'Lock and load': The top Virginia gubernatorial candidate has aligned herself with Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and other extremists
Virginia gubernatorial candidate Amanda Chase appears at a rally with Proud Boy national chairman Enrique Tarrio (screenshot)

Amanda Chase, the Republican frontrunner in the party's nominating contest for governor of Virginia, has surrounded herself with armed volunteers and extremists bent on upending democracy since at least January 2020, when she joined a Second Amendment rally in Richmond that drew thousands of people wielding high-powered rifles.

With a handful of Proud Boys standing nearby, including national chairman Enrique Tarrio, who was clad in a bullet-proof vest, Chase vowed to launch a recall against Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, charging that "he has violated the very oath that he swore to uphold."

Introducing her that day was Joshua Macias, the cofounder of group called Vets for Trump. Macias also appeared with Chase when the state senator announced her candidacy for governor on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol a month later. Also flanking Chase that day was a man named Antonio LaMotta, who was dressed in a knee-length black trench coat and carrying a bulky satchel. Macias and LaMotta would later be arrested on weapons charges when they traveled in a Hummer with QAnon stickers to the Philadelphia Convention Center where votes were being tabulated days after the November election.

Virginia State Senator Amanda Chase and Vets4Trump Joshua Macias 2A Lobby Day www.youtube.com

Chase has scornfully rejected the labels "extremist" and "insurrectionist," but she hasn't shied away from the far-right groups implicated in the storming of the Capitol. And she has made a rousing account of her own effort to disrupt the electoral certification for President Biden into a centerpiece of her campaign stump speech. Like her hero, Donald Trump, Chase is building her profile by attacking the leadership of her own party in her quest for power in blue-trending Virginia.

Chase is one of seven Republicans vying for the gubernatorial nomination. The party opted to hold a convention, scheduled for May 8, instead of a primary — a decision that Chase says was made to prevent her from securing the nomination.

Lamotta, the man who joined Chase when she announced her campaign in February 2020, adopted a war-like posture during the tumultuous 2020 presidential election.

"Why waste all the effort on expecting a legitimate election?" he wrote in a blog post. "You know that they've already defunded the police and funded the rioters across the nation."

The rambling screed went on to darkly hint that billionaire financier George Soros was underwriting disorder and that the US government had become co-opted by sinister forces. "The whole US military is not even ½ percent of the total population of armed American patriots," Lamotta continued. "The patriots will win this war… this is the making of our history, folks. Lock and load, and don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes."

Reacting to inquiries from reporters in November, Chase acknowledged that one of the men was "pictured in photos with me at various campaign events" while saying that he was "simply a supporter that shows up on occasion at events." Although two men associated with Chase's campaign were arrested, she only mentioned one individual, and did not specify whether she was talking about Lamotta or Macias. Chase attacked coverage of the incident as "the fake news trying to create a story that doesn't exist," while adding that she denounced "any attempt to plot an attack on the Philadelphia Convention Center."

Despite minimizing Lamotta and Macias' association with her campaign as "simply a supporter that shows up on occasion at events," two months later Chase would post a photo on her official Virginia Senate Facebook account showing herself with Macias on the eve of the Capitol insurrection. Also shown in the photo, which depicts five people huddled in a hotel room, was Stewart Rhodes, leader of the Oath Keepers.

Like Rhodes and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (who has endorsed her candidacy), Chase had called on President Trump to invoke martial law to prevent his removal from office.

"Just arrived in DC and talking to organizer for tomorrow's rally!" Chase wrote on Facebook on Jan. 5. "We the People in order to form a more perfect Union are here together. Here at local events with #LatinosForTrump #LawyersForTrump #VetsForTrump and #Oathkeepers."

At least 14 people associated with the far-right militia group, which targets military veterans and retired law enforcement for recruitment, have received federal charges related to the Jan. 6 insurrection, including conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding and destruction of government property.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in Philadelphia attempted to revoke Macias' bond, asserting that he "violated the conditions of his bail by once again traveling across state lines in an attempt to interfere with a lawful democratic process."

Chase also renewed her ties with the Proud Boys at the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally.

Bill Whicker III, president of the Eastside Regulators chapter of the Proud Boys in North Carolina, described his encounter with Chase during a guest appearance on "Right View," a UK podcast, three days after the insurrection.

"I had a state senator walk up to me while I was in the crowd doing…." He paused briefly, and resumed: "… what I was doing."

Whicker said Chase had remembered him from the Second Amendment rally a year earlier in Richmond.

"She's a great senator," he enthused. "She's a Virginia state senator. Her name's Amanda Chase…. Yeah, it was really cool. I got it on my body cam, too. It was surreal as shit, dude. She had all these monster security team with her. Obviously, the state paid for them, and they were just chilling. And she walks up and she's like, 'Hi.' And I was like, 'Yeah, you're Amanda Chase."

Whicker said during the podcast that he did not go in the Capitol.

At least 25 other members of the Proud Boys face federal charges, including conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, civil disorder, and assaulting, resisting or impeding officers.

A campaign aide for Chase told Raw Story she was not available for comment for this story.

Campaign finance reports for Chase, on file with the Virginia Department of Elections, show she has paid Arete Protection Services, a company registered in Nelson County, almost $50,000 for "executive protection services" from late August 2020 through January 2021.

But Chase has also openly recruited armed volunteers to join her campaign entourage.

In a Sept. 27, 2020 post on her Facebook page, Chase published a photo of herself and Jody Pyles — a pastor who owns a martial arts studio in Pulaski County — and other volunteers loading a van to travel to northern Virginia for a Trump rally. The post included an email, suggesting that supporters reach out "if you'd like to host an event or go on tour with us, especially photographers, merchandisers and prior law enforcement."

Another post, on Oct. 21, showed Pyles with a large pistol strapped to his hip at a long dinner table with Chase, her family and campaign staffers.

"Dinner in Louisa after a full day of shooting and practice drills with the family and our security team," the post reads.

Chase's campaign finance reports show that Pyles received a total of $2,889 for consulting, fuel reimbursement and transportation in late 2020. Pyles also also attended the Jan. 6 Stop the Steal rally in DC with Chase. Her reports show that her campaign spent $429.68 on lodging and parking at the Hyatt Place Washington DC on Jan. 6.

Chase alluded to her practice of surrounding herself with armed campaign personnel during a Facebook post last month in which she described attending a Sunday service at a megachurch in Leesburg and being told by the usher that she and her entourage couldn't bring their firearms into the sanctuary.

"I had to actually explain to them that as a state senator and candidate for governor I had threats that warranted being able to carry myself," Chase wrote. "My personal aides also carry and are prior law enforcement and military."

Pyles has discussed his law enforcement background in a Facebook Live video and in an interview with a local newspaper. He worked for the Winston-Salem Police Department in North Carolina for less than two years, beginning in 2003. He was fired in 2005 for insubordination and violating policies on sick leave and reporting to duty, according to a termination letter provided by the city of Winston-Salem.

Prior to joining Chase on the campaign trail, Pyles had been involved in efforts to mobilize resistance to anticipated gun-control legislation after Democrats took control of the Virginia legislature in early 2020, and backlash against the struggle for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd.

Pyles addressed the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors in February 2020 by telling them that "the next step in making their voices heard has been a movement that many counties have joined in creating county militias," according to a report in a local newspaper.

The report said Pyles told county officials that the word "militia" has a negative connotation, so the new organization was named the Pulaski County Home Guard. The newspaper reported that "the first muster" was held at Connection Church, where Pyles is the pastor.

Later, in the summer of 2020, the Roanoke Times reported that Pyles live-streamed on a sidewalk near the campus of Radford University protesting President Brian Hemphill's support for a planned Black Lives Matter protest. The newspaper reported that Pyles called on "the citizens of Radford [to] show up and make some noise" and "let them know that this is not going to be allowed."

In a follow-up video responding to criticism of his call to action at the local university, Pyles said, "We're in civil war. I think these idiots should be treated as terrorists, and you're out here destroying property, you're destroying businesses, you're destroying people's lives, and you should be treated as a terrorist. You should be treated as an attack on US soil. And we should handle it as such."

Reached by phone, Pyles declined to comment on the record about his involvement in the home guard or his opposition to the Black Lives Matter protest.

Earlier this year, Pyles announced his intention to run for Virginia House of Delegates. Chase and Pyles have both accused Republican officials of undermining them, in Pyles case because he refused to distance himself from Chase.

Lending credence to the charge, Pyles read a series of texts from an unnamed party "chairman" on his phone while standing alongside Chase at an April 18 rally in Giles County. The southwestern Virginia county straddles the West Virginia state line.

Quoting the unnamed official, Pyles read: "I just want someone that can win. NoVa will eat her up." The phrase refers to northern Virginia, a Democratic stronghold where Republicans also tend to be more moderate.

In another text, Pyles said the unnamed official told him: "She has found an issue profile to get a solid base. Unfortunately, that does not equal a win. To get 51 percent, you need the middle. And currently in Virginia you need some of the left of center to vote our way. She is toxic, and can't build her base."

Pyles declined to provide the name of the GOP official to Raw Story.

Describing how his campaign was sabotaged, Pyles said in a March 16 video posted on YouTube that the state Republican Party had previously advertised that the deadline to file for the House of Delegates seat was March 25. He claimed that "four leaders who are establishment folks" in House District 12, which covers Giles and Pulaski counties, held a closed meeting and changed the filing deadline to March 15 without telling anyone except their favored candidate.

Sharing Pyles' video on her Facebook page, Chase wrote that she was "calling out" Rich Anderson, the chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, along with the county party chairs in Giles and Pulaski counties, and the party chair for District 12.

Zack Thompson, one of the local party chairs named by Chase, declined to comment on the matter to Raw Story. The state party did not respond to an inquiry from Raw Story, and messages to two other officials named by Chase went unreturned.

Seeking to circumvent resistance in her home state, Chase announced earlier this month that she was traveling to Florida to seek President Trump's endorsement. She attended a dinner at Mar-a-Lago on April 24, but her report the next day indicated that she had come up short in her quest for the coveted endorsement. Chase recounted that Trump told her: "I've heard about you," and gave her a fist bump. She said she plans to meet with Trump's chief of staff this week.

Chase is putting Trump's false claim that the 2020 election was stolen at the center of her campaign, telling voters in a recent campaign video that she's "working with the Virginia Project to help expose and have a full investigation of the 2020 presidential election." She said that during the general election campaign she plans "to work with Sidney Powell," the former Trump lawyer whose defense against a defamation suit by Dominion Voting Systems is that "no reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact."

And speaking at a rally headlined by US Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) in Indian River County before her meeting with Trump last weekend, Chase electrified the crowd with her stock campaign speech about being the second person in history to be censured by the Virginia Senate.

"I publicly said that the 2020 presidential election was stolen — because it was," Chase said. "And then I had the audacity on January 6th to show up at the Stop the Steal Rally in DC. How many of you were there with me?"

Audience members cheered heartily.

"I wanted to go there in person," Chase continued, "because I just knew that I was going to be witnessing history that day, right? And I said, 'We the People, we are going to go there, support our president, Donald J. Trump, and we are going to give Congress the courage that those weak-kneed Republicans needed to stand up to the Democrats and put in the right electors.'"

As Chase continued, she made it clear she was not just reliving past glory.

"We need to replace the RINO Republicans with firebrand Republicans that have a backbone and speak the truth," she railed, her voice rising above a surge of ecstatic cheers. "We are not idiots. We the People know the truth, and we don't care about your political speeches. We want some action. We want this election-fraud dumpster-fire disaster exposed. We want criminal prosecutions. We want a full investigation of this election. We want people held accountable. And we want the right president put in office."