One of the armed men arrested while traveling to Philadelphia’s vote-counting center is a QAnon obsessive who posted violent, anti-Semitic comics online. The other is a President Trump super-fan who urged social media users to poll watch and suggested the 2020 election was being stolen from the president.
QAnon conspiracy theorist Antonio Lamotta, 61, was arrested Thursday with 42-year-old Joshua Macias, the co-founder of “Vets for Trump,” on federal firearms charges after authorities reportedly received a tip that a group was headed from Virginia to the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the site of the city’s ballot count, to “straighten things out.”
The pair drove from Virginia with pistols, an AR-15 rifle, and roughly 160 rounds of ammunition, according to Philadelphia police. They lacked valid Pennsylvania firearms permits to carry, and were charged with carrying a concealed firearm without a license, a third-degree felony, and carrying a firearm on public streets or public property, the District Attorney’s office said Friday. Both men, who are from Chesapeake, Virginia, were accompanied by a woman who was not charged with any crime.
“We will be requesting that both be held without eligibility for bail when they are arraigned later this evening, as this alarming incident is still very much under investigation regarding additional charges,” the district attorney’s office added.
The arrests come as QAnon promoters stoke outlandish theories that the ballot count in Pennsylvania is a scheme to steal the election from Trump.
Lamotta’s Hummer was discovered near the convention center with QAnon bumper stickers on it and a QAnon hat inside. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said at a Friday press conference that the pair may have had an affiliation with QAnon. Photos of a silver Hummer parked near the Convention Center also show a parking violation envelope tucked under the windshield.
“At this time we do not have indications that the story is bigger than these two individuals,” Krasner said, adding there was no indication the men were part of any extremist group. He declined to comment on possible motivations for their trip to Philadelphia but noted the FBI is also assisting in the investigation.
But Lamotta’s interest in QAnon, which the FBI considers a potential source of domestic terrorism, goes beyond his truck. Social media posts on Facebook and Twitter reveal Lamotta to be a dedicated QAnon promoter who has embraced the conspiracy theory’s darkest, most anti-Semitic corners.
QAnon believers follow cryptic “clues” posted on anonymous message boards by a mysterious figure named “Q,” who QAnon supporters claim is a figure in the Trump administration. QAnon adherents string these clues together to create a bizarre worldview in which the world is controlled by a nefarious cabal of pedophile-cannibals in the Democratic Party, Hollywood, and banking. Trump is a near-messianic figure for QAnon believers, who await the day that Trump and the military will arrest and execute his political opponents in a much-awaited purge they call “The Storm.”
Lamotta echoed a core tenet of QAnon in a Facebook post, which was preserved by extremism research J.J. MacNab before Lamotta’s account was deleted.
“QAnon is a positive military operation that is working to take down the deep state,” Lamotta wrote.
On one of his websites, Lamotta touted his access to weapons and claimed to be an “international security contractor.” The website, headlined with a picture of a sword, also features pictures of a gun and bullets.
A blog post on a business page for Lamotta’s private security firm also suggested that COVID-19 is “an entirely man-made fake ‘natural pandemic’ psyop crisis with a patented, laboratory ‘gain of function’ bioweapon as its disease.” The Aug. 25 blog post then falsely states that the coronavirus is a plot equivalent to “crimes against humanity causing premeditated deaths, suffering, and economic hardship, in combination with the suppression of preventive medications and natural treatments.”
“Killing these people is a legitimate act of self-defense and not a crime,” the entry reads.
The blog post then erroneously suggests the pandemic—which has killed over 236,000 Americans—is nothing more than a “eugenics program at work” before commending Trump for taking a shot at Big Pharma.
An Aug. 21 post took direct aim against Democrats and the upcoming election, stating: “Folks, I saw the DNC whatever that is...if I was a democrat, I’d shoot myself in the head right now, (right after seeing Trump's rally.) I would save myself a ton of ammo. They ain't worth 65-cents each to shoot at.”
The 62-year-old also claims to be a U.S Army vet, and the site associated with this private security firm posted a link to the Facebook group “Vets for Trump” on Sept. 4.
Social media for Macias, a Navy vet, revealed the 42-year-old is an enthusiastic Trump supporter who co-founded the veteran's group supporting Trump.
A Twitter account appearing to belong to Macias frequently posts in support of the president and has shared several posts that allege the 2020 presidential election—which has yet to be called—was stolen from Trump.
“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!” Macias, who appears in a picture with Trump on his personal website, wrote on his LinkedIn page.
In 2015, Macias was even a featured speaker at a Trump rally in Manassas, Virginia. A year later, just days after Trump was elected president, Macias also spoke to reporters at Trump Tower. After being introduced by Kellyanne Conway, Macias talked to reporters on Nov. 17, 2016 about how “veterans have been behind Donald Trump since Day 1.”
“There are millions of veterans across the country that support Donald Trump,” he said, adding that they also “support Steve Bannon and the campaign efforts and General Flynn.” When asked why he was at Trump Tower, Macias said there to “augment and support on a volunteer basis.”
Vladimir Lemets, executive director of Vets for Trump, confirmed to the Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday that Macias went to Philadelphia to monitor ballot counting.
“They just went up there to see if they could be of any assistance and scope out what’s happening,” Lemets said, insisting that Macias had no violent intentions and probably thought his Virginia gun permit was valid out of state. (According to state law, Pennsylvania permits are honored in Virginia, but not the other way around.)
And Macias alleged accomplice, Lamotta, isn’t the first QAnon believer to be accused of plotting violence. QAnon conspiracy theorists have been charged with a number of crimes, including two murders, child kidnapping plots, and a terrorist incident near the Hoover Dam involving guns and an armored truck.
Lamotta also made a comic, dubbed “The Trumpinator,” that portrayed Virginia State Sen. Amanda Chase (R) and a “Rambo”-like Trump taking on the cabal portrayed in QAnon conspiracy theories. At one point in the comic, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) promises to provide a nefarious figure with “adrenochrome,” a rejuvenating blood-like substance QAnon believers claim world elites drink after sexually torturing children.
Despite his fringe beliefs, Lamotta has ties to at least one Republican official. He’s been photographed repeatedly alongside Chase, an outspoken opponent of gun control who has carried a pistol onto the statehouse floor.
A spokesman for Chase said that Lamotta was not an official member of Chase’s campaign or security detail. Lamotta applied to join Chase’s campaign, according to the spokesman, but was rejected.
“He did not meet the qualifications or standards within the campaign,” the spokesman said.
The comic even references a QAnon faction, fringe even within the broader QAnon movement, that John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death in a 1999 plane crash and disguised himself as Trump supporter Vincent Fusca. In his comic, Kennedy is portrayed putting on a costume to disguise himself as Fusca and help Trump.
Lamotta’s comic also makes references to the anti-Semitic Khazar conspiracy theory, which posits that the Jewish people are not “genuine” Jews. At one point in the comic, Vladimir Putin is shown coordinating with Trump to arrest “the zionist-fake-jews.” A suspect in a 2019 attack on a kosher grocery store in Jersey City was also a Khazar conspiracy theorist.
Lamotta also posted on Twitter about Pizzagate, the conspiracy theory that inspired both a shooting and an arson attack at a Washington pizzeria and eventually was subsumed into QAnon.