Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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Philadelphia police detain two near vote-counting site after tip about armed people traveling to city


Police in Philadelphia arrested two men on firearms charges Thursday night after receiving a tip that an armed group from out of state was headed to the city's vote-counting center, where final ballots in the presidential election are being tallied.

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The Philadelphia Police Department said in a statement Friday morning that it received information that people armed with guns were coming to the convention center in a silver Hummer truck. Inside the building, election workers have been tallying remaining ballots that may prove crucial in determining who wins the key state, which remains to be called for either presidential candidate.

Danielle Outlaw, the Philadelphia police commissioner, said Friday that an FBI field office in Norfolk received a tip Thursday about the armed people traveling from Virginia Beach to Philadelphia.

The police department said its officers spotted a silver Hummer with no people inside at 10:20 p.m., and less than 10 minutes later, bike patrol officers spotted two men carrying guns. Neither had a valid Pennsylvania permit to carry firearms, police said, and they were arrested.

The pair acknowledged that the Hummer was theirs, and officers found another gun inside, police said. No one was hurt in the incident.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (D) announced Friday that his office had charged the two men - identified as Joshua Macias, 42, and Antonio Lamotta, 61, both of Chesapeake, Va. - with weapons charges.

Both men were charged with carrying concealed firearms without a license, a felony, and carrying a firearm on public streets, a misdemeanor, Krasner said.

During a news briefing Friday afternoon before the men were charged, Krasner said a woman apparently traveling with the men was not arrested.

Krasner declined during the briefing to elaborate on the tip received by authorities. He also sought to tamp down speculation surrounding the incident, saying that "at this time, we do not have indications that the story is bigger than these two individuals."

Krasner said officials were taking the situation "very seriously," but added that it "may turn out to be nothing more than two people deciding to come to Philadelphia at a particular time for a somewhat unknown purpose."

On Friday morning, vote totals in Pennsylvania showed former Vice President Joe Biden overtaking President Donald Trump's lead, with thousands of votes left to be counted in deep-blue Philadelphia and its suburbs.

A small group of Trump supporters protested Thursday outside the city's downtown convention center to "stop the vote," but were heavily outnumbered by a much larger crowd expressing its support for Biden and vote-counting efforts. The Trump campaign, meanwhile, has mounted a legal challenge to stop vote-counting efforts, making unsubstantiated claims of ballot fraud.

Photos captured near the convention center by Philadelphia Inquirer photographer Jessica Griffin showed a Hummer with a Virginia license plate as well as a hat inside bearing an insignia for the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon. The vehicle's back window featured a decal with an abbreviation of a QAnon rallying cry: "Where we go one, we go all."

The FBI said in a statement: "The FBI works closely with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to identify and stop any potential threats to public safety. It is vital that the FBI, our partners, and the public work together to protect our community. As always, we encourage members of the public to remain vigilant and immediately report any suspicious activity to law enforcement. We have no further information for release and would refer you to the Philadelphia Police Department for any additional guidance at this time."

If Pennsylvania is called for Biden, the state's 20 electoral votes will put him over the edge to win the presidency.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar (D), who oversees the state's elections, said that ballot-counting efforts are running ahead of schedule, with almost all votes certain to be tallied before the weekend.

Yet, as Trump has promoted unfounded allegations about voter fraud, conspiracy theories have swirled among his supporters in Philadelphia, even though they have been repeatedly debunked by elections officials.

On Thursday afternoon, a state appeals court granted the Trump campaign a small legal victory by allowing GOP poll watchers to observe the ballot counting from six feet away. That decision is unlikely to impact the vote count, as observers cannot challenge ballots' validity.

On Thursday evening, The Washington Post reported, a baseless text message circulated in the city's right-wing circles that called on the president's supporters to rally outside the convention center.

"Radical Liberals & Dems are trying to steal this election from Trump!" the text read.

Published : November 07, 2020

By : The Washington Post · Teo Armus, Matt Zapotosky, Mark Berman · NATIONAL, POLITICS, COURTSLAW