Philadelphia police arrested two men on firearms charges Thursday night after reportedly receiving a tip that they were headed to the city’s convention center—where the swing state’s votes are still being counted—to “straighten things out.”
Tensions have been high outside of the Pennsylvania Convention Center since Election Day, with opposing groups of President Donald Trump and Joe Biden supporters gathering to protest. But Philly police appear to have prevented something much more dangerous.
The Philadelphia Police Department said in a statement that officers received information Thursday night that a group armed with guns were headed to the convention center in a silver Hummer truck. Inside the building, election workers were working through the night to determine the winner of the battleground state, which appeared to be swinging toward Biden as of Friday morning.
During a Friday press conference, Philadelphia Police chief Danielle Outlaw said the tip regarded a woman and two men being en route to the city from Virginia Beach with “weapons and ammunition” in a silver Hummer. The Philadelphia Inquirer quotes a law enforcement source saying the tipster told police the group were headed to the city of Brotherly Love to “straighten things out.”
Police say that, around 10:20 p.m, officers spotted the empty Hummer. About 10 minutes later, they saw a 41-year-old and 62-year-old man carrying firearms without valid Pennsylvania gun permits. The two men acknowledged they were the owners of the Hummer, prompting police to search the car, where they found an AR-style rifle. Firearms charges are now pending for the pair.
Outlaw said Friday the two men each had a handgun. They had 160 rounds of ammunition between them. District Attorney Larry Krasner said the AR-style weapon had no serial number and could have been assembled from parts of various firearms. In addition to the firearm charges, Krasner said his office is looking at criminal charges under the election code.
Krasner said charges will be finalized before a preliminary arraignment on Friday night at the earliest. The woman who traveled with the men has not been charged.
“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.
The Inquirer reported that a Hummer matching the description was seen with stickers linked to the QAnon conspiracy movement, including a large “Q” and “#WWG1WGA,” which the pro-Trump conspiracy theorists use to stand for “Where we go one, we go all”—the group’s motto. Photos of a silver Hummer parked near the Convention Center show a parking violation envelope tucked under the windshield.
Krasner added that, so far, there hadn’t been any “significant presence” of white nationalists or hate groups outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and he urged reporters to be cautious because the situation “may turn out to be nothing more than two people deciding to come to Philadelphia... for a somewhat unknown purpose.”
QAnon is a baseless far-right internet conspiracy theory whose increasingly violent adherents claim a “deep state” of Democratic leaders are cannibalizing and trafficking children and Trump is secretly fighting them off. Several Republican congressional candidates have endorsed the theories.
“The FBI works closely with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to identify and stop any potential threats to public safety. It is vital that the FBI, our partners, and the public work together to protect our community,” the FBI said in a statement.
“As always, we encourage members of the public to remain vigilant and immediately report any suspicious activity to law enforcement. We have no further information for release and would refer you to the Philadelphia Police Department for any additional guidance at this time.”
As the country waits on edge for the results of the U.S. presidential election, small protests have broken out outside ballot-counting locations in swing states like Pennsylvania and Arizona. President Trump, who in the lead-up to the election repeatedly called on supporters to personally help guard against voter fraud at polling places, called for votes to stop being counted in Pennsylvania on Thursday when he had a slight lead.
By Friday morning, Biden surged ahead of Trump in Pennsylvania—a position likely to land the former vice president the White House.