. The FBI in 2019 mentioned QAnon in an intelligence bulletin as a growing domestic terror threat. Trump has refused to denounce the movement.
Macias is a cofounder of Vets for Trump, serves as a strategic adviser to the group, and has posted photos of himself shaking hands with Trump.
On his LinkedIn page, Macias writes: “We are the Veterans who support our 45th President of the United States of America. We have stood the watch, we have survived the firefight. We are the backbone of the #MAGA Movement in your backyard. For every Rally, every community meeting we are there for courage and strength as well as security!”
In recent days, Macias had been tweeting his support for Trump and alleging that the election was being stolen from the president.
Vladimir Lemets, executive director of Vets for Trump, said Friday that Macias had traveled to Philadelphia to monitor how the ballots were being counted. Lemets said Macias had no violent intentions, and may have thought his Virginia gun permit was valid in Pennsylvania. (Pennsylvania permits are honored in Virginia, but not vice versa).
“They just went up there to see if they could be of any assistance and scope out what’s happening,” Lemets said.
Lemets said he had been on the phone all day Friday trying to figure out what happened with Macias.
“It’s unbelievable,” Lemets said. “These are the most non-hostile guys you can think of.”
LaMotta describes himself on blogs and business networking sites as a father of three, former Army illustrator, a bodyguard, and member of Vets for Trump.
A web page advertising his private security services — “If you need real security, don’t pick from the sheeple. Get someone who can see the wolves a mile away" — is a collection of often rambling rantings about ”brainwashing democrats" and “brainless Antifa jerks,” and how the coronavirus pandemic is an “entirely man-made fake ‘natural epidemic.’ "
LaMotta’s Twitter feed, now deleted, included violence-filled political cartoons he penned in support of Virginia State Sen. Amanda Chase, who is running for governor of the state in 2021, and who gained notoriety by packing a .38 special on the Senate floor, insulting rape victims, and referring to the Senate clerk as Miss Piggy.
In Philadelphia, police and the FBI are continuing to investigate, and Krasner said prosecutors are considering additional charges, including possession of an instrument of crime and potentially election code violations.
Krasner said there is currently no evidence that the men are members of any known extremist group, although he said he was aware of photos of the Hummer and QAnon material on it.
Elections officials in several states have expressed security concerns at vote tabulation centers, as Trump has continued to claim, without evidence, that the election is rigged for Biden, who appears headed to victory.
Dozens of Trump supporters rallied outside Detroit’s convention center Friday morning, where election workers are counting ballots, chanting, “Stop the steal." About 100 Trump supporters had gathered Thursday in front of the Maricopa County election center in Phoenix, some carrying military-style rifles and handguns. Also on Thursday, Michigan’s attorney general tweeted a plea for people to stop harassing and threatening her staff.
As Krasner’s news conference at the Convention Center was getting underway Friday, two bomb threats were called into the Fashion District mall, which partially borders the Convention Center. Police said K-9 officers had completed the search by 3 p.m. and found nothing inside the mall.