When thousands of people surged around the US Capitol, some of them fighting with police and pouring into the building, many believed they were acting on an authority vested in them as citizens to halt what they falsely believed to be a fraudulent election process.
Their conviction was reinforced by a swirl of other false beliefs, including that the incoming Biden administration was a Chinese Communist takeover, and that leading Democratic figures were part of a global pedophile ring that would soon be exposed by Trump and put on trial. Many rioters, most notably the Oath Keepers, hoped Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act and deputize them to mete out violence against left-wing resisters.
Countless people who participated in the attack on the Capitol invoked the first three words of the Constitution — "We the People" — to reporters, in social media posts or on clothing. Anthony Alexander Antonio, a self-identified Three Percenter who stole a gas mask from an officer as he was entering the Capitol, told a reporter from the white supremacist website VDARE afterwards: "We the People need to be heard. We're done with false elections." Mark Aungst wore a black sweatshirt with the words "We the People" arranged to look like an assault rifle. Others angrily denounced the police officers standing in their way as "oath breakers."
Republican leaders and their amplifiers on Fox News have deflected attention by floating false theories that the violence at the Capitol was the work of "antifa" infiltrators, that those involved in the riot were a "normal tour visit" or alternately that it was an inside job by the FBI — claims that have been embraced by some Trump supporters to dodge personal responsibility.
The Proud Boys are one of three groups whose members face federal charges of conspiring to obstruct the certification of the electoral vote, and by extension the peaceful transition of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. While the prosecutions have effectively halted the activity of dozens of members across the country who face federal charges, a look at Proud Boy organizing in one region, California's Central Valley, shows that the insurrectionary rhetoric that created the framework for Jan. 6 remains in play among members of the organization and the broader far-right movement in which they are regarded as heroic warriors.
Mark Mazzola, president of the Fresno chapter of the Proud Boys, and the chapter's sergeant-at-arms — a man nicknamed Chongo — confirmed to a right-wing podcaster in April that they had trained with a militia in Atwater, a small city in Merced County.
Todd Cotta, a gun-shop owner and former sheriff's deputy who hosts "Rebel Radio Now," noted with approval during an April 1 episode of the podcast that the "patriot" militia was "600-strong."
"Yes, it is," Mazzola confirmed. "We trained with them before."
"We were just there," Chongo agreed. "It's great."
"God bless America," Cotta enthused. "And it's under the umbrella and the knowledge of the mayor and the police chief and the sheriff over there. That's the way it's supposed to be. Because if we are invaded by our government, we must push back."
Cotta's comment echoes a view widely embraced in far-right circles since the 1990s that armed citizen militias provide a hedge against a tyrannical government.
Atwater police Chief Michael Salvador told Raw Story that, in fact, he was unfamiliar with the group described by Cotta.
"This is the first that I have heard about any new militia in my city," he said in an email, adding that a group the California State Militia came to Atwater twice last summer, once to support a canceled "Back the Blue" rally and another time to camp outside the city.
"I have never met Mr. Cotta and he does not speak for me," Salvador added.
Working parallel to the Proud Boys and sometimes appearing at some of the same rallies in California, anti-vaccination activist Denise Aguilar of Stockton launched Mamalitia in 2019, but she ramped up promotion of the group after Jan. 6.
In a Telegram post, Aguilar promoted Mamalitia as an alternative for women who might be attracted to the Proud Boys, whose membership is restricted to men. The post includes a link to a California-based militia group "for the men looking into militias," and a link to the now-defunct national Proud Boys website "if you're interested in being a Proud Boy." Finally, Aguilar wrote, "For the women," and linked to the site for Mamalitia.
Mamalitia promotes its ability to train women preppers on homeschooling, firearms training, emergency communications and medic skills. Following the list of capabilities that recruits can expect to develop, the group's website declares: "The tyrants have created women who are ready to go like it's 1776."
Aguilar wrote in a Feb. 14 blog post: "While seeing the uprisings happening, the lockdowns not changing and children suffering, we decided it was time for change, it was time to go back to our roots and figure how to exit the system. Our main priority is our family, home and liberty."
As an anti-vaxxer, Aguilar joined the movement that emerged in the spring of 2020 to oppose COVID restrictions. According to a report in the Sacramento Bee, Aguilar "repeatedly disrupted the California legislature and attempted to block the entrance to the building."
Aguilar often shares speaking engagements with Tara Thornton, with whom she co-founded Freedom Angels, an organization that opposes mandatory vaccination. The two women spoke at the "Rally for Health Freedom" in Washington DC on Jan. 6. Although she has not been charged, the Bee published a video that has been removed from her Instagram account in which Aguilar can be seen saying, "We stormed the Capitol, and patriots broke open the doors."
In the video, which was posted shortly after the Jan. 6 assault, Aguilar vowed to continue.
"This is a revolution, and we've been talking about this for a very long time," she said. "And it's here. We went into the Capitol. We keep going. We're marching on. We're going to keep fighting. We're going to keep going, especially in California. So, like I said, if you're ready for the frontlines, because there's no more time. We have no more time for emails and for newsletters and for things like that. We are frontline. Freedom Angels are patriots. We will storm our capitols, if needed. And we need more frontline leaders."
In May, Aguilar and Thornton spoke at an event billed as a "Patriotic Social Gathering" in rural Lander County, with a population less than 6,000, in Nevada, to celebrate the county joining the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, or CSPOA. Previously, in February, the Lander County Board of Commissioners had unanimously passed a resolution removing the county from Gov. Steve Sisolak's COVID emergency declaration.
In addition to Richard Mack, a former sheriff in Graham County, Ariz. who founded and leads CSPOA, other special guests at the county-sponsored event included Nevada gubernatorial candidate Joey Gilbert and Dr. Simone Gold. A personal injury lawyer, Gilbert reportedly stood on the steps to the US Senate on Jan. 6 and urged Alex Jones of InfoWars to join him. Gold, a California hydroxychloroquine advocate who also spoke at the "Rally for Health Freedom," is among those who have been charged in the Capitol breach.
On July 1, Aguilar posted on Telegram that she and Thornton have "created a plan" for "how to create constitutional counties," adding that "we have built relationships with key players."
In a recent video posted on the CSPOA website, Mack heralded the resolution passed by Lander County as a bulwark against "the next civil war.
"Folks, if we keep this going, it will prevent any violence from being necessary in America," he said. "If we have more sheriffs now standing up just like Utah sheriffs did, if we have more counties joining and standing, just like Lander and Elko, this will prevent the next civil war."
He quickly pivoted in the video to accusing President Biden of taking actions "that are going to promote more violence," citing a request for additional funding for the IRS to boost audits on high earners, and the White House's new focus on domestic terrorism.
The CSPOA promotes the view that the sheriff is the highest authority in a given county, and as such has the power to provide a "check and balance" against "any state or federal agency that may infringe on the natural rights of the people" — a position he confirmed in an interview with Raw Story. The CSPOA website sums up the position with one word: "interposition."
"We are witnessing great deeds of protection, service and interposition across America by courageous sheriffs who only want to serve the people who elected them," the website says.
Interposition has traditionally been claimed as a right of a state to cancel out actions of the federal government that it deems unconstitutional. Sen. John Calhoun of South Carolina cited interposition in the 1830s to preserve slavery in the South, and southern states turned to it in the 1950s in an attempt to avoid compliance with the Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate schools. The Supreme Court rejected interposition in the 1958 Cooper v. Aaron ruling, which invoked Marbury vs. Madison to assert judicial supremacy.
Mack is currently on a national tour with Robert David Steele, a former CIA employee described by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights as "a prolific purveyor of antisemitism who spews conspiracy theories about 'satanic Zionists' engaged in a global plot against white people."
In late June, Aguilar reiterated her pitch for Mamalitia in a Telegram video that invoked the movie The Matrix and attempted to inoculate viewers against media pushback on her claims about vaccines.
"What we're creating is a solution in another way," she said. "We're creating schools and programs for parents who have special-needs children. Because the public-school system has failed these kids. We teach you how to grow food. We teach you about navigation. We teach you about safety and security. All the things that you need to know, just in case. With a network of very trusted and vetted women, we're gonna create another way. Don't let the media fool you — they just don't want you to leave the matrix."
The video found an audience, with one user commenting in response: "Mamabear here with two daughters, one with special needs — we are ready + preparing to leave this fear-driven matrix + toxic world."
Aguilar has shunned media requests over the past six months, but she told the audience in Lander County in May that she doesn't appreciate the way she's been described.
"I will not allow them to call me any extremist names because what we're doing is not extreme," she said. "We have our God-given American rights to hold our firearms without being shamed, without being told that we are anything other than Americans."
The CSPOA has also caught the attention of at least one Proud Boy leader in the Central Valley.
Sean Adam Kuykendall, president of the Central Valley chapter, was the first member of the public to address Modesto City Council following a June 8 presentation by Deputy City Manager Caluha Barnes on a proposed working group to explore changes in police accountability, policies and practices and response models. The working group was approved by city council after an officer fatally shot a 29-year-old man experiencing a mental health crisis. The working group would have 28 members, with four seats open to community members through an application process, Barnes said.
Kuykendall said he wanted to propose "a group that is taking the Constitution and the Bill of Rights into their own hands and implementing it as a broad swipe across every elected official's agenda, which should be that way — and this is the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association." He added that "there are people in Arizona that are elected officials that are being held accountable for breaking their oath." In further comments, Kuykendall and other Proud Boys would outright accuse city council of "breaking the Constitution" and "violating your oath of office" by setting up an inclusive process to garner citizen input for proposed changes to improve police accountability.
A representative of the Modesto City Attorney's Office provided the following statement to Raw Story: "The city council has not taken any action that violates the Constitution by their approval of the Forward Together work group."
Richard Mack told Raw Story that he doesn't know Kuykendall, and wasn't aware of his comments about CSPOA. Asked about the philosophical framework of Kuykendall's comments, Mack seemed perplexed. He said it wasn't unusual for law enforcement agencies to have citizen input, noting that he had a citizen advisory committee when he served as sheriff in Graham County. As to whether he would agree that Modesto officials are violating their oaths, Mack said, "He would have to quote the part of the Constitution that makes that unconstitutional. That's a strange comment."
Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said she isn't surprised to see the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association cited by a member of the Proud Boys.
"One of the core tenets of the Proud Boys is that they think the people have a political will that they alone know and interpret and want to impose, and elected officials should uphold the supposed will of the people, which can be anti-democratic because the will of the people in the last election was that Joe Biden should be president," she said. "There's a desire among Proud Boys to use intimidation to force elected officials to submit to their will. There's an underlying threat in that rhetoric that can turn to violence. We saw in the last election a threat to elected officials and election workers that has not dissipated. We're still living in that environment, where force and intimidation are seen as legitimate tactics."
In his comments to city council on June 8, Kuykendall cited the Ninth and Tenth amendments in the Bill of Rights, appearing to argue that their sequence implied "the people" possess a superseding authority over government.
"Now, as far as I'm concerned, the Bill of Rights is very clear," Kuykendall said. "The Ninth is the people's rights. The Tenth is state's rights. That means that we as citizens have more rights than the state, the city council, what have you, on down the list. We are here to let you all know that we're not going to sit back and allow groups to come forward and push a one-sided agenda."
Kuykendall concluded his comments on June 8 with a vague threat of legal action. He said the Proud Boys will continue to come before city council and that he wanted to "get down to what really matters here."
"And that is that if we don't have law, if we don't have order — that order comes through the Constitution; it comes through the Bill of Rights," he said. "And these folks in Arizona that have broken their oath are now being under trial. I just went to LA this last week, spoke with some lawyers that are proceeding these things, these trials. And it is very apparent that we have a, must I say, Marxist-communist agenda that is coming into and infiltrating our local governments."
It is not clear what process is taking place in Arizona in which officials are being put on "trial" for having "broken their oath," and Kuykendall could not be reached for comment.
At the next city council meeting on June 22, Kuykendall returned, saying, "I come to address each and every one of you with a simple message — to stop breaking the Constitution."
Demanding to be included in the working group to address policing issues, he said, "Now, we tried to put in our application to go in and join this roundtable, and we've been denied."
Barnes, the deputy city manager, told Raw Story the city has not received an application from Kuykendall.
"So, here we are tonight to let you know that you have two options," Kuykendall said. "Incorporate the part of the public that represents the Constitution and Bill of Rights, or dismantle this oversight antifa committee, okay?"
At a rally outside city council on June 22, Mylinda Mason, who leads the Stanislaus County Republican Assembly, told supporters she was working with Kuykendall to collect affidavits for use in the legal challenge.
"I want to invite everyone to pay attention to Sean," Mason said. "He will be providing information as I get more, but on July 10th be willing and ready to sign your name to an affidavit to come against those people in this particular local [sic] that have went against their oath to the Constitution. And come and sign 'Crimes Against Humanity' with us. Sean will be announcing that to you soon."
Mason, who previously ran an unsuccessful campaign for Stanislaus County School Board, has worked with anti-gay campaigner Don Grundmann on the annual Straight Pride rally in Modesto. Mason's son, who is gay, has said that she home-schooled him from a white supremacist viewpoint. In response, Mason told NBC News: "Let's get the quote correct — it's Western civilization that was built by European males that came here to establish the greatest nation on earth."
Mason could not be reached for comment for this story.
Miller said the Proud Boys' political ideology hasn't changed since Jan. 6.
"This is a group that is authoritarian and anti-democratic," she said. "They want to impose their will through threats of intimidation and violence. If anything, we've seen that kind of politics become more normalized. The insurrection was the obvious moment when that occurred. The Proud Boys really do believe that the country is full of internal enemies that need to be purged, and that the country needs to be renewed and returned to former glory. In that way their ideology is very fascistic. They are going to continue to mobilize, continue to engage in rallies, and continue to intimidate local officials in ways that could lead to more violence."