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Two men arrested over an alleged threat to Philly’s ballot-counting center have been linked to far-right groups affiliated with Virginia state Senator Amanda Chase, a Republican Trump supporter and challenger in that state’s next year’s gubernatorial election.
Philadelphia police responded to a tip from the FBI that an armed group was en route to the city in a silver Hummer. Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said officers spotted the vehicle — sporting Virginia plates and decals promoting the right-wing conspiracy theory known as QAnon — near the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where mail ballots are still being tabulated for the November election.
Three individuals were spotted nearby, two of whom were armed with Beretta handguns. Officers detained a 61-year-old man for carrying a weapon without a permit and a 42-year-old man for failure to hold Pa. concealed carry licenses. The men also gave consent to search the Hummer, which contained an AR-15 style rifle with a missing serial number and ammunition.
A woman traveling with the group was not detained.
On Friday afternoon, District Attorney Larry Krasner announced his intent to pursue related firearms and, possibly, election code violations-related charges against the two men.
“At this time we do not have indications that the story is bigger than these two individuals,” he said. “[This] may turn out to be nothing more than two people deciding to come to Philadelphia at a particular time for a somewhat unknown purpose.”
In a press conference, he said more detail would be released by Friday afternoon. He declined to discuss a motive or identify either suspect.
But multiple photos circulating online link that vehicle, which was discovered parked along North 13th Street near the Convention Center, to a group known as “Virginia Armed Patriots.” Law enforcement sources acknowledged one of the men arrested was a member of that group: Antonio Paredes Lamotta.
Lamotta is a military veteran and martial arts Lamotta who bills himself as a private security expert. In numerous photos posted online, Lamotta and others are pictured with the Hummer impounded in Philadelphia.
On a business directory account for Lamotta that lists his phone number, he posted messages directly describing President Trump’s upcoming re-election bid, though no mention is made of Philadelphia or Pennsylvania.
“Election or Not, Trump will win by a landslide,” the blogger wrote. “If you can’t see that, you’re in denial.”
Several social media accounts linked to the man were locked as of Friday. But other users posted images from earlier in the year showing Lamotta visible alongside Sen. Chase, some at a series of rallies earlier in the year denouncing current Virginia Gov. Northam’s COVID-19 restrictions. Lamotta also stood at Chase’s side when she announced her gubernatorial bid last year, openly carrying his firearm.
On a business page for Lamotta’s private security firm, a blog post describes COVID-19 as a “psyop” and appears to justify killing people responsible for the pandemic.
“The entire plot is equivalent to crimes against humanity for causing premeditated deaths, suffering, and economic hardship, in combination with the suppression of preventive medications and natural treatments,” reads the post. “Killing these people is a legitimate act of self-defense and not a crime.”
Lamotta is also an illustrator who draws political cartoons — many of them violent. One image from April depicts Va. Attorney General Mark R. Herring running from a pitchfork-wielding mob on the eve of an election, dodging bullets from an AR-14. Another satirical cartoon features Chase and President Trump.
Lamotta did not respond to a request for comment.
The Inquirer identified the second individual as Joshua Macias, also of Va. He is listed as a co-founder and advisor for a political group called “Vets for Trump.” He also appears with Chase in pictures on her official Facebook page and opening a pro-Second Amendment rally with her earlier in the year.
In recent days, Macias was active on social media, mirroring unfounded claims from President Donald Trump that the election had been wracked by fraud.
“Every LEGAL vote must be counted. Every ILLEGAL vote must be thrown out. #STOPTHESTEAL!” wrote Macias.
A voicemail left at Chase’s district office in Richmond, Va., went unreturned on Friday. In an afternoon Facebook post, the first-term senator denied accusations of any connection and said Lamotta was not employed by her campaign at any time.
“Give me a break. There is no connection,” Chase wrote. “The individual has never worked for my campaign as paid staff or asked by my campaign to help out as a volunteer. He is simply a supporter that shows up on occasion at events.”
On yet another blog listing Lamotta’s phone number, he details his professed mastery of Kenjutsu, a Japanese sword-fighting style. “If I can cut hundreds of snakes in two, I can most certainly cut your hands off,” the page reads. “In the way of the warrior, you don’t kill everybody you fight, or chop their arms off.”
Advertising to clients on his personal website, Lamotta lists a dizzying array of tactical, firearms and surveillance skills — from “mastery” of highly specific military weapons to martial arts training.
“If you need real security, don’t pick from the sheeple,” the description reads. “Get someone who can see the wolves a mile away.”