Two men armed with handguns were arrested on Thursday near the convention center in Philadelphia where the continuing vote count could decide the presidential election, police said.
The men, ages 42 and 61, traveled to the city from the Virginia Beach, Virginia, area in a Hummer and did not have permits to carry the weapons in Pennsylvania, police said. The Hummer was adorned with an American flag and a window sticker for the antisemitic, pro-Trump conspiracy theory QAnon.
They were arrested after the FBI in Virginia relayed a tip about their plans to Philadelphia police. Officers stopped the men on the street about a block away from the vehicle, the Philadelphia police commissioner, Danielle Outlaw, said.
The 61-year-old had a 9mm Beretta in a holster and the 42-year-old had a .40-caliber Beretta handgun inside his jacket, Outlaw said. An AR-style rifle without a serial number and ammunition were found inside the vehicle, Outlaw said.
A woman with the men was not arrested, the Philadelphia district attorney, Larry Krasner, said.
The arrests drew outsized attention amid heightened tensions over the undecided presidential race and Donald Trump’s repeated, false accusations of voter fraud, but officials cautioned against reading too much into them. There was no indications that anyone else was involved or that the men were members of an extremist group. They did not say why the men went to Philadelphia.
Photographs of the men’s silver Hummer, taken by a photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, showed multiple QAnon decals on the vehicle, as well as a QAnon hat on the dashboard.
QAnon is a baseless internet conspiracy theory whose followers believe that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against a powerful “deep state” cabal of Democrats and Hollywood celebrities who run the world while engaging in pedophilia and child trafficking. Followers believe that at the right moment, Trump will unmask the members of the cabal and ship them off to Guantanamo Bay.
The FBI identified QAnon as a potential domestic terror threat in 2019, following a string of violent or criminal acts by followers of the conspiracy movement. Experts have long warned that the narrative of QAnon is tantamount to an incitement to violence.
Trump’s recent promotion of a baseless conspiracy theory alleging that Democrats are attempting to steal the election fits neatly within the QAnon worldview, the Syracuse University professor Whitney Phillips told the Guardian this week.
“The idea that ‘they’ are out to corrupt democracy, that the deep state is trying to rig the election against Trump, that it’s responsible for overblowing the risks of Covid and taking away your freedoms, that has all of the ingredients for an insurrection,” she said. “When Trump is talking about this specific kind of conspiracy theory, that runs the risk of activating this underlying feeling about ‘them’ coming after us, and that is extraordinarily corrosive to democracy.”
The men will be charged with firearms offenses. Their names have not been made public. They have yet to be arraigned. Information on lawyers who could comment on their behalf was not immediately available.