- Hardline activists from the anti-vaccination movement. Two leaders, Denise Aguilar and Tara Thornton with the Freedom Angels, organized and participated in numerous rallies at the state Capitol that promoted the recall effort. At these events, speakers denounced vaccines and health orders. The Proud Boys, who have been involved in protest violence, from street brawls in Sacramento to the incursion of the nation’s Capitol, are also often present. Aguilar has said they provided security.
- The recall campaign itself provided a safe harbor for the propaganda and violent rhetoric that riled the Republican voter base and spilled over into the Capitol riot. An organizer in El Dorado County is a Three Percenter — an anti-government extremist movement, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Until social media crackdowns and questions from reporters at The Times, the recall’s ostensibly bipartisan Facebook pages repeated the surreal conspiracies of QAnon as fact and asserted the national election was rigged despite all evidence to the contrary. Those pages have also likened the daily disruptions of COVID-19 to the Holocaust and the governor to Hitler, framing their struggles as if they were on par with the massacre of 6 million Jews.
- With the pandemic, two leaders of the Freedom Angels splintered off to join those opposed to COVID-19 closure and stay-at-home orders.
The splinter group also recently started an all-female militia, and advertises seminars on social media on how to target local health department officials, including staging nonviolent actions at officials’ private homes.
Aguilar, one of the founders of the offshoot group, is also a supporter of the Proud Boys, appearing at one Capitol rally wearing a shirt with a patch that read, “I (heart) Proud Boys” and at another introducing group members as security. Since the election, Proud Boys have fought with antifa counter-protesters during at least seven Capitol rallies, according to Sacramento police, and 27 people have been arrested or cited.
- Aaron Bate, an El Dorado County recall organizer who with Heatlie was part of an earlier petition drive against Newsom, is active in the Three Percenters and has personally delivered thousands of recall signatures to his county election office.
On social media, Bate has posed with others flashing a Three Percenter hand sign, and with men in Proud Boys clothing flashing an OK hand gesture associated with their group and with white supremacy. Brian Levin, professor of criminal justice and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, described the Three Percenters as “an anti-government paramilitary group that promotes the idea that violence is legitimate to combat gun control laws.”
- Robin McCrea, chief financial officer for the recall and one of its founding members, posted memes and comments on a personal social media page disputing the election. “PEVERT (sic) Quid Pro Joe Corrupt Beijing Biden will NEVER be the President of Patriots…NEVER,” she wrote in one. Later that day, she posted false assertions that the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol was the work of anti-fascist activists, another conspiracy theory that quickly took hold after the insurgency.