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Reprinted with permission from DailyKos
Most of the attention to the conspiracy prosecutions in the January 6 insurrection has been directed at the largest known (and overlapping) plots to besiege the Capitol involving the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. But a fresh indictment handed down this week by a grand jury makes clear that there were multiple conspiracies unfolding that day.
According to the indictment, a trio of extremist Trump supporters from California traveled to Washington, in their own words, to “violently remove traitors” and “replace them with able bodied Patriots.” Embroiled with the mob on the Capitol’s western entrance, one of them tazed Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone into unconsciousness, while another encouraged the mob to climb in through broken windows; once inside, the trio trashed congressional offices.
And then, two days later, two of them appeared on Infowars’ “War Room” program with Owen Schroyer and claimed that they tried to prevent “antifa” activists disguised as Trump supporters from breaking windows, and insisted they were only there for peaceful protest. That interview, however, proved to be disastrous for them, after the apparent ringleader used the real name of one of her coconspirators, enabling investigators to identify and charge him.
The three people charged in the conspiracy all knew each other online before January 6, met up at the Stop the Steal rally before the siege and then traveled together to the Capitol, split apart somewhat while participating in the exterior attack, and then joined back up once inside the building. From there, the three of them ransacked at least one congressional office. They are:
- Gina Bisignano, a beauty-salon owner from Beverly Hills who can be seen in photos from her participation in the Capitol siege wearing a Louis Vuitton sweater. Her name was redacted from the indictment and remains under court seal because she has entered into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, but has been confirmed by multiple journalists.
- Daniel Rodriguez, a 38-year-old from Panorama City whose arrest in March primarily arose from his assaults on police officers at barricades, most notoriously his electroshock-device attack on Fanone. Rodriquez has subsequently attempted to claim that his confession to the FBI upon his arrest was obtained under duress.
- Edward Badalian, a 26-year-old resident of North Hills, a suburban neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. It was Badalian who, according to the indictment, sounded the most bloodthirsty of the trio, telling them beforehand in a Telegram thread: "We need to violently remove traitors and if they are in key positions rapidly replace them with able bodied Patriots.”
Badalian had not been previously identified or charged. Both Bisignano and Rodriguez were already under indictment for their actions on January 6, charged with obstructing Congress and a variety of other assault- and vandalism-related charges. Bisignano was granted conditional release back to her Beverly Hills home. Rodriguez, who was arrested in March after a HuffPost investigation revealed his identity as Fanone’s attacker, has remained in jail since.
Bisignano had already achieved viral notoriety even before the insurrection after a video released in December 2020 showed her spewing homophobic epithets and COVID denialism. Her business subsequently experienced an appropriately harsh backlash on social media. As Marcy Wheeler has reported, Bisignano has been working out a plea bargain with prosecutors that is part of a cooperation agreement, which was confirmed in this week’s indictment.
The three of them apparently met on a Telegram channel called “Patriots 45 MAGA Gang,” where they shared Trump-related conspiracy theories and agreed that action needed to be taken to prevent Trump from being unseated as president. “We gotta go handle this shit in DC so the crooked politicians don’t have an army of thugs threatening violence to back their malevolent cabal ways,” wrote Badalian in one thread.
“We are taking this shit back,” Badalian wrote in another thread. “Yeah, absolutely, yes,” Rodriguez replied.
In other conversations, Rodriguez told his cohorts that he would “assassinate Joe Biden” if he got the chance and “would rather die than live under a Biden administration.” On December 29, Rodriguez posted: “Congress can hang. I’ll do it. Please let us get these people dear God.”
The trio gathered weapons and gear—a stun gun, pepper spray, gas masks and walkie-talkies—in the weeks before January 6. Badalian and Rodriguez traveled together from California, and "joined a caravan" in Kentucky on Jan. 5 headed to the “Stop the Steal” event, setting up caravan communications with a radio app on cellphones. Bisignano flew out
When they arrived in Washington, Rodriguez texted his cohorts on Telegram: “There will be blood. Welcome to the revolution.”
All three, the evidence shows, played leading roles in assaulting police at the Capitol barricades, as well as in assisting the mob’s entry into the building through broken windows.
Ironically, two days after the Capitol siege, two of them went on the conspiracist Infowars program “War Room” with Owen Shroyer and claimed that “antifa” was responsible for heightening the violence and breaking windows. Badalian—using the nom de plume “Turbo”—and Bisignano, who just went by “Gina,” both used Bisignano’s video to show that members of the crowd had claimed that rioters wearing Trump gear and breaking windows were actually “antifa” activists in disguise, and they had tried to prevent them from attacking the Capitol.
During the interview, Bisignano accidentally blew Badalian’s cover by referring to him as “Ed.” (Both men then went to Bisignano’s home two days later, helped her destroy evidence, and warned her not to use their real names again.) That clue apparently helped investigators identify him eventually, and it is mentioned in the indictment.
But the episode also provides a window into how Alex Jones’ Infowars conspiracy mill is nothing more than a platform for people to go on air and just brazenly lie to the world. Because that is what both “Turbo” and “Gina” proceeded to do.
Badalian told Schroyer that the people smashing windows in the Capitol made him angry because “that’s like a symbol of America to me.” He thought their ranks had been “infiltrated.” When he grabbed the man, others asked him why he had, and he said he told them: “We’re not here to smash the building! We’re not here to destroy the property! We’re here for the traitors!”
He then claimed that it became “a wild situation after antifa escalated—with the cops.”
Bisignano claimed that she began taking footage from her perch on the same arched window then “so that we would have proof that they were breaking windows and being violent.” She said “it was obvious they were not Trump supporters even though it said Trump on his helmet.”
“To me, it was like, ‘We don’t want this. We don’t want violence,” Bisignano told Shroyer. “And they were like, ‘No, we gotta break the window.’ And I said, ‘No, this is not a good look for us.’”
She also claimed she had urged everyone to go home. “I even said, ‘Guys, we gotta go, Trump’s said all Patriots need to go home.’ And some of the people left, and some people are like, ‘We don’t believe it. We don’t believe Trump really tweeted that.’ I was just like, it’s not worth risking your life. Violence isn’t the answer. I was just begging them to stop.”
She concluded: “We were clearly there for a peaceful march. And a lot of the people that infiltrated that crowd obviously were not there for that.”
The reality of the trio’s vitriolic violence on January 6, however, is laid bare in their respective indictments. Bisignano in particular played a leading role in whipping the mob into a frenzy, her mindset evident in texts she sent—one, from the Ellipse, urging another person to “roll in force” to the Capitol, while another sent from the Capitol steps exulting that “the battle has begun.”
She and Rodriguez battled with police at entryways, during which Rodrguez hurled a flagpole and discharged a fire extinguisher at officers. Bisignano told the police: “Liberty or death, gentlemen!"
Once on the window ledge, Bisignano can be seen encouraging another insurrectionist bashing the window that had been previously hammered by the man Badalian had pulled away in the Infowars video. She yelled encouragement to other rioters: “Hold the line, gentlemen! Don’t surrender! Fight for Trump!” and “Push forward, Patriots! If you are gonna die, let it be on Capitol Hill!”
After the window was broken, she climbed through the opening and into the Capitol, followed by Rodriguez and Badalian.
Badalian’s claim that antifa was responsible for the January 6 violence is also belied by a text he had sent earlier in the day, as they were marching toward the Capitol: "We don't want to fight antifa lol we want to arrest traitors," he said.
Their supposed reverence for the Capitol is similarly belied by the actions they took once inside. The trio found themselves in a congressional office suite, so after Rodriguez announced they should look for “intel,” he and Bisignano began rifling through bags and papers. Rodriguez eventually made off with an emergency escape hood he found in the office.
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Reprinted with permission from DailyKos
One of the peculiar realities of conspiracism is that people who believe in conspiracy theories rarely ever believe just one; most conspiracy theories are interconnected by the nature of their counter-factual grounding, and often this forms a web of theories that lead to radicalization. This is why the phenomenon of COVID-19 denialists coalescing with far-right extremist movements has become a global one.
Nick Robins-Early at Vice has assembled a useful survey of this kind of far-right radicalization, noting that the politics of the pandemic have provided a new kind of breeding ground for the paranoid fantasies that comprise the denialists’ conspiracy theories—one that openly intermingles old-fashioned anti-Semitism with New Age health-related conspiracies.
“We’re seeing something that we’ve probably never seen before in terms of how these ideologies work to feed off each other,” extremism researcher Aoife Gallagher of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue told Robins-Early.
This kind of commingling has always occurred to some extent, but the COVID-19 pandemic featured two conditions that shifted it onto a more intensive plane: 1) a high degree of official and media confusion and uncertainty about the nature of the disease and its spread, much of it engendered among highly placed sources; and 2) pandemic-response conditions that forced people to spend inordinate amounts of time online, where conspiracy theories spread like kudzu, and denialist organizing along with it, particularly on social media platforms like Facebook.
Robins-Early describes the conditions enabling this spread, using the example of anti-vaxxer Piers Corbyn’s appearance on a podcast with Nazi sympathizer Mark Collett, during which Collett remarked, “We obviously agree on a lot of things”:
As anti-vaccine activists continue to spread medical misinformation online and hold rallies targeting schools, hospitals, and government officials, pairings like Corbyn and Collett have become common. White nationalists and QAnon influencers have become prolific sources for anti-vaccine propaganda, while far-right extremists march alongside anti-vaxxers at protests. In countries around the world, far-right and anti-vaccine movements are now deeply intertwined.
We’ve already seen street demonstrations in Italy and Australia in which openly fascist elements have turned out to support COVID denialists (particularly those opposing vaccine mandates), and have ended up engaging in insurrectionist violence, just as we have seen in the United States. This phenomenon continues to spread in Europe, notably in Germany.
“We had big demonstrations in the streets in a lot of German cities, but also an evolving network of hate groups,” Simone Rafael, a researcher at the German anti-racism group the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, told Vice. “We could see the common thread throughout these groups was conspiracy ideologies and anti-Semitism.”
One of the more prominent examples of the radicalization dynamic occurring within COVID-denialist organizing is the case of Attila Hildmann, a wildly popular vegan chef and cookbook author who in early 2020 began promoting pandemic-related conspiracy theories and organizing rallies. By June of that year, he had declared himself a “German nationalist” who admires Hitler and warned that Jews wanted to “exterminate the German race.” Having fled Germany for his native Turkey to avoid prosecution, he now tells his followers that he is a “real Proud Nazi.”
The phenomenon has been fueled by the embrace of denialist conspiracism by mainstream political figures, particularly Donald Trump and his army of followers. As Robins-Early describes:
In the United States, members of the far-right Stop the Steal movement that promoted the conspiracy that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election have since shifted toward opposing vaccines and government mandates. Pro-Trump celebrities like former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Simone Gold, founder of the right-wing activist group America’s Frontline Doctors, have both headlined anti-vaccine rallies this year. Other prominent anti-vaccine activists also double as QAnon influencers, lumping vaccinations in with their beliefs into broader conspiracies about global pedophile elites plotting to control the world.
Along with far-right radicalization has come the increasing presence of neofascist elements like the Proud Boys, who have begun attaching themselves to anti-pandemic-measure protests as “security.” The result, as we saw recently, has been a menacing air surrounding anti-vaccine-mandate marches and similar events.
“It’s really grown in strength by becoming part of the whole far-right,” Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, told Vice. “As a consequence of that, people who want to show their allegiance to that movement do so by refusing vaccinations.”
Far-right radicalization inevitably means that the underlying conspiracism is deeply anti-Semitic. This surfaced recently with the denialists’ embrace of the term “pureblood” for people who have refused the vaccine—an obvious reference to fascist attempts to justify genocide as a matter of eugenics.
As Robins-Early notes, “many of these have come to the forefront, such as this month when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw, suggested that the Rothschilds were involved in a conspiracy to profit from COVID-19.”
Similarly inevitable has been the real-world violence that always accompanies far-right organizing—particularly death threats and other forms of intimidation directed at local officials and health care institutions. Hotez, who has become a target of online hate and threats from anti-vaccine activists, told Robins-Early that these threats increasingly express far-right views.
“Now when the threats come, it’s of a different character,” Hotez said. “It’s about an army of patriots coming to take me down.”
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