How Mota, the QAnon-Spouting Skate Brand, Became Roller Derby’s Big Villain
After a tone-deaf, pro-cop BLM post last June, the roller skate company brand has descended into promoting QAnon and conspiracy theories on Instagram.
For four years, roller derby player Zack “NoMad” Sherman lived and breathed Mota Skates. The Grand Rapids, Michigan-based company sponsored Sherman’s gear, and he worked the Mota booth at championships games and conventions. People saw him represent Mota so often that he would be mistaken for the company’s owner.
In reality, that title belongs to a couple named Doug and Julie Glass. Sherman told The Daily Beast he “really considered Doug and Julie family” during his time with Mota. That ended abruptly when Sherman cut ties with the brand after it posted an anti-Black Lives Matter statement on Instagram last summer. Nine months later, as Mota has steadily promoted QAnon and COVID-truther conspiracy theories on its Instagram page, Sherman feels “disgraced” to have been tied so closely to the brand.
The brand’s descent began with a post on Mota’s Instagram page, made last June in the response to the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests.
Three different sentiments overlapped in a Venn diagram: feeling “outraged by George Floyd’s death,” supporting “good police officers,” and not condoning “looting or rioting.” Stamped into the center, in bright red letters, read “Me.”
According to the graphic, “It’s OK to be all three.”
As The Daily Beast reported at the time, a swift backlash ensued. Skaters called out the brand in the Instagram comments section for posting a pro-cop sentiment while images of police brutality against protesters and journalists flooded the news.
Doug and Julie Glass would later release an apology, via the caption of another Instagram post. Underneath a black square, the copy read, “Mota Skates, Doug and Julie Glass sincerely apologize for our ignorance regarding the black lives movement. We are working with others in the community to better ourselves in support of BLM. Your voices are heard.
“We are open to positive criticism that will continue to improve the movement. We will continue to reach out as we navigate this very sensitive matter. We understand this is not enough and we will continue our support to the best of our knowledge and provide more information regarding our actions in the upcoming days.”
But this, too, felt underwhelming for skaters looking for a heartfelt or genuine-seeming apology. Many, like Sherman, sought to disavow Mota. Some burned their skates outright, others covered up the Mota logo, or removed it with solvents.
A GoFundMe account raised nearly $10,000 to “assist skaters of color who need financial assistance in replacing their [Mota] boots.” Four different skate shops banded together to announce they would no longer sell Mota products.
Eddy Jones, a Black skater from Philadelphia, created the #UnMotavated hashtag, where he encouraged anyone who used the skates to take a photo of theirs in a trash can or recycling bin. While he understood not everyone could afford to burn their skates in protest, he wanted to find a way for people to show their disgust.
“What really set me off about that whole ordeal was the fact that when Mota posted its tone-deaf statement, there were a lot of skaters of colors who weren’t attacking Mota, but they wanted to explain what the situation was,” Jones told The Daily Beast. “But at that time, Mota was curating what they wanted to be seen on their post, and deleting [negative] comments. It wasn’t even like they wanted to have a conversation about it.”
At the time, Mota made some vague promises about being “open to positive criticism that will continue to improve the movement,” according to an Instagram post. “We will continue to reach out as we navigate this very sensitive matter,” Mota added.
As a brand, Mota was not alone in how it fumbled supporting the surge of activism that swept across the country last summer. Companies like Facebook, Fox, and Nextdoor all earned criticism for their hypocritical or lackluster “solidarity.”
But while many companies have adopted caring for social justice issues as ad campaigns—however performatively—Mota made a full, 180-degree pivot. Their pledge to be “open to positive criticism” has devolved into promoting QAnon and other conspiracy theories.
Mota has catalogued over 50 Instagram stories, which are currently listed under a highlight titled “RestoreRepublic,” most of which encourage anti-mask, anti-vaccine, and pro-Trump conspiracy thinking.
One Instagram story highlight includes a link to “truther info” written by Carrie Madej. She is an osteopath who has “warned” that the coronavirus vaccine exists to change people’s DNA. The BBC reported that Madej also believes that the shot will “hook us all up to an artificial intelligence interface.”
When news broke that Texas Governor Greg Abbott rescinded his state’s mask mandates and business occupancy limits, Mota posted a story that read, “Let’s pray this snowballs.”
Mota’s greatest concern, it seems, is with the hashtag #SavetheChildren. The brand has reposted memes hinting at an “elite pedophile ring,” which lines up with the core conspiracy theory behind QAnon: that the world is run by a “cabal” of Satanic Democrats and celebrities who torture and sexually abuse children in bloody rituals.
The brand has also name-dropped adrenochrome, a chemical compound formed by the oxidation of adrenaline, also known as the stress hormone. As my colleague Tarpley Hitt reported last year, a conjured QAnon theory says that the drug is extracted by tortured children and sold on to “elites” on the black market.
Julie Glass, who is 42 and a mother of three children, answered a series of questions from The Daily Beast via email. (Glass would not reveal who runs Mota’s Instagram page, though some of her responses to the questions were later used as captions on Instagram posts.)
When asked how she became aware of and interested in QAnon, Glass responded over email, “As far as Q, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I follow Sidney Powell, General Flynn, Lin Wood, Scott McKay and the Trump family among other peaceful patriots worldwide. I also follow resignations/passings of worldwide elites and declass intel as I’m constantly searching for truth and how I can help spread the word and awaken others.”
Sidney Powell is a lawyer and Trump ally who pushed baseless election fraud conspiracy theories. The Supreme Court has denied requests to review Powell’s cases in Arizona, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Michigan. Lin Wood is another lawyer who worked on cases to overturn the 2020 election. During the Capitol riot, Wood told Trump supporters to “get the firing squads ready” for Mike Pence. The New York Times reported that Flynn, the former national security adviser, suggested that Trump invoke martial law in battleground states after the election was called.
Scott McKay is a former bodybuilder turned radio host known as the “Patriot Streetfighter.” On air, he talks about how the world is controlled by the “global central banking cartel,” an idea taken from historically anti-Semitic tropes. McKay has also said that Donald Trump remains “in control” of the military until around March 24, suggesting that the former president could return to power before then.
Glass added that she believes the coronavirus is “cured” by hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug Trump pushed as a coronavirus treatment, despite its potentially deadly side effects.
Another potential solution, according to Glass, is ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug. ABC News reported last week that one person obtained a “veterinary source of ivermectin” reserved for horses, and had to call poison control after ingestion.
The Daily Beast asked why Mota espoused a passion for free speech online while also deleting or blocking comments that did not align with its viewpoint. Glass wrote, “It’s because we do not have time or energy for negativity. We are at war—this is a spiritual battle of good vs. evil. We have the right to remove evil/hate comments that have no place on our page.”
Defying a “life of tyranny”
Julie Glass grew up surrounded by sports, with a father in the army and a brother who ended up in the NFL. Glass told The Daily Beast she set one goal when she was 12 years old: to be a world champion skater.
Four years later, at age 16, she had crushed it, taking home her first world title in speed skating. She spent her teenage years touring with Team USA and racking in medals. ESPN once called her the “Usain Bolt of roller derby.”
She didn’t go to college and told The Daily Beast she has “never watched mainstream news,” and thinks of herself as an independent voter. Certain events seem to have rattled her sense of security, such as when a colleague was “robbed at gunpoint” during the 2003 World Championships in Venezuela. Because of this, Glass says, the team needed “24/7 security.”
“Everywhere we went there were men with armed guns and people living in cardboard boxes,” she wrote in an email, adding, “This is not the life of tyranny I want for my 3 daughters and my future grandkids.”
Glass told The Daily Beast she started “paying attention to politics” when Donald Trump ran for president. “The media was losing their minds about [him] in 2015,” she wrote. “I was indifferent about him at that time but knew this kind of reaction was alarming.”
But Glass’ radicalization really began in the wake of the backlash to their anti-BLM Instagram post. After that, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) parted ways with Mota, which had been a vendor at industry events. (The funds raised from Mota’s booth at the 2019 International Championships were also donated to Black Lives Matter.)
“The rest of the derby community decided to cancel us for not supporting BLM in solidarity and ACAB, it was our sign to educate ourselves on what was really happening here on a worldwide scale,” Glass wrote. “We did our research as the market asked of us and found many alarming truths that are worth fighting for, like the global pandemic of child/women trafficking and modern day slavery—organ harvesting, etc.” (ACAB means “All cops are bastards.” It’s a common anti-cop slogan to use as graffiti or on protest signs.)
Sherman, the sponsored Mota skater, told The Daily Beast he believes a “tipping point” for the Glass family came when they visited Atlanta at the end of May 2020.
They stayed at the Embassy Suites in Olympic Park, which was vandalized during early protests against the Floyd murder hit downtown Atlanta. According to local news reporters, two cars were set on fire near the hotel.
“It looked to me like Doug Glass was truly, genuinely, to his core, scared for the first time in his life,” Sherman said. “Rather than realize from that, hey this is what people of color in America live with everyday, he went very hard right, very quickly. [Doug and Julie] were already quietly pro-Trump, but after what happened in Atlanta, that’s when they went very hard right.”
Glass remembered that night in an email with The Daily Beast. “My kids asked me if we were going to die,” she wrote. “That was not a fun experience, but I know God put me in that situation for a reason.” When asked to elaborate, she sent links and statistics regarding human trafficking and organ harvesting.
One former sponsored Mota skater who asked to be anonymous for fear of retaliation also spoke with The Daily Beast about ending their relationship with the brand after the June Instagram post.
Looking back on the four years they worked together, the skater said, “I never thought [Doug and Julie] were bad people. But the more they dug in about deleting people’s posts and attacking people online, I thought: they have zero empathy for others and zero awareness. But as much as everyone thinks that [Julie] is a really bad person—and I don’t want to take away from that—I do want to mention that this is a really sad thing to witness, this decline.”
Vanessa Diva, another sponsored skater who cut ties with Mota last year, wanted to make clear that she supports Black Lives Matter and does not agree with what the company posts. But she also does not want to disparage Doug or Julie Glass.
“They never treated me any differently during my transition,” Diva, who is trans, said. “They never did anything hurtful to me and supported me even when I was not well-known. Julie and Doug purchased our RollerCon tickets, got us hotels, and took us out to dinner. They did a lot for us; it was a friendship.”
Sherman regrets his time with Mota. “I was a voice for them, and I put my name on them,” he said. “Now I look back and think that what I did may have funded the fact that they’re supposed QAnon. In some small way, I helped make that happen for them. I’ve helped fund these people who are so far off the deep end and so dangerous. I feel culpable in a way that while I shouldn't, I do.”
Even before last summer, Mota’s social media tended to skew slightly vitriolic. When Julie started working for the multi-level marketing company Arbonne in 2019, she tried to recruit new consultants using an email list of Mota customers, which led many to worry about the way their contact information was used.
And then there was the “Savage Boot,” a name many fans called out as a pejorative term associated with the abuse of Indigenous peoples. Or the custom “Blue Lives Matter” flag skates they made in 2018.
Sherman recalled the “Savage” boot: “Several of us were like, ‘Hey, boss, what are you doing with this name? Because that’s not a good idea,’” he said. “Doug and Julie’s response [to concerns] was, ‘No, no, we’re being “savage” as in: taking the market, not following the trends.’ There was not much we could do about it, so I would refer to it as the polymer boot, and tried not to use its name as much as I would with other boots like the Mojos.”
Andy Lewis-Lechner used to be the a referee for the Oly Rollers, an Olympia, Washington derby league Julie played for in the late aughts. He also got free gear from Mota, and called the Glass family “very nice and generous.” But he remembers the couple as “not very analytical.”
“Anything that didn’t align with their thought process was completely foreign to them,” Lewis-Lechner said. “There were lots of examples from games where the team would lose by a couple points, and I would show a play to [Doug and Julie] on the video. [As in], look, this happened, this is correct. But they weren’t able to be analytical about it; they were only able to understand what they had experienced in the moment. That’s why the QAnon thing doesn't surprise me—they would go along to get along.”
Many skaters who spoke with The Daily Beast made clear that Mota is not representative of the derby community as a whole, which largely aligns itself with progressive causes.
“There is a lot of arguing in derby,” one skate shop owner who asked to remain anonymous said. “But we want to argue over fiscal policy and dues and insurance and who should pay what. We’re not going to argue over other people’s right to exist. And that is where QAnon has taken this sharp, sharp turn into what-the-fuck.”
So who will Mota sell to? Jack Bratich, an associate professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University who focuses on conspiracy theories, wonders how Mota will attempt to distill its customer base around its politics.
“Are there enough people out there who are both adherents to the kind of nationalism that they’re promoting who are also in the roller derby community? I don’t know,” Bratich said. “But it’s interesting to see how they’re going to carve out a space for themselves in this subculture or alt-community.”
For her part, Julie Glass would not reveal if the brand’s public support of conspiracy theories had impacted their business. “Mota Skates sales is not of concern to me,” she wrote. “Do you think Mike Lindell of MyPillow is concerned about his company’s sales? No, because protecting FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY, and OUR CONSTITUTION is all that matters to him, me, and like minded patriots worldwide.”