Under pressure after the Capitol riot, self-styled militias are regrouping around anti-vaxx conspiracy theories

Surveillance image of US Capitol riots
Surveillance footage from the US Capitol in January 6, which US prosecutors annotated to identify members of the Oath Keepers group.

  • Far-right militias are regrouping around anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, experts told Insider.
  • It appears designed to replenish the ranks after the Capitol riot threw the movement into disarray.
  • Insider flagged a prominent militia group selling anti-vaxx t-shirts, which Facebook removed.
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In the wake of the January 6 Capitol riot, so-called militia groups such as the Three Percenters and Oath Keepers were in disarray.

Their members, dressed for war, were on the front line of the violence that rocked the seat of US democracy that day.

But involvement in the attack brought intense pressure on the groups from US law enforcement. Six members of the Three Percenters were in June charged with conspiring to attack the Capitol, following a slew of similar charges against Oath Keepers members.

The wider movement was racked by fear of informants selling out other members in the hope of lenient treatment in the courts.

US militia
Armed members of the New England Minutemen militia group walk among rally goers during the anti-mask and anti-vaccine “World Wide Rally for Freedom” at the State House in Concord, New Hampshire, May 15, 2021.

But they are far from defeated, instead regrouping and rallying round a new cause: anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.

Members of the groups use apps such as Telegram to evade scrutiny and plot their next moves, experts told Insider.

On mainstream platforms such as Facebook they are seeking to pull in new recruits under the anti-vaccine cause.

The development marked a new intertwining of two dangerous conspiracy-theory movements, according to Jason Blazakis, Director of Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

“Anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are certainly being used as a recruitment tool by these organizations to try to increase the number of individuals included in the fold. It’s one of their primary narratives,” he told Insider.

Insider has seen proof of this happening on Facebook.

Katie Paul is director of the Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit that monitors the spread of violent propaganda and disinformation on major tech platforms.

She told Insider that militias have an extensive Facebook presence despite policies to ban both them and anti-vaccine disinformation more broadly.

She said that militias on the platform aim to convert people’s anger into “this belief that any kind of government action… is either tyranny or some sort of infringement.”

She shared screenshots from several public militia groups promoting anti-vaccination conspiracy theories.

One page, Mike’s Corner, has nearly half a million followers. Its profile picture features the logo of the Three Percenters militia group.

The screenshot showed a merchandise page selling t-shirts with anti-vaxx slogans. Paul said that Facebook was likely profiting from the sales.

Militia anti-vaxx t-shirt
This t-shirt emblazoned with a anti-vaxx slogan was being sold as merchandise on a pro-militia page on Facebook.

Another militia group, The West Texas Minutemen which has more than 1,000 members, is almost entirely focussed on anti-vaxx propaganda, said Paul.

“It gives them opportunities to recruit new people who may not have otherwise been interested in militia, but they’re following vaccine disinformation that they’re buying into,” said Paul.

In response to a request for comment from Insider, Facebook said it was removing Mike’s Corner for violating its policies. As of July 13, the page was inaccessible.

A statement from Facebook said: “Since August, we’ve removed 3,400 Pages, 19,500 groups, and 7,500 Instagram accounts representing militarized social movements, and more than 18 million pieces of content on Facebook and Instagram that violate our COVID-19 and vaccine policies since the pandemic began.

“Since we know that these groups are always evolving, we adjust how we enforce our rules against them to keep people safe.”

Militia groups plotting attacks on government targets, warns US intelligence

Some of the best-known militia groups included disillusioned former US military personnel.

In a report issued in February, US intelligence agencies warned of the ongoing threat posed by far-right extremists, singling out white supremacist and militia groups. Militia groups, they said, were plotting attacks on government targets, both buildings and people.

Blazakis said that he feared that vaccination clinics of those seeking inoculation could soon be the targets of violent plots by an individual or individuals radicalised by militia propaganda.

He pointed to the Netherlands, where opposition in some quarters to vaccines had spilled into violence. A 37-year-old man was arrested in April, accused of plotting to attack a coronavirus vaccination center. A coronavirus testing centre north of Amsterdam was bombed in March.

“My concern is that through online chatter they could individually radicalize a person to carry out real-world harm against, say, a vaccination clinic,” he said.

“And it is unfortunately also a really easy target because you have people waiting in line, vehicles in line with people, that there are what I would call soft targets.”

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Former police chief and American Phoenix Project founder indicted on conspiracy charges related to January 6, alongside 5 men prosecutors say he recruited to far-right group

Capitol breach
In this Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol Police officers hold off rioters loyal to President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington.

  • The ex-La Habra police chief and American Phoenix Project founder was indicted on Jan. 6 conspiracy charges.
  • Alan Hostetter and 5 men from the far-right group allegedly plotted and broke into the Capitol.
  • Hostetter organized “Stop the Steal” rallies in Orange County a prelude to the attack on Jan. 6.
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A former California police chief, who founded a far-right group, and five other men who joined the group were indicted on conspiracy charges related to the January 6 storming of the US Capitol, according to the AP.

New court documents unsealed on Thursday revealed that Alan Hostetter, the former La Habra, California, police chief, started a far-right group called the American Phoenix Project, which organized anti-COVID lockdown protests and amplified former President Donald Trump’s lies about election fraud in the 2020 election.

Five other Southern California men were charged alongside Hostetter and were identified as members of the group in the court documents. Prosecutors alleged that some of the men had ties to the Three Percenters, another extremist group.

Russell Taylor, Erik Scott Warner, Felipe Antonio “Tony” Martinez, Derek Kinnison, and Ronald Mele were the group members also indicted on multiple counts, including conspiracy charges to obstruct the election certification.

All six men were also charged with being on restricted grounds or building of the Capitol; Kinnison and Warner were charged with destroying evidence; and Taylor faces a charge for bringing a knife to the Capitol. All were also charged with obstructing an official proceeding and obstructing law enforcement during civil disorder.

The AP reported that Hostetter was the lead organizer of several pro-Trump events in the build-up to the January 6 insurrection. Namely, Hostetter organized a “Stop the Steal” rally in Huntington Beach on December 12.

“And he must be allowed to finish this historic job of cleaning out the corruption in the cesspool known as Washington, DC. The enemies and traitors of America both foreign and domestics must be held accountable. And they will. There must be long prison terms, while execution is the just punishment for the ringleaders of this coup,” Hostetter reportedly said at the event, according to the indictment.

According to the indictment, from early November onwards the six men also communicated via a Telegram chat titled “The California Patriots-DC Brigade,” which hosted over 30 members. Before the insurrection, one of the indicted men reportedly asked group members if they had police or military background or “special skills relevant to our endeavors.”

Russell Taylor, one of the indicted six, wrote in the Telegram chat on December 29, saying, “I personally want to be on the front steps and be one of the first ones to breach the doors!” as members were coordinating when to march over from Trump’s rally.

In the documents, prosecutors said that on January 1, Hostetter wrote in the group that, “things are going to come a head in the US in the next several days.”

Hostetter’s attorney denies that he entered the Capitol. It was not clear when the indicted militia members will appear in court.– reaching out now

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A teenage girl testified against her father in court after her brother turned him in to the FBI over his role in the Capitol insurrection

capitol siege riot ladder
Rioters clash with police using big ladder trying to enter Capitol building through the front doors.

An alleged Three Percenter, who is accused of breaching the Capitol, will remain in jail awaiting his trial after his own family members gave officials information leading to his arrest, CNN reported Monday.

Guy Reffitt, a Texas husband and father, drove to Washington, DC, to attend the January 6 pro-Trump rally armed with an AR-15 rifle and pistol, threatened his family members, boasted about his participation, and bragged to fellow militia members that the siege was just “the beginning,” according to court documents.

Days after returning from his trip to the nation’s capital, Reffitt told his children he knew the FBI was “watching him.” On January 11 he told his 18-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter he had to “erase everything,” referring to video evidence of his attendance, legal records said.

Reffitt told his son, Jackson, that if he crossed the line and reported his father to the police, Reffitt would have no option but to “do what he had to do,” Jackson told investigators. When Jackson asked his father if he was threatening him, Reffitt reportedly responded by saying, “don’t put words in my mouth,” the affidavit said.

Reffitt also threatened his daughter, according to court documents. The girl was using her cell phone to talk with friends when Reffitt told her if she was recording him or put anything about him on social media she would have “crossed the line, betrayed the family” and he would “put a bullet through” her phone, according to the affidavit.

That same day, the two children – who disapproved of their father’s pro-Trump politics – told their mother, Nicole, that Reffitt had threatened them. When confronted by his wife, Reffitt reportedly doubled down on his warnings, saying if his children turned him in they would be traitors and “traitors get shot,” court documents said.

Reffitt’s wife and son told FBI officials all this and more when agents arrived at their Wylie home on January 16 to execute a search warrant and eventually arrest Reffitt, according to legal records.

Jackson has since left the family’s home and is now living in an undisclosed location, according to court documents. The son previously told CNN that he tipped the FBI off about his father.

But despite detailing Reffitt’s post-siege behavior to investigators, family members have continued to support the patriarch in court and in the media.

Nicole told CNN that Reffitt is a “loving husband and devoted father, loyal friend, and passionate patriot.” She insisted his statements were taken out of context and said nobody ever felt they were in real danger.

The couple’s minor daughter and her boyfriend, meanwhile testified on behalf of Reffitt in court Monday. Though she told the judge she thought Reffitt had tried to intimidate her and her brother, his daughter said she did not believe he would be dangerous if released, CNN reported.

Reffitt’s lawyer also downplayed his client’s threats while arguing for his pretrial release.

US Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui rejected Reffitt’s release request because of prosecutors’ claims that Reffitt had donned body armor, a helmet, a firearm, and plastic flex-cuffs on the Capitol grounds, according to The Washington Post.

Faruqui said Reffitt had used encrypted communications with fellow Three Percenters before and after the attack and had planned for violence.

Insider reached out to Reffitt’s defense attorney for comment.

The Three Percenters, a far-right, anti-government group for which Reffitt said he conducted vetting and intelligence, formed in 2008, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Its name originates from the myth that only 3% of colonists took up arms during the Revolutionary War. Members view themselves as “modern-day versions of those revolutionaries fighting against a tyrannical US government rather than the British.”

When Faruqui read his decision, it elicited a “wail” from Reffitt’s wife, daughter, and daughter’s boyfriend, CNN reported.

Despite their support of Reffitt, it was at least the third time members of his family had given details about his actions to authorities.

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The House is wrapping early as officials warn of new extremist threats, as far-right conspiracy theories falsely claim Trump will be re-inaugurated this week

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Members of the National Guard are seen patrolling near the US Capitol Building on Capitol Hill on March 3, 2021, in Washington, DC.

  • The House is wrapping early this week, following possible extremist threats at the Capitol Building.
  • Far-right conspiracy theorists’ online talk of the importance of March 4 have worried law enforcement.
  • Capitol Police will have an increased presence around the grounds through this weekend.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Less than two months after the deadly Capitol siege, Congress is taking preventative steps to avoid another disaster amid the possibility of additional extremist attacks.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced Wednesday evening that the House would wrap its business a day earlier than scheduled, following reports of possible protests planned for Thursday, March 4 – a date that has galvanized right-wing conspiracy theorists online.

Earlier Wednesday, law enforcement officials alerted lawmakers to the potential threat to the US Capitol Building.

An internal memo sent by the acting House sergeant-at-Arms, Timothy Blodgett, said Capitol Police are monitoring information related to potential protests and demonstrations surrounding “what some have described as the ‘true Inauguration Day.'” 

Blodgett said Capitol Police received “new and concerning information and intelligence” indicating interest in the Capitol Building by militia groups from March 4-6.

Capitol Police will have an increased presence throughout the Capitol Grounds, according to the memo, and the National Guard will continue to maintain its troops around the area. 

Despite the bolstered protective measures, it remains unclear if members of extremist groups are actually planning to come to DC or if the talk of demonstrations is simply online chatter.

March 4 has emerged as an important date among conspiracy groups like QAnon and the Three Percenters, who believe former President Donald Trump will reclaim his role as Commander-in-Chief and lead a purge of his political and media opponents who they believe to be part of a secret ring of pedophiles. 

Far-right groups have begun to fracture following the chaos of the January 6 Capitol riot, but many still believe Trump will be re-inaugurated March 4 – the original inauguration date before the 20th Amendment was passed, and the date conspiracy theorists believe the last “legitimate” president, Ulysses S. Grant, was inaugurated on in 1869.

The Department of Homeland Security’s acting intelligence chief, Melissa Smislova, told lawmakers during a Wednesday Senate hearing that her agency and the FBI issued an internal intelligence memo about “extremists discussing March 4, and March 6,” CNN reported. 

The outlet also reported that acting Capitol Police Chief Yoganda Pittman told Congress on Wednesday that she had “concerning intelligence” regarding the next few days, but said it wouldn’t be “prudent” to share it in public. She did, however, assure members that Capitol Police have been briefed on the coming days. 

Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, a Republican, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Trump had a responsibility to tell extremists to “stand down.”

“This threat is credible. It’s real,” the lawmaker said about March 4.

Sen. Alex Padilla of California, a Democrat, told CNN that he and his colleagues are taking the threat “very seriously.”

“We still have yet to hold everybody accountable for what happened on the sixth,” Padilla said. “And we still haven’t made the many changes necessary to secure the Capitol going forward. So this is evolving in very real time. Frankly, this information from DHS may be officially new but not really surprising.”

In light of the altered schedule, the House will reconvene Wednesday night to debate and vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which will be the final vote of the week.

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A truck with a far-right militia sticker seen near the Capitol riot belongs to GOP Rep. Mary Miller’s husband

capitol riots flag
A group of Trump protesters wave flags while standing on an armored police vehicle on the grounds of the Capitol Building in Washington DC, on January 6, 2021.

  • A truck with a far-right militia sticker spotted at the Capitol riot belongs to Rep. Mary Miller’s husband, according to a report.
  • The truck bearing a Three Percenter sticker was spotted during the January 6 riot.
  • Chris Miller, Rep. Miller’s husband, told the Daily Beast the truck belongs to him but denies affiliation to the group.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A truck bearing a far-right militia sticker spotted at the Capitol on the day of the January 6 riot belongs to the husband of a new Republican member of Congress, according to a report

The truck, which had a sticker for the “Three Percenters” group attached to it was spotted near the Capitol building during the January 6 insurrection, the Daily Beast reports.

In an email to the Daily Beast, Chris Miller – the husband of GOP Rep. Mary Miller – confirmed that the truck belonged to him but denied affiliation to the group.

“Army friend gave me decal. Thought it was a cool decal. Took it off because of negative pub,” Miller wrote in an email to the Daily Beast Thursday.

Miller, who is member of the Illinois House of Representatives, added that he was “never” a member of the group and “didn’t know anything about 3% till fake news started this fake story and [I] read about them.”

Mary Miller Illinois GOP

A Twitter account, @capitolhunters, which is coordinating research into the Capitol riot first highlighted the presence of the pick-up truck with the Three Percenter sticker, the Daily Beast reported.

The account noted that the truck appeared to be parked in a restricted zone outside the Capitol building which is normally inaccessible for regular traffic.

Subsequent social media users posted photographs of what appeared to be the same truck in Illinois, including one where it was carrying a “Mary Miller for Congress,” sign before Miller confirmed the truck belonged to him.

Rep. Miller, who entered Congress in January, quickly drew widespread condemnation from House colleagues after she quoted Hitler at a rally of pro-Trump supporters the day before the failed January 6 insurrection.

“Hitler was right on one thing. He said whoever has the youth has the future,” Miller said.

The Three Percenters are a militia movement created in 2008 which formed in response to Barack Obama’s election. They have mobilized around anti-government and anti-gun regulation issues, Insider’s Nicole Einbinder reported.

At least one Three Percenter was arrested over their alleged participation in the Capitol riot on January 6, the BBC reported. 

While the group insists it is not a militia, the outlet Mother Jones reported that some of its members view themselves as the de facto armed wing of the Trump revolution.

The Three Percenters gained notoriety after members who identified themselves as part of the group were photographed wearing combat gear as the notorious “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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