Since June 2020, the Placer County For Trump Facebook group has organized truck caravans to support Donald Trump in the Sierra Nevada foothills northeast of Sacramento, and the demonstrations have continued beyond the failed Jan. 6 insurrection and Jan. 20 inauguration of President Biden.
The truck caravans and other events, including a March 21 "MAGA Wedding," have provided a welcoming community for Trump loyalists to rub shoulders with Proud Boys — the nationalist street gang whose members face conspiracy charges in the Capitol siege — while also nurturing relationships between the party base and leadership. The private Facebook group for Placer County For Trump has attracted a robust 4,600 members, drawing energy from a steady run of events, most recently a Memorial Weekend parade from Rocklin, in Placer County, to the state capitol.
Chelsea Knight, one of seven admins for the Placer County For Trump Facebook group and one of the group's most ardent promoters, is also linked to a channel on the social-media platform Telegram that aggressively pushes Nazi propaganda. The "Mr. and Mrs. Knight" channel on Telegram uses a profile photo of Chelsea Knight and her husband, Victor, that is modified so that both have laser eyes while substituting a backdrop with a full moon and barren mountain-scape. The "Info" field for the channel includes the text "14 things and 88 more," utilizing two numbers that are significant in the Nazi belief system. "14" references the "Fourteen Words," a distillation of white supremacist ideology that was coined by the late David Lane while he was serving a prison system for his role in the murder of Jewish talk radio host Alan Berg. "88" is a numerical code for "Heil Hitler," substituting "88" for "HH" as the eighth letter of the alphabet. "Victorious Knight" and "Mrs. Knight" are the admins of the "Mr. and Mrs. Knight" channel. Beyond the similarities between "Victorious" and "Victor," the username for "Mrs. Knight" is @Chelsea_Jo_Knight, matching the name of the Placer County For Trump organizer.
Chelsea Knight uses the same modified wedding photo on her Instagram account where she promotes the car caravans, while also sharing photos of family and friends. The wedding photo, minus the laser-eyes and moon-backdrop alterations, features in the profiles for Knight's personal Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Knight could not be reached for this story. But in Twitter replies to the antifascist account that originally raised the claim that she and her husband are behind the Nazi Telegram channel, she waved the charge aside, while stopping short of outright denial. "I'm still learning," Knight wrote under the Placer County For Trump 2020 Twitter account on May 27. Then referencing the name of the antifascist Twitter account, she wrote, "I only found out today that I'm a borwin proclaimed nazi."
While Chelsea Knight has not taken ownership of the Nazi Telegram channel, the above-ground pro-Trump group she promotes has unapologetically pushed the false narrative that the election was stolen from Donald Trump, while also expressing grievances against lockdown measures and boosting the Recall Newsom initiative. And Chelsea Knight's social media accounts liberally display photos of her and her husband posing alongside Proud Boys dressed in the street gang's trademark yellow and black gear.
While thousands of people marched on the Capitol in DC, with the encouragement of President Trump, and then clashed with police and stormed the building, Placer County For Trump hosted a Jan. 6, 2021 "Wild Protest West Coast" at the state capitol building in Sacramento. The event, which featured candidates for Congress, governor and Placer County supervisor, listed Chelsea Knight as the host and organizer.
Since then, Knight's social media postings show her continuing to network, effectively building bridges between mainstream GOP and far right.
In one photo tweeted by the Placer County For Trump 2020 Twitter account, Knight poses with Scott Presler, the national coordinator for the June 2017 "March Against Sharia' rallies that provided an early opportunity for the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and explicitly white nationalist groups like Identity Evropa to network. Later, following the November 2020 election, Presler organized the Harrisburg, Pa. "Stop the Steal" event. The Placer County For Trump 2020 tweet shows Knight posing with Presler at a Recall Newsom rally at the California state capitol on March 7. Presler was a guest speaker at the event, along with Assembly member Kevin Kiley (R-Granite Falls).
Knight posted a photo of herself standing alongside Kiley on her Instagram account on the evening before the Recall Newsom rally. Joshua Hoover, Kiley's chief of staff, told Raw Story: "Assemblyman Kiley takes photos with thousands of people and does not know who this person is."
Knight has also forged a close friendship with Jorge Riley, one of the more colorful defendants among the hundreds of people swept up in the federal prosecutions in response to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
"Hey, we're storming the Capitol… what are you doing?" Riley posted on his Facebook page at 2:21 p.m. on Jan. 6, according to an affidavit submitted by the government in support of charges of obstructing or impeding an official proceeding, and for violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
Riley cut a striking figure, with white feathers tucked into the braids of his long, black hair, and vertical streaks of black paint up and down his cheeks.
Later, posting a selfie of himself with a mob behind him inside the Capitol, Riley wrote, "I'm in the front — where do you think I am?"
Riley identifies as Native American, writing in a candidate questionnaire for the Sacramento County Republican Party Central Committee in 2016 that he is "Iriqouis [sic], Blackfoot and German Jew."
In one of Riley's many Facebook posts from the Capitol on Jan. 6, he deployed his Native American identity ironically as a shield against potential accusations of right-wing extremism. Based on a review of Riley's posts, the website Indianz.com wrote that Riley posted a selfie from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, writing, "Does this mean I took my land back?"
But a woman claiming to be his ex-wife who commented on the Indianz.com story said Riley is not Native American. Neither Riley nor the woman claiming to be his ex-wife could be reached for this story.
Following his return to California after storming the Capitol, Riley struck a defiant stance.
"I won't say I did nothing while communism over ran my country," Riley wrote on Facebook, according to the government. "I won't say I stood by. Come take my life. I'm right here." The affidavit supporting Riley's charges indicates that he posted his home address in Sacramento on Facebook, and then wrote, "You will all die."
Two weeks after Riley was released from detention, the Placer County For Trump 2020 account tweeted a photo of Riley posing with Chelsea Knight, accompanied by the hashtag #JorgeIsFree.
A couple days later, Riley posted in the Placer County For Trump Facebook group: "Is this where all the troublemakers are?"
"Duh!" Knight replied. "Are you just finally joining my group?"
Similar to the Knights, Riley's social media posts while awaiting trial show him posing on at least two separate occasions with Proud Boys. Another post shows him posing at the state capitol with the mother of Ashli Babbitt. The Air Force veterans who was killed by a US Capitol police officer as she tried to climb through the doors into the Speaker's Lobby is regarded as a martyr on the far right.
While flaunting his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection and ties to others associated with the storming of the Capitol, Riley has also, at least to a degree, maintained his stature with local Republican groups. Riley had served as the corresponding secretary for the California Republican Association, a volunteer group that works to elect Republican candidates. The president of the statewide group demanded Riley's resignation, but the local Sacramento Republican Assembly gave him a trophy to recognize his 11 years of service on the executive board.
Riley did not respond to multiple messages for this story. It's unclear how he, as someone who claims both Native American and Jewish ancestry, feels about the Nazi propaganda shared on the "Mr. and Mrs. Knight" Telegram channel. One photo shows him posing with both Chelsea and Victor, indicating that beyond his friendship with Chelsea, he is also at least on familiar terms with her husband.
Virtually all of the media shared through the Telegram channel promote Nazi ideology in one way or another, including a video that appears to show a Ukrainian antifascist receiving a brutal beating from an ultranationalist outside a grocery store.
Another video lauding American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell includes a speech expressing virulent antisemitism that recycles tropes blaming Jews for social disorder and economic hardship — false claims that set the stage for the Holocaust.
"They're doing to my country just what they did to Germany," Rockwell says in the speech, which appears to have been given in the 1960s. "Exactly the same. The same inflation. The same insanity. The same destruction of law and order. The same inflation is almost here. The same riots. The same bedlam. And the same Jews operating it. The same people that were over there are over here now. They gassed 6 million? Most of them are over here running the civil rights movement!"
Another video on the Telegram channel celebrates John T. Earnest, the teenager who opened fire on a synagogue in Poway, Calif. in 2019, resulting in one death and three injuries. The propaganda video includes footage of Earnest playing somber music on a piano, interspersed with footage of interracial intimacy, transgender people, urban disorder and American politicians displaying solidarity with Israel. Together, the images and text that present a justification for murder. The video ends with a quote from the manifesto Earnest wrote before carrying out his deadly attack: "Keep the momentum going." The video also includes a second quote from the manifesto — "The day of the rope is here right now" — that is a direct reference to The Turner Diaries, a novel written by National Alliance founder William Pierce that is considered a handbook for white supremacist terrorism.
While most of the content in the "Mr. and Mrs. Knight" channel comes from "Victorious Knight," one comment by "Mrs. Knight" indicates she shares her husband's beliefs.
"America is the new South Africa," "Victorious Knight" wrote on March 10.
"That's what I've been saying!" "Mrs. Knight" comments two days later. "Except the blacks here don't even realize how good they have it. They aren't cooking pigs feet over a trash can and selling them to tourists to support their families."
A handful of people from the Sacramento area, including two from Placer County, have been arrested in the federal investigation into the assault on the Capitol. Most recently, Sean David McHugh of Auburn was arrested on May 27. McHugh is accused of assaulting US Capitol police officers by pushing a large sign into them and spraying a chemical of some sort into a line of officers.
In a memorandum filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of California on Tuesday, McHugh's lawyers pointedly distanced their client from extremist groups, while arguing for the least restrictive conditions of release while he awaits trial.
"Officers executed a search warrant on Mr. McHugh's house and found no firearms nor ammunition," they wrote. "There are no allegations that he is a member of or has any affiliations with any violent domestic terror group, such as the Oath Keepers militia or the Proud Boys , or that he adheres to any views that are violent, racist or other beliefs that might present a challenge to pretrial supervision."
Tommy Frederick Allan of Rocklin, also in Placer County, entered the Senate chamber, according to close-circuit video reviewed the FBI. The affidavit in support of charges against Allan also cites a Facebook post by the defendant with a photo of men wearing tactical gear with Three Percenter insignia that proclaims, "These are my people, PATRIOTS!"
Allan was arrested by the FBI in Granite Bay on Jan. 22, according to a court filing.
A third defendant, Valerie Elaine Ehrke of Arbuckle — north of Sacramento — bragged on Facebook about breaching the Capitol, according to the government affidavit. The FBI agent responsible for the document noted that Ehrke used a flaming "Q" in her profile picture, representing the far-right conspiracy community that views Trump as a savior poised to vanquish a global cabal of pedophiles.
Some of the Sacramento-area defendants have criminal records preceding the Jan. 6 insurrection.
McHugh has a pending state charge for driving under the influence, according to both the government and his attorney.
But Riley's criminal record stands out among the Capitol riot defendants as uniquely violent.
"The defendant has a history of arrests for domestic violence against previous relationships [sic] that ultimately resulted in no prosecution," Assistant US Attorney Troy A. Edwards Jr. wrote in a filing supporting detention in February. "Critically, he is currently pending trial in Sacramento, California, where he is charged with felony child abuse against his son. Specifically, he is alleged to have choked and beaten his child in public causing a number of visible marks and resulting in his son briefly losing consciousness."