MyMilitia Is Like Tinder for the Far-Right
Like most Trump supporters, Brian Maoirana, 54, from Staten Island, New York, was unhappy with the results of the 2020 election. Unlike his compatriots, however, he allegedly decided to react by threatening to blow up an FBI building.
On Tuesday morning, authorities arrested Maiorana, charging him with making threatening interstate communications. In court documents, prosecutors allege that Maiorana used social media to make violent threats against protesters and politicians. “The Turner Diaries must come to life,” Maiorana allegedly wrote, referencing a 1978 novel about a violent rebellion against the federal government that is popular among white supremacists and far-right extremists. “We blow up the FBI building for real. All the alphabet agencies assassination will become the new normal now…that the electoral process is finished.”
“The Department of Justice will not stand idly by when people like the defendant allegedly threaten to kill elected officials, lawful protesters and law enforcement simply because of animus towards the outcome of an election,” said Seth DuCharme, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Maiorana’s attorney, James Darrow, declined to comment to Rolling Stone.
Maiorana reportedly had a history of publicly engaging in violent rhetoric. The complaint indicates that he had a profile on MyMilitia, a website that connects thousands of individuals to militias in their area, posting about weaponry under the handle Proud Patriot Sailor. According to Vice, MyMilitia is owned by Josh Ellis, who also owns a water repair and mold removal business in Naperville, Illinois, and who was involved in organizing anti-lockdown protests last spring. The site consists of a network of militias and interested parties across the country. It is also a repository of information about building weapons, hosting PDFs of texts like The Anarchist’s Cookbook instructing users how to create homemade grenades, flamethrowers, and explosives.
There’s a great deal of bluster on the forums of MyMilitia, with many of its users engaging in lurid fantasies of federal government rebellions and Second Amendment dick-swinging. But it also serves a clear practical function. Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, California State University San Bernardino, refers to the website as “almost like Tinder for militia folks,” in that it connects people interested in finding militias with existing chapters in their area, or with other potential members to form new ones. “I don’t want to suggest everyone on there is a bomb-throwing lunatic,” Levin tells Rolling Stone. “But if I were a bomb-throwing lunatic, that’d be a place I’d want to check out.” (MyMilitia did not respond to requests for comment.)
Popular threads on MyMilitia range from feverish speculation over what a modern-day civil war would look like, to sheer panic over unfounded claims of a Biden administration confiscating weapons and instituting Communism; to whether or not they should declare war on antifa. Many of the posts on state militia threads are calls to organize real-life meetups and events, and Rolling Stone found several examples of overt calls to violence. “Fellow Patriots, Communist Dictator Biden and His San Francisco Whore has stolen the election with the help of the Communist Movement. We must resist and resist more than the Communist the last 4 years,” one post reads, adding, “We must make a show in the street the world has never seen.” Another comment in the thread on declaring war on antifa says, “hunting season will be good this year, boys.” Another reads, in reference to the left “stealing” the election for Biden: “This is the last bloodless coup measure to be taken. There is nothing peaceful after this. Go find a history book. After this, it gets bloody because there is no where else to go if the courts fail.”
Some of the users post about being cast off from larger social media networks, which have more rigorously enforced their guidelines against calls to violence and hate speech. “I keep getting banned for 7 days on FB for saying I want to see political criminals hang,” one poster wrote on an Arizona militia thread on Sunday. “Guess they don’t like thinking about or being reminded of their imminent future…LOL.” Levin says it’s not surprising that activity on MyMilitia would increase in the wake of crackdowns by Facebook and Twitter. “When larger commercial platforms step up their game, that elevates the importance of these affinity-based platforms like MyMilitia where people now know to gather,” he says.
Maiorana’s arrest is not the first time MyMilitia has been linked to violence. In 2017, one of the site’s users, Michael Hari, allegedly bombed a Bloomington, Indiana mosque with other members of his Illinois-based militia, the White Rabbits; days before his arrest, he posted a call to MyMilitia to other groups across the country to bear arms and join him for a protest against “the FBI and local law enforcement abuse” of the citizens of his hometown. He has pleaded not guilty and is currently standing trial.
In the wake of the election results, journalist Talia Lavin, author of the book Culture Warlords: My Journey into the Dark Web of White Supremacy, watched with horror as the rhetoric on MyMilitia, which she’d been monitoring for several months, ramped up. “There’s been a ton of new activity in the past few weeks. Just floods of people coming in,” she says. It prompted her to create #MyMilitiaChallenge, a campaign for anti-fascists to inundate the website with memes and shitposts, temporarily crashing the site. (Ellis, under the user handle LetFreedomRing, authored a post warning users about a coordinated DDOS attack orchestrated by antifa, though Lavin refutes that categorization, saying the effort wasn’t that sophisticated.)
The goal of #MyMilitiaChallenge was also to stir up negative publicity for GoDaddy, the site’s domain registrar; and Fluid Hosting LLC, its server. Though PayPal has since removed MyMilitia from its platform, where the website had a donation account, Levin says there has been radio silence from the other companies. (In a statement, a representative for Fluid Hosting declined to comment. A spokesperson for GoDaddy confirmed the domain was registered with the company, but said because the content on the website wasn’t on GoDaddy’s servers, “we can’t take any action related to the actual content on the site.”)
“When you’re talking about an environment whose sole purpose is to make stochastic terror, it’s not just harmless, particularly given the degree of civic tension we’re at,” Lavin says. “Any situation where tension is high and people show up with guns has the possibility to devolve.” Even if many, if not most, users of the site are LARPing — essentially, roleplaying a domestic terrorism scenario — she says, “it doesn’t hide its purpose. And its purpose is to organize armed people.”