Three years ago, Joshua Macias was facing prison time in Pennsylvania for bringing an AR-15 and a samurai sword to a Philly vote-counting site in an attempt to disrupt the 2020 election. This week, he was whipping up the crowd of a MAGA convoy that’s heading to the U.S.-Mexico border for a “peaceful” protest against the influx of migrants.
Standing in the bed of a pickup truck emblazoned with “We The People” on Tuesday, Macias told the group: “My name is Joshua, and I am one of the J6ers.”
“I was thrown in the Philly gulag for 21 days for asking if every vote was being counted,” Macias said. “That was just a simple question.” He then focused on the more than 70 military vets charged with storming the U.S. Capitol, calling them “hostages.”
“Yes, we are taking our border back. We also want to take our country back,” said Macias, who was acquitted of election interference but in 2023 sentenced to two years of probation on weapons charges.
Macias’s remarks arrived when the “Take Our Border Back” convoy—which invites “law abiding, freedom-loving Americans” to join them in border towns—stopped at an Alabama parking lot to pray, add more disciples, and speak to local TV reporters.
A former Navy officer and co-founder of Veterans for Trump, Macias was arrested after he and a QAnon conspiracy theorist drove a Hummer with guns and ammunition from Virginia to Philadelphia. The men were also at the Capitol on Jan. 6, though Macias says he never entered the building during the riots.
Since the convoy took off Monday, participants have focused as much on Jan. 6 as they have on the border crisis. In his footage, one trucker-livestreamer referred to as “MasterGrifter” displayed a homemade “‘Free’ our J6 hero’s P.O.W.’s In D.C.” poster. He also wore a T-shirt with an image of Rosanne Boyland, who was trampled by a mob during the insurrection, with the words: “Murdered by Capitol Police.”
The fleet’s Telegram and Zello channels are filled with fear and paranoia that the protest, set to culminate just outside Eagle Pass, Texas—where Gov. Greg Abbott is in a standoff with the federal government—could become “another J6 trap.” Many of them join the quarter of Americans who believe the conspiracy theory that the FBI instigated Jan. 6.
After Macias led a prayer, a woman joined him on the truck. “This gentleman is a J6er. He is a hero,” she said. “But I’m here to tell you there are over 1,200 Patriots locked up.” The streamer, who goes by “SapphirePatriot” online, shared that she’s part of a D.C. vigil with the mother of Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot by a police officer after she tried climbing through a broken door in the House Speaker’s Lobby.
“Ashli Babbitt! Ashli Babbitt! Ashli Babbitt!” the group chanted. “Never forget her name,” a woman shouted, before a man followed with “Say her name! Murdered by the D.C. metro police. Ashli Babbitt! Never forget her! Rest in peace.”
The convoy then headed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the day’s final stop.
The procession began in Virginia Beach with about 15 pickups and sedans adorned with American flags and a patriotic themed bus.
It has included a mix of right-wing livestreamers and influencers, veterans, and middle-aged patriots. On the eve of departure, a participant did donuts in the parking lot of a rallying point and security gave the group the boot. One streamer claimed someone targeted a hotel where caravaners were staying and slashed four vehicles’ tires.
So far, a GiveSendGo for the event raised at least $154,000. The group listed its expenses as “Gas for lead busses and trucks, city permits, media-technology support, rally location expenses, communication equipment, staging at rally sites, lighting, supplies etc.”
During a Monday stop, organizer Craig Hudgins told a small crowd that he expected 40,000 truckers from across the country and Canada to join the convoy, and that activists had only begun planning the effort three weeks ago.
Well-wishers in Virginia included Ivan Raiklin, an associate of Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn and ex-Army intelligence officer who worked with other service members to spread lies about 2020 election fraud.
Raiklin bowed his head as YG Nyghtstorm, a board member of right-wing outlet Church Militant, led a prayer asking God to bless anyone threatened with being canceled for taking a stand. “Father, right now you have told us these days were coming... the dark days that would be coming, but you have built us for this moment,” Nyghtstorm said.
Hours later, according to Wired, the main bus pulled over on the highway and ejected a passenger, reportedly abandoning him in South Carolina without his wallet. Why the convoy removed the man, who protests regularly to back jailed J6ers, remains unclear.
As The Daily Beast reported, the convoy’s planners include anti-vaxxers, election deniers, and QAnon conspiracy theorists who’ve said they’re on a mission from God to “peacefully” draw attention to the border crisis. (In a recent call, Vice revealed, organizer Kim Yeater called their effort “God’s Army” and that they’d been “chosen” to take action.)
The border-bound caravan arrives amid tensions between Texas and the feds over the 47-acre Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, where the state has installed razor wire to stop migrants from entering the country. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Border Patrol agents could cut the wire to access the site, but the Texas National Guard has erected more of it.
The showdown has also sparked online babble about a “civil war” and Texas secession, with Newsmax airing a segment musing on a “force-on-force” conflict.
Indeed, users in the convoy Telegram shared concerns about the Texas rally.
“Something about all this doesn’t feel right,” one person wrote Monday morning. “Y’all be careful.” Another supporter chimed in, “I have had a bad feeling i couldn’t shake and dreamed about the federal guys on a hill shooting off smoke rounds and flashbangs.”
“We need to be talking about how we will deal with a possible false flag or infiltrators or provocateurs,” someone wrote on Telegram.
A moderator assured people that the convoy was “not militia friendly” and that long arms wouldn’t be allowed. (People could carry side arms, she clarified.)
“It does not look good,” said Christina Holbrook, who goes by the handle “Thought Criminals.” “We are not here to show a force of any kind. We are here to exercise our first amendment right to free speech peacefully.” Organizers, she said, are working with local law enforcement and enlisted a private security team.
When one former sheriff’s department officer announced he was “organizing level 2 security detail composed of veterans and prior law enforcement guys,” a moderator told him the convoy couldn’t “authorize” him to assist their security effort.
“We’re not going to engage any threats or go in guns blazing,” he had explained. “We’ll just keep a watchful eye and report any suspicious behavior.”
One woman advised others to video record everything and travel with cash. “Especially cause we know what they did on 6 JAN,” she wrote, before recommending people bring “zip ties” to apprehend any agitators. “Basically make-shift cuffs and put them in time out,” she added. “You can’t fight them, you know they’re a paid fed or paid actor.”
Over on Zello, a walkie-talkie app, one man cautioned, “You just don’t know how many federal confidential instigators are involved. We don’t need any J6 Hollywood theatrics in this.” Another guy, who had an avatar merging the American and Confederate flags, warned of “antifa.”
On Tuesday morning, participants in the convoy’s Zello chat said about 40 vehicles left from their overnight stop in Jacksonville, Florida and that they’d have at least 80 vehicles once they reached Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But the vehicle count was “more than 40” vehicles in Wednesday’s Zello chatter, including one semi and one bus.
The numbers were a far cry from the 700,000 truckers projected in a Fox Business report last week, when Congressman Keith Self, a Texas Republican, who claimed the border cavalcade shared organizers with the People’s Convoy of 2022. (Take Our Border Back denies any collaboration with the past trucker protest against COVID restrictions.)
Hecklers have delighted in infiltrating the fleet’s Telegram and Zello channels, and one enterprising soul created takeourbourderback.com, which redirects visitors to the FBI’s electronic tip form.
“Go to D.C. Texas doesn’t want you losers,” a user named Brian Fitzpatrick said on Zello.
“Oh, I’m pretty sure they do,” one woman replied. “That’s why they’re all heading down there. The support is great. Keep it up. Let’s go Brandon! And let’s go United States.”
Brian answered with a recording of “Ram Ranch,” a metal song about gay cowboys that leftists used to disrupt Zello channels for the 2022 Canadian convoy against pandemic mandates.
Minutes later, another user called “Cali Patriot Steve” played a longer clip: …Cowboys in the showers at Ram Ranch! Big, hard, throbbing cocks wanting to be sucked! 18 naked cowboys wanting to be fucked!
“I got news for you infiltrators,” a man responded. “This isn’t a game. And yours all’s days are numbered.”