One of the most crucial questions for both the FBI investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol and the House Select Committee inquiry is the connection between President Trump and the militant groups that carried out the attack.
The next hearing of the January 6th Committee, scheduled for July 12 and led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), reportedly “plans to detail known links and conversations between political actors close to Trump and extremists,” according to the New York Times.
While it is not clear what evidence the committee will present, a network of operatives surrounding retired Lt. General Michael Flynn — an inspirational figure for rank-and-file Trump supporters protesting the outcome of the election — helped build an infrastructure for months in advance that stoked anger, called on the president to invoke the Insurrection Act, and amplified his call to supporters to be in Washington for a “wild rally” on Jan. 6.
One of the initiatives that sprung up around Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor who was seeking a pardon after the US Department of Justice dismissed charges for lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, was called Operation Voter Integrity.
Felisa Blazek, a New Hampshire-based event planner with ties to the QAnon community, outlined plans for the initiative in an interview with Tamara Leigh, a podcaster active in the campaign to vindicate Flynn, and Brent Hamachek, the executive editor of the right-wing publication Human Events. As Blazek described it, the project would deploy GOP activists to monitor polling places for voter fraud, with pro-Trump groups standing by to escalate complaints up through a network that she said would ultimately reach the White House.
Two of the groups mentioned by Blazek, Veterans for Trump and Bikers for Trump, would later show up at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Blazek described a phone tree in which one activist “would just call the head of your state for Bikers for Trump.” She continued: “One phone call. They dispatch 20 to 30 people to that precinct. Second phone call, you call in Veterans for Trump. They dispatch 20 to 30 people. They just show there and they just stand up, and they just let you know you’re not alone. The police will come. If the police don’t come, they’re all trained. We’re just standing by and letting you know that we know.”
Blazek could not be reached for comment for this story.
Two days after the election, Veterans for Trump co-founder Joshua Macias and an associate, Antonio LaMotta, were arrested on weapons charges outside the Philadelphia Convention Center, where election officials were tabulating votes. Local police made the arrests after receiving an FBI alert about a possible attempt to interfere with the vote count, according to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office. The police reportedly recovered a semi-automatic AR-15-syle assault rifle, samurai sword and hundreds of firearms cartridges from the Hummer that the two men drove from Virginia.
Macias and LaMotta could not be reached for comment for this story.
At the time, some Democratic officials and voting rights groups condemned President Trump’s instruction to supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully,” saying it amounted to voter intimidation, and the Department of Homeland Security warned that polling places could be “flash points for potential violence.”
Both Macias and Blazek were avid supporters of Flynn.
Two years earlier, Macias had organized a rally to support Flynn outside the DC federal courthouse at the former general’s sentencing hearing, where he stood alongside Tamara Leigh, according to a report in Mother Jones. Chris Cox, the founder of Bikers for Trump, also attended the protest to support Flynn.
Blazek had recently organized a two-day QAnon-friendly gathering called the Patriot Party in Scottsdale, Ariz. that featured Barbara Redgate, Flynn’s sister.
During an interview to promote the event, Blazek had said, “We’re hoping to host General Flynn and his family as our honored guests. If they would choose to speak, that would be great. But really, we just want them to come there, and support them.” Blazek added that the Flynn family was like “the tip of the spear in our movement.”
David Sumrall, a Dallas-based organizer who founded the right-wing group Stop Hate, similarly extolled the Flynn family in an interview with Redgate to promote the Patriot Party.
“We want to make sure that General Flynn’s getting a message of support and love and encouragement because we have his back,” Sumrall said. “We understand what happened to him, and the whole fact that he’s willing to take one for the team.”
Soon after Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 election, Blazek and Sumrall, alongside Ali Alexander and Tomi Collins, began organizing rallies across the country to protest the electoral outcome.
Pasquali “Pat” Scopelliti, a business coach based in Charlottesville, Va. and frequent contributor on the PardonFlynnNow.com website, praised Blazek and Macias together in a post-election thread on Twitter. Referring to the two by their Twitter handles and using hashtags associated with Blazek’s election mobilization effort and a parallel campaign led by Alexander, Scopelliti tweeted: “Both @PatriotAssembly and @JoshuaMacias are on the Field of Fight, right now. I choose to support them, as should you./ #1LoudVoice/ #StopTheSteal.”
The following day, Scopelliti issued another Twitter thread, declaring that America was at “war,” with “voter fraud” being the “ultimate weapon,” while speculating that “$1,000 bottles of rice wine” were “being uncorked in Beijing.”
“There are three people I must mention,” Scopelliti continued, recognizing Sumrall, alongside Blazek and Macias. “They are: @HelpStopHate, @PatriotAssembly, @JoshuaMacias. These three patriots have known in their bones, the nature of this war. And they have joined forces to lead the ground game of its fight.”
Scopelliti attached a digital flier to the tweet with the heading “All 50 State Capitol Buildings, #1LoudVoice, Truth Rally, 12:00 PM across the nation.” The flier included URLs for nearly a dozen pro-Trump groups, including Sumrall’s Stop Hate; Blazek’s Patriot Party; PardonFlynnNow.com; and Cowboys for Trump, led by Couy Griffin, who had attended the Patriot Party event in Scottsdale. Griffin would later be arrested for his role in the attack on the Capitol, and found guilty of entering and remaining in a restricted building.
Veterans for America First, the successor organization to Veterans for Trump, currently lists Scopelliti as its community engagement advisor on the organization’s website.
Despite being out on a $750,000 bail with pending firearms charges in Philadelphia, Macias and LaMotta traveled to Washington, DC in early January for a cluster of rallies culminating with President Trump’s speech at the Ellipse. Macias was present during a brief meeting between Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio and Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes in an underground parking garage on Jan. 5, the eve of the attack on the Capitol. Tarrio and Rhodes both face seditious conspiracy charges in separate cases related to the attack on the Capitol.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner noted the meeting during a press conference last month to announce a motion to have Macias held for contempt of court due to his actions at the Capitol.
“When people are planning a bank robbery, when they are planning a mob hit, they do not let uninvolved people come to that small private meeting,” Krasner said. “When people are planning serious crimes, the only people that are going to be there, especially when they’re trying to be secretive, are people that are seriously involved.”
Also present at the parking garage meeting were Kelly SoRelle, who now serves as general counsel for the Oath Keepers, and Latinos for Trump President Bianca Gracia.
On Jan. 6, Blazek, Macias, LaMotta, Rhodes, SoRelle, Gracia and members of a Bikers for Trump faction known as Boots on the Ground gathered at the MAGA Freedom Rally in front of the Russell Senate Office Building, a block away from the Capitol.
In an interview with Sumrall last fall, SoRelle said she went back to a hotel room to eat and get warm, while Rhodes went to the Capitol. Rhodes took up a position outside the Capitol, while more than a dozen Oath Keepers members outfitted in tactical gear pushed through the crowd in a stack and followed a mob into the building. SoRelle said in that interview in September that there was no plan to attack the Capitol. In January, Rhodes and 10 other members of the Oath Keepers were charged with seditious conspiracy — a charge that amounts to attempting to overthrow the government by force. Two of those charged have pleaded guilty.
“Stewart had guys that were protecting different speakers at different events, namely Ali Alexander, who was supposed to have been literally on the Capitol grounds,” SoRelle told Sumrall last September. “Then everybody’s like, ‘Well, we don’t know where everybody’s at. This is chaos. Like, what the heck?’ So, that’s why we ended up at the Capitol. We went down there just to see if we could locate his people. You know? And then next thing you take it straight to crazy la-la land, as in everybody’s the mastermind, and whatever.”
Sumrall, who used social media to raise money to take a “team” to Washington, DC, concurred with SoRelle’s account.
Sumrall said he told FBI agents: “Guys, listen: The plan was to get to DC. That’s where it stopped. That’s where it stopped. You’re never going to find anything where anybody says, ‘We’re going in the Capitol.’”
Sumrall’s voice can be heard in a video posted on Stop Hate’s Instagram account that was taken from the west side of the Capitol. The post is accompanied by a text comment from the account owner: “We’ve broken down the gates and made it onto the Capitol grounds.”
Another video on the Stop Hate Instagram account shows police in riot gear lined up on the inauguration review stand and the terrace facing rioters, with the caption, “#StormTheCapitol.”
Macias and LaMotta also went to the Capitol. Footage recently obtained by NBC News shows LaMotta inside the Capitol. He has not been arrested to date.
With LaMotta standing nearby, Macias addressed the crowd on the east side of the Capitol, according to video archived by the @capitolhunters Twitter account.
“Mike Pence is a Benedict Arnold,” Macias roared. “We believed in you, Vice President. We had hope that you would do what’s right for our Constitution. I stood with you onstage, sir. We believed in you.
“President Trump, you have the ability to pass — if you have the strength, sir — the Insurrection Act is now,” Macias continued. “You have the power, sir, and we support you 110 percent. Do what’s right, sir…. Defend the Constitution against foreign and domestic enemies. Those domestic enemies are here. If you’re not awake, America, be awoke. The enemy is not at the gates; the enemy is already here.”
Another person could be heard answering Macias with the QAnon slogan: “Where we go one, we go all!”
“That’s right!” Macias said. “One loud voice! We are one. We are united. I am Josh Macias, Vets for Trump. We will never quit.”