Two Virginia men arrested near Philadelphia vote-counting facility did not have permits to carry weapons

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Two Virginia men faced weapons charges after they were arrested Thursday while standing, armed, a block from competing political protests outside of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia’s ballot-counting facility.

Antonio LaMotta, 61, and Joshua Macias, 42, of Chesapeake, Virginia, were charged Friday with concealed firearm without a license, a third-degree felony, and carrying a firearm on public streets or public property, a first-degree misdemeanor.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said Friday that his office would be requesting that the men be held without eligibility for bail, as “this alarming incident is still very much under investigation regarding additional charges.”

Information on lawyers who could speak on behalf of LaMotta and Macias was not immediately available.

Philadelphia: Police arrest armed men near convention center where ballots being counted

According to law enforcement, the men had driven to Philadelphia from Virginia Beach in a silver Hummer with an array of stickers that supported the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory. They traveled to the city with a woman who was not arrested, officials said.

When arrested, the men each were armed with handguns that were not licensed in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said.

Lamotta had been holding a Beretta 9mm in plain view, she said. Macias’s 40-caliber Beretta was concealed, she said. He told police he possessed a Virginia concealed carry permit, but “Pennsylvania does not recognize handgun permits issued by Virginia,” Outlaw said.

Krasner said the men also possessed about 160 rounds of ammunition “and I don’t know if that includes everything.” Local and federal investigators were reviewing additional evidence from the Hummer, Krasner said Friday.

A parking violation envelope is affixed to the windshield of a Hummer vehicle parked near the Pennsylvania Convention Center where votes are being counted, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Philadelphia.A parking violation envelope is affixed to the windshield of a Hummer vehicle parked near the Pennsylvania Convention Center where votes are being counted, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Philadelphia.
A parking violation envelope is affixed to the windshield of a Hummer vehicle parked near the Pennsylvania Convention Center where votes are being counted, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Philadelphia.

Before the arrest Thursday, the FBI in Norfolk, Virginia, received a tip “stating that individuals were in route from Virginia Beach to Philadelphia in a silver Hummer truck and were in possession of weapons and ammunition,” Outlaw said

At 10:20 p.m., Philadelphia police officers spotted a truck with a Virginia license plate unattended, steps away from the Convention Center. They reported the find, and seven minutes later two bicycle patrol officers found the suspects, Outlaw said.  

Following the arrest, the men acknowledged the Hummer, parked about four blocks away, was theirs and they consented to its search, Outlaw said. Police then found an AR-style rifle inside the truck. 

Krasner initially said the rifle had no serial number, calling it a “ghost gun,” a name for untraceable firearms. But investigators later located a serial number, he said Friday.

Krasner would not comment when asked whether police had found evidence the men were planning to commit mass violence. He said the investigation is ongoing, and as of midday Friday there was no indication the men were members of any known extremist group. 

Jane Roh, communications director for the district attorney, said that there had been an inaccurate report of the two men attempting to deliver “fake ballots” to the center. They were not, she said.

“What we know at this time: It appears these individuals were operating under the belief that ‘fake ballots’ are being counted at the Convention Center – a completely unsupported claim – and that belief may have been what drew their attention to Philly,” she said in a statement

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A parking violation envelope is affixed to the windshield of a Hummer vehicle parked near the Pennsylvania Convention Center where votes are being counted, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Philadelphia.A parking violation envelope is affixed to the windshield of a Hummer vehicle parked near the Pennsylvania Convention Center where votes are being counted, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Philadelphia.
A parking violation envelope is affixed to the windshield of a Hummer vehicle parked near the Pennsylvania Convention Center where votes are being counted, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Philadelphia.

Fears of political violence potentially committed by extremist groups have been high as a handful of battleground states continued to count ballots in the wake of one of the most contentious presidential elections ever. 

“At this time, we do not have indication that the story is bigger than these two individuals,” Krasner said. “It may turn out to be nothing more than two people deciding to come to Philadelphia at a particular time for a somewhat unknown purpose.”

The arrest came as the focus of the election turned directly to Philadelphia, where the counting of mail-in ballots pushed Joe Biden to the presidency.

President Trump and his allies have pushed baseless theories of fraud and conspiracies centering on what’s going on in Philadelphia. A crowd of Trump supporters outside the Convention Center was largely outnumbered Thursday and Friday by a group demanding that every vote be counted.

For months, Trump has sought to cast doubt on the integrity of elections that rely significantly on vote-by-mail ballots. He continued to fan those flames Saturday.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pennsylvania: Men arrested near Philadelphia ballot facility charged