Nikki Reed, a Winston-Salem Trump supporter who sells hemp and CBD products online, posted on Facebook early on the afternoon of Jan. 6 to express her disgust for Vice President Mike Pence’s announcement: He would honor his constitutional obligation to ratify the electoral votes and certify the election of Joe Biden.
Those who doubted Pence’s loyalty to Donald Trump were right, Reed said. “And patriots just busted through to Capitol in anger,” she wrote in all caps, as if to signal that she was witnessing something cataclysmic. “I can’t believe it. It’s over. Wow.”
Although it’s not clear whether Reed went inside the Capitol building, she wrote, “I was there,” in a series of Facebook posts between 5:41 and 5:45 p.m. that were meant to counter unflattering accounts of the insurrection.
Reed was one of dozens of Triad residents who attended the Trump rally, which turned into an armed insurrection after the president instructed everyone to head to the Capitol. A review of their Facebook posts shows that, despite participating to some extent in the tumultuous events of Jan. 6, Reed and others almost immediately deflected responsibility for the assault on the Capitol to “antifa” while clinging to dubious proclamations that Trump will still somehow prevail and thwart the inauguration of Joe Biden.
CJ Shetley, a self-described “theology bachelor, gospel singer and housecleaning professional” from Thomasville, also confirmed his presence during the insurrection on Facebook, posting at 4:38 p.m.: “I was there on the lawn of the Capitol, and I know what took place.”
At 5:20 p.m., Shetley expressed righteous approval of the insurrectionists trashing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. “I know it for a fact and I have it on video: Nancy Pelosi’s chambers were swarmed today and her desk turned upside down!” he wrote. “People are sick of that witch!”
Whether Shetley filmed the assault on Pelosi’s office himself or just saved a video made by someone else remains unclear; a message sent to his Facebook page went unreturned.
Revonda Morse, a Stokes County resident, confirmed her plans to attend the rally to support Trump in an exchange on Facebook with a friend on the eve of event. Shortly before midnight she also posted an image of Pepe the Frog — the mocking cartoon mascot of the alt-right — holding a “Trump” card. “Lots of Pepes will be in DC today 1.6.21,” Morse wrote, adding two frog emojis and the word “Kek.”
Originally conceived as an innocuous cartoon character by its creator Matt Furie in 2005, Pepe was appropriated by edgy white supremacists on 4chan and other online platforms in 2016 and subsequently outfitted with Klan robes, SS helmets and other racist trappings. The character is often used by racists as a winking signal of in-group participation and as a way to troll liberal outsiders.
Likewise, the Kekistan flag was also developed by 4chan users. It represents a fictious country, where, as the Washington Post put it, “political correctness was supposedly decried.” The flag is patterned after the Nazi swastika, and given the political leanings of its alt-right progenitors, depending on who is displaying it, it can also represent a future white ethno-state.
Morse did not respond to a Facebook message for this story.
Morse, who said on Facebook that she has been immersed in the QAnon movement for about three years, shared photos taken from the Capitol steps and from the inauguration stands on the Capitol grounds at 3:50 p.m. on Jan. 6. “It’s wild,” she wrote, alluding to Trump’s Dec. 19 tweet summoning his supporters to DC for a “wild” protest. Morse continued: “Peaceful standup and charge from We The People at our Nation’s Capitol steps.”
Allison Baynes Key, a Pleasant Garden resident who operates a consignment business, posted a selfie alongside her husband with Trump supporters swarming the Capitol steps in the background.
“We were there along with others from our church,” Key wrote. She declined to comment for this story.
Nick Youngblood, who traveled by bus from Winston-Salem with Nikki Reed and others posted a video on Facebook Live showing Trump supporters singing the National Anthem as they waited for the president to speak at the Ellipse.
“We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them,” Trump would later tell his supporters. “Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated.”
Kent Vernon, a Thomasville resident who traveled on the bus from Winston-Salem to DC, offered support for his fellow Trump supporters in a Facebook post on the day after the insurrection.
Anyone concerned about the rally “should realize the unanswered questions about the Nov. 3 elections and continued loss of freedoms by tyrannical politicians has fueled tremendous anger by millions of patriotic Americans,” Vernon said. In his post, Vernon also rejected the notion that what transpired was a “riot” while assailing what he called “left-wing fake news.”
Former Attorney General William Barr has said there is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, and an official in the US Department of Homeland Security has said the election was secure. Dozens of legal challenges by the Trump campaign have failed to substantiate any irregularities that would have shifted the outcome of the election in any key swing states. In the absence of any empirical evidence of fraud, Trump and surrogates like Rudy Giuliani have generated an increasingly bizarre battery of claims largely centered around the notion that the Chinese Communist Party somehow manipulated the vote totals. These claims have no basis in fact.
Reached by phone on Monday, Vernon said he doesn’t agree with many of theories circulated by Trump supporters — including that Dominion voting machines changed the results — calling them “conspiracy theories” and “hot air.” But he does believe the outcome was altered when state election officials extended the deadline for receiving absentee ballots after Election Day and waived requirements for witness signatures on absentee ballot applications, oftentimes in defiance of state legislatures.
“I was totally disappointed in the Supreme Court for not even considering those legal challenges,” Vernon said.
Unlike many of his fellow Trump supporters, Vernon said he never believed Congress could have taken any action on Jan. 6 to halt the certification of the electoral votes for Joe Biden. His hope, Vernon said, was that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) would have “the opportunity to at least put out some evidence that would have given people like myself the satisfaction of saying this is put in the public sphere that all the state legislatures were worked around to change the election law right before the election.”
In contrast to his earlier statement on Facebook, Vernon freely referred to the people who stormed the Capitol as “rioters.” Vernon, who did not join the mob that entered the Capitol, downplayed the calls for violence against Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, as well as the men who carried zip ties and flexicuffs who appeared prepared to take prisoners, while questioning whether “insurrection” was too strong a word for what they did.
“Was there enough guys that had zip ties and a plan to decapitate the heads of government?” Vernon asked. “That to me would qualify as the definition of insurrection.”
‘Antifa did it’ defense
Scarcely had the police cleared the Capitol of protesters when those promoting and participating in the uprising began to spread a false claim that “antifa” was responsible for the attack.
Less than three hours after enthusing that “patriots just busted through to the Capitol in anger,” Reed posted on Facebook at 5:41 p.m.: “Antifa was there pretending to be us.” In the same post, Reed acknowledged that someone had been “shot” — a rioter named Ashli Babbitt who later died from her injuries, as it turned out. Reed warned in all caps: “Do not believe the media.”
Following up, Reed claimed, “There was no shooting of cops, no throwing stuff at cops, no fires started.” Contrary to Reed’s portrayal, there was widespread violence against law enforcement. The FBI has an ongoing investigation into the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sitnick, who was struck by a fire extinguisher and died from his injuries the day after the insurrection. The Washington Post has reported that 58 DC police officers and an untold number of Capitol police officers were injured in the insurrection, including attacks with bear spray, a bat, a flagpole and a wrench.
Triad residents who traveled to DC to attend the rally quickly picked up two false claims put into circulation as the insurrection was winding down.
One came from Paul Sperry, a well-known conspiracy trafficker and Islamophobe, who tweeted at 5:02 p.m. on Jan. 6 that a former FBI agent had “confirmed that at least 1 ‘bus load’ of Antifa thugs infiltrated peaceful Trump demonstrators as part of a false Trump flag ops.” Sperry offered no substantiation or corroboration for the claim.
Another came from Lin Wood, an Atlanta-based personal injury lawyer who has been pressing baseless claims that the election was stolen from Trump, which included a photo of rioters inside the Capitol alongside a comparison photo that was labeled “phillyantifa.org.” Although the men pictured in the two photos are not even the same people, the only link to “antifa” was that the two Nazis in the second photo were doxed by Philly Antifa. But Wood called it “indisputable photographic evidence that antifa violently broke into Congress today to inflict harm & do damage — not Donald Trump supporters.”
Key, the Pleasant Garden woman who posed with her husband for a selfie at the Capitol, implored her friends on Facebook: “Please my friends, don’t let the media lie to you!… The violence was coming from antifa supporters dressed in MAGA clothing.”
Many of the Triad residents who traveled to the rally persuaded themselves before the day was over that the storming of the Capitol had been staged, apparently based only on the evidence that Congress reconvened after the attempted insurrection and fulfilled its constitutional duty to certify the election of Joe Biden. The purported false flag supposedly involved an intricate level of coordination among “antifa,” both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and the news media.
Posting 10 minutes after midnight on Jan. 7, Shetley, the Thomasville housecleaner and praise worship leader, reflected: “As I go to bed tonight, it is evident the staged invasion of the Capitol today has accomplished exactly what it was designed to accomplish! Republicans backing down and refusing to challenge the election results. Once again, thanks to antifa, corruption in Washington, and the lame-stream media, Americans have been played like a cheap fiddle.”
Morse, the Stokes County QAnon follower who had taken photos from the inauguration stands and celebrated a “peaceful standup and charge from We The People” at 3:50 p.m. had shifted emphasis when she posted again at 9:48 p.m. “Don’t believe the fake news,” she wrote. “The media is the virus. Hearing Congress was working with antifa. Footage showing them being escorted in.”
The same images of Capitol police opening gates, allowing rioters to walk past and in at least one instance, posing for a selfie with a rioter have been cited by others to draw quite a different conclusion — that some members of the Capitol police colluded with the insurrectionists, betraying both their oath and their fellow officers.
The arrest of John Sullivan, a Utah man associated with Black Lives Matter, has predictably reinforced the Triad Trump supporters’ belief that “antifa” was responsible for the storming of the Capitol. Sullivan filmed the storming of the Capitol and can be heard exhorting the other rioters.
“Ummm… didn’t I tell ya???,” Shetley wrote on Facebook on Jan. 14, while sharing a Fox News story about Sullivan. “And I believe many more will be uncovered!”
Sullivan’s brief history of organizing has been clouded with controversy, and people active in the Black Lives Matter movement have publicly shunned him. Last year, he started organizing under a group that he formed called Insurgence USA. During a protest Sullivan organized in Utah in June, a protester shot a motorist. One Black Lives Matter organizer in Utah told the Post that Sullivan “came in to chase clout,” while another said he “has exploited Black people, profited off of our pain and hurt the movement.” Another report indicates that during his short tenure as an organizer, Sullivan has floated from protest scenes in Utah, to Portland, Ore. and eventually to DC, alienating activists in all three.
‘Donald Trump’s gonna be your president for the next four years’
While deflecting responsibility for the violence at the Capitol onto “antifa,” members of Congress and the media, many of the Trump supporters from the Triad have eagerly consumed dubious reports from Trump allies purporting to possess inside information signaling that Trump will yet remain in office and expose “evil” and criminal misconduct by his many and various enemies.
Two days after the insurrection, Reed shared a video depicting MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell speaking from what appears to be a private jet.
“All I want to do is give everybody confidence that Donald Trump’s gonna be your president for the next four years,” Lindell said. “They’re very much afraid that all the evidence I know is going to come out this week.” Lindell reportedly met with Trump on Jan. 15, and presented the president with a document that recommended invoking the Insurrection Act.
“Okay, okay,” Reed wrote in a Jan. 8 Facebook update posted with the video. “I have more faith now.”
In the days following the attempted insurrection, an outlandish claim began circulating among Trump supporters suggesting a deep-cover operation to collect evidence of serious crimes by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other political opponents.
On Jan. 7, Reed copied and pasted text from a Facebook user known as “Evie Qwalls”: “The military took all the laptops from Congress when they left the premises. They were messaging the CCP [Chinese Communist Party], antifa and the fake news. This ‘onslaught’ of the Capitol Building by ‘patriots’/‘antifa’ was a sting operation! They were caught red-handed!” The post included the hashtag #TheStormHasArrived, a direct reference to QAnon epistemology.
Nick Youngblood, who posted the video of Trump supporters singing the National Anthem on Jan. 6, embraced the theory, writing in a comment thread on his Facebook page: “That some Special Forces guys were in the mix? And that’s who grabbed Pelosi’s laptop. Yes! That’s super exciting!” Youngblood declined to comment for this story.
The most widely publicized version of the claim was made by retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a former Fox News commentator. Speaking to a small group of people, with classical music in the background, McInerney said in a video: “On Wednesday, they took Pelosi’s laptop. She’s frantic. There were some people in there that were Special Forces mixed with antifa. So, you’d say, ‘Look, you’ve only got 12 days or whatever it is to the 20th, why worry about it, just let him out?’
“No, they are terrified because they have the data,” McInerney continued. “I believe they also have a source that is talking like a songbird. And the president is going to spring that person on us, so it will completely change because it is someone who has said, ‘I’m not going to do this.’ This is treason, high treason.”
PolitiFact identified seven different claims in the McInerney video that it rated as false in a Jan. 12 article. Specific to the claim that Special Forces confiscated Pelosi’s laptop, PolitiFact reported that a spokesperson for the US Special Operations Command has said the agency has no information about such an incident. A laptop was stolen from a conference room in the Capitol, but a spokesperson for Pelosi has said it was only used for presentations.
Among those promoting the discredited McInerney video is Guilford County School Board member Anita Sharpe, who posted it on her Facebook page on Jan. 10. Sharpe’s promotion of the video was met with a wave of condemnation and calls for her resignation on Greensboro social media pages.
“I’m writing to share my absolute disgust with the online support Anita Wilson Sharpe has demonstrated online for a murderous white nationalist attempt to overthrow the US government,” Scuppernong Books co-owner Steve Mitchell wrote in a letter to the school board. “It is reckless, bordering on seditious, to continue to fan the flames of this misguided white supremacist movement, and for a local public official to remain unapologetically enthusiastic is beyond belief.”
The post has since disappeared from Sharpe’s Facebook page, but in an email to Triad City Beat she made it clear that it’s not because she’s bowing to pressure.
“I have no comment except to guarantee you that the video was not removed by me,” she said. “You might want to check with Facebook.”
On Saturday, Sharpe responded to calls for her resignation with defiance by responding on Facebook with a copied-and-pasted manifesto that begins: “I used to think I was pretty much just a regular person, but I was born ‘white’ into a two-person household which now labels me ‘privileged,’ racist and responsible for slavery. I am a fiscal and moral conservative, which by today’s standards, makes me a fascist because I plan and budget.”
Predictably, as the House moved to impeach Trump for inciting insurrection last week, his supporters in the Triad expressed the view that the United States is at war with itself.
“We are in a civil war, and the left-leaning side — whatever names you give them — want to destroy the American values that bound us together in previous generations that you allude to,” Kent Vernon, the Thomasville man who rode the bus from Winston-Salem to the rally in DC, told an acquaintance on Facebook on Jan. 10. But in contrast to his earlier statements suggesting the political divide in the United States is irreconcilable, Vernon said in an interview on Monday that his youngest son has opposing political viewpoints.
“We still love each other and have a good relationship,” he said.
On Jan. 13, following the House vote to impeach Trump, Revonda Morse posted a cryptic update: “Military is in control right now. We are at war.” Then she added a QAnon catechism: “Nothing can stop what’s coming.”
Even as plans for Biden’s inauguration move ahead, Trump’s hardline supporters continue to occupy an alternate reality in which any information that challenges their belief in Trump’s inerrancy can be discounted as “fake news,” or lies propagated by a corrupt “establishment” beholden to Communist China, or, alternately, engaged in a massive pedophilia coverup.
Another tiding of false hope for Trump’s supporters arrived on Saturday in a YouTube video by Simon Parkes, a former town councilor from northern England who made headlines in the United Kingdom in 2013 by claiming to have fathered a child with an alien.
“If you listen to him and his heart, he is sincere and sharing the truth,” said Revonda Morse, the pro-Trump protester from Stokes County, sharing the video on her Facebook page.
“The information I had is that we should expect something anytime from tomorrow, Sunday forwards,” Parkes said, claiming to have spoken with more than one high-level source in Trump’s circle as recently as Friday. Parkes told viewers Biden’s team will create a “CGI fake inauguration… in some studio somewhere.”
Kate Bedingfield, the incoming White House communications director, said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” that the inauguration will take place on the west side of the Capitol building, as planned. She also said the Biden team has “full faith in the United States Secret Service and their partners who have been working for over a year on the planning to ensure that this event is safe.”
Based on supposed conversations with a Trump insider, Parkes sketched a scenario in which Trump thwarts the transfer of power.
“I said, ‘Look, if this does go ahead, and they produce this fake inauguration through the media, CGI, trick photography, et cetera, what are you guys going to do? Are you going to take it down halfway?’” Parkes said. “And he said, ‘No, we’ll let that go through, if that’s what happens — if that gets to the that point. We want to see Biden get turned away at the White House gates. And then within 12 hours — that’s exactly the figure I was given — within 12 hours of that broadcast, that allows us to take down all of mainstream media based on the fact that they carried an illegal inauguration.’”
Parkes predicted there will be worldwide media shutdown for several days, and when the internet and broadcast media is restored, the only programming available will be “live court martials being screened over seven or ten days, testimonies on a loop so people who have decided to buy their freedom or part freedom by being open and honest consenting to have their confession filmed and that then being shown to the world.
“So, all the people that we really want to wake up and show the truth and show that we’re not all crazy, you know, that we believe this, and we’re not all mad, they will have it in their face,” Parkes promised.
Within hours on Saturday, YouTube had taken the video down.
Revonda Morse was not deterred. She quickly found the video on BitChute, a video hosting service created in 2017 to allow uploaders to avoid YouTube’s more strict content standards, and posted it in the comments thread on her Facebook page.