Skip to main content
Chapter Eleven

COVID Denial, Stop the Steal, and the January 6th Insurrection


Chapter Eleven

COVID Denial, Stop the Steal, and the January 6th Insurrection

Calls for Violence, Revolution, and Civil War

On September 2, federal authorities arrested Benjamin Martin of Fresno, California, for his involvement in the January 6 nationalist insurrection at the U.S Capitol. Turned in by a former high school classmate who saw him in a news clip, Martin was charged with six offenses, including obstructing a federal proceeding, obstructing a law enforcement official during a civil disorder, entering a restricted building, and disorderly conduct.[227]

Benjamin Martin

Benjamin Martin

On January 6, adorned in a red MAGA hat, Martin had attended the Trump D.C. rally with his father. He was later videoed struggling with a police officer at an entry door and yelling at officers, “You guys are not doing your job. You swore an oath…Move out of the way and let us in,” according to the criminal complaint filed in the case.[228] He was later videoed inside the Capitol Building.[229]

Leading up to the insurrection, Martin wholeheartedly embraced the central themes of the far-right Stop the Steal mobilization. Frequently using hashtags such as “#trumpwon” and “#bidencheated, on August 23, 2020, Martin declared, “#TRUMP2020 wins a historic landslide! F your feelings!”[230] On November 19, Martin wrote, “#Trumpwon it is coming out! The evidence is overwhelming. Can’t wait for the #itoldyouso.”[231]

On November 16, 2020, Martin foreshadowed his January 6 actions, writing, “You know you have made it when you get censored by FB. #Trumpwins big tec is scared. We must stand and fight. We can no longer sit back and hope someone takes action. We must take action!”[232]

Just two weeks before the insurrection, Benjamin Martin posted a mock ad for a Home Depot model of a guillotine, much like the one erected in the field adjacent to the U.S. Capitol building on January 6. The ad announced the guillotine project as “Something you can do with your $600 stimulus check.”[233]

Benjamin Martin Days Before the Insurrection

Benjamin Martin Days Before the Insurrection


On January 5, 2021, Martin shot a selfie with Texas Republican Party chair Allen West and declared, “What an honor to meet such a patriot and Hero!”[234]  About three months later, West would share a stage with Oath Keepers leader Stuart Rhodes. Multiple members of Oath Keepers have been arrested in connection to the insurrection, and Rhodes was under investigation by the FBI for a possible role in the riot at the time.[235]

During the lead-up to January 6, Martin spewed vitriol at the Black Lives Matter movement for police accountability and expressed disdain for mail-in voting. He posted a meme on August 2, 2020, stating, “Say NO to mail in voting.”[236] On August 9, 2020, citing a Washington Times article about Trump adviser Rudy Guiliani, Martin wrote, “If you support BLM you support a Democratic Terrorist Group. It is a HATE group!…People who support terrorist (sic) need to be call out for being the traitor’s (sic) they are.”[237]

On August 28, 2020, on his personal Facebook page, Martin wrote that “A real American will fight to defend small business and private property against rioters and looters, just like Kyle Rittenhouse” – Rittenhouse, the teen far-rightist facing felony homicide charges for killing two people at an August 2020 Kenosha, Wisconsin protest that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake.[238]

Long before he embraced Stop the Steal, however, Benjamin Martin had become an avid COVID denialist. Martin’s Facebook posts before April 2020 consisted mainly of personal subjects and promoting his real estate business. After April, Martin circulated material claiming the lockdowns were not working.[239] Along the way, he spewed misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19, including claiming that people getting the vaccine were at higher risk (of infection) than those who did not get it. He wrote, “Everything” that Dr. Anthony Fauci “has said has been a lie.” He mocked the use of masks and social distancing, promoted ivermectin, and espoused the conspiracy-addled view that COVID-19 is a “scandemic (sic).” [240]

On July 2, 2020, Martin called for action: “Thease (sic) shutdowns are a joke…Friends please don’t obey the orders. Please if we all unite we can stop this madness.”[241]Martin also became known for his hostile confrontations with Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias.[242]

Martin bolstered his various ideas by circulating right-wing sources such as Ben Shapiro, Fox News, The Blaze, and Turning Point USA.[243] He also promoted his views on his “The Real POV” YouTube show.[244]

About a year after he took up COVID denialism, Martin promoted a conspiracy theory popular among “constitutionalist”-style far-rightists, writing that, “The USA stopped existing in 1871 the same year DC was formed. We live under THE UNITED STATES INC. A corporation owned by the city of London. News flash people she is your Queen too!”[245]

About a year-and-a-half after promoting COVID denial politics on his Facebook page and eight months after being reported inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, Benjamin J. Martin continued to have a presence on the platform.

Martin is a member of Reopen California…NOW! an 11,679 member Facebook group founded on the organizational principle that,

“The evidence is clear: COVID-19 is nowhere as deadly as government officials proclaimed, and the high demand on our healthcare system never materialized. Then why are we being kept from our schools, businesses, churches, and other community institutions? Time to reopen the California economy NOW! The purpose of this group is to provide a platform for those who are being harmed by the State’s draconian measures and to hopefully spark a ground swell of support to get your rights back…life…liberty…and the pursuit of happiness.”[246]

But Martin’s place in the world of Facebook COVID denialism extends beyond this. His videos and “thoughts” on things COVID have been plastered across many Facebook groups. A search of a subset of Facebook COVID denialism groups, for instance, found that Martin’s material had appeared on at least Unmask California, Idaho Patriots, Arizona Masks & Lockdowns – “Never Again,” Unmask SC, Re-Open California #EndTheLockdown, NO MAS(K), Long Island PATRIOTS, Citizens to End the Destruction of California.[247]

His last Facebook post came on August 28, just days before his arrest.[248]

COVID Denial and "Stop the Steal"

In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, a national “Stop the Steal” mobilization took off to challenge the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election and press the spurious claim that Donald Trump won. Framing the election as “stolen” directly feeds conspiracy theories.

The themes of the Stop the Steal effort remain a potent pathway to radicalization and are present in COVID denial Facebook groups under study here. For example, some members of these pages openly press the false idea that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election.

Claims that Trump won the 2020 presidential election, or that Joe Biden’s election was illegitimate, have been made by the administrators of Freedom Lovers of Michigan (3232, formerly UNCENSORED: Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine) and Unmask Our Kids San Antonio (635 members). Such posts have also appeared in Resist the Mandate (8,258 members), NO masks in KY schools! (14,430), WISCONSIN Liberty, Freedom, Community, Rally & Action Page (11,761), DO NOT COMPLY (18,890 members), Patriot Floridians for FREEDOM over fear! [formerly Floridians Against Excessive Quarantine] (1,771 members), REOPEN NJ (49,710), REOPEN MA (13,278 members), the North Carolina-based REOPEN MECK (1,741 members), ReOpen South Florida (3,140 members), Open Wisconsin Now (7,170 members), and Freedom515 (10,577 members).[249]

Utah Revival (29,581 members) leader Eric Moustos quoted the far-right website, Gateway Pundit, to claim that Donald Trump won in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, and Minnesota.[250]

In addition to direct statements that Trump won the 2020 presidential election, members of these groups frequently endorse the unfounded idea – in the face of copious evidence to the contrary – that electoral fraud is a severe problem in the United States. For example, claims about electoral fraud have been posted by the admin of Open Up Kansas! (11,233 members). They also appear in DO NOT COMPLY (18,890 members), Unmask New Jersey (1,192 members), Washington State citizens against the MRNA injection mandate (31,834 members), Reopen California…NOW! (11,650 members), FULLY REOPEN CA NOW MOVEMENT (6209 members), and others.[251]

The Patriots for Delaware [formerly Delawareans Against Excessive Quarantine] (11,605 members) established an “election integrity commission to investigate our past election and to stay on top of the upcoming 2022 & 2024 elections.”[252]

White-Washing the January 6 Insurrection

Another potentially radicalizing aspect of the reaction to the January 6 insurrection is the ongoing dismissal of the extent of the violent riot and the spinning of conspiracy theories about the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Just as racism denial can contribute to policies that bolster racism, so can denying the severity of the insurrection, or attributing it to conspiracies, contribute to justifying future insurrectionist activity.

In an example of this, a member of Freedom Lovers of Michigan [formerly UNCENSORED: Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine] (3,233 members) offered an FBI conspiracy and “false flag” account of the insurrection:

“Video recorded that day, and events over the many months since, does look extremely bad for the FBI, or at least powerful elements thereof, as it implicates the agency in a ‘false flag’ attack on the US Capitol as well as a subsequent cover-up.”[253]

Another group member posted the meme, “Of course the FBI staged January 6th to blame Trumpers.”[254] A member of ReOpen Hawaii (1,803 members) wrote, “If this was an ‘insurrection’ it was Pelosi’s insurrection. Pelosi’s claws are all over it.”[255]

Others have minimized the violent nature of the January 6th insurrection. For example, a member of ReopenWA (43,321 members) shared a video of Trump supporters in the US Capitol milling about, mockingly stating, “This will prove how violent and terrifying these people were.”[256]

While at least one respondent pushed back against the intention of the post (to reject that the attack was violent), most agreed, including comments such as, “Oh how horrible, run for the hills Dumbocraps, the sky is falling! Ha ha ha ha ha!” and “Oh my God, look at the fires and assault of the people there. NOT.”[257] Others spun conspiracy theories such as, “4 officers have been suicided because they would not lie to the courts IMO. No other reason.” And one mocked a police officer testifying about his experience of the attack, “And the one cop was almost crying today testifying,” following it with a laughter emoji.[258]

A member of NJ Knuckleheads [formerly Open New Jersey May 1, 2020] (5,364 members) dismissed the gravity of the insurrection and countered with anti-immigrant ideas, writing,

“Trump was impeached for ‘inciting an insurrection’ because a few hundred people came into the capitol building. Biden has signaled to central & south america (sic) that our border is now open… I’m sorry, but inciting 10’s of thousands to invade our country is inciting an invasion which is far worse than inciting an insurrection.”[259]

A member of Long Island PATRIOTS (9,186 members), formerly Re-Open LONG ISLAND, cast the rioters as “political prisoners,” writing, “INSURRECTION MY ASS! These are political prisoners and have rights just like the looters and murderers! They are being denied their rights under the BIDEN ADMINISTRATION!” The post included an announcement of a Look Ahead America “Free the Jan 6th Political Prisoners Rally.”[260]


Ten: The COVID-19 Insurrection


Twelve: COVID Denial Attacks on Workers and Unions


[227] Taub, David. Anti-Mask Activists Will Remain in Fresno Jail After FBI Arrest on Riot Charges. GV Wire. September 3, 2021. = charges/?amp 1

[228] United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Criminal Complaint against Benjamin Martin. August 6, 2021.

[229] Taub, David. Local Trump Supporters at Capitol Riots, Part of ‘Traitor’ Graham Confrontation. GV Wire. January 8, 2021.

[230] Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. November 30, 2021.; Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. August 23, 2020.

[231] Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. November 19, 2020.

[232] Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. November 16, 2020.

[233] Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. December 23, 2021.

[234]Martin, Benjamin. January 5, 2021.

[235] Willis, Oliver. Texas GOP chair shares rally stage with leader of Oath Keepers militia. The American Independent. March 31, 2021.

[236] Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. August 2, 2020.

[237] Benjamin, Martin. Facebook. August 9, 2020.

[238] Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. August 28, 2020.; Vielmetti, Bruce. One year after Kenosha protest shootings, Kyle Rittenhouse’s case has a long way to go. USA Today. August 22, 2021.

[239] Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. April 20, 2020.

[240] Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. August 28, 2021.; Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. June 5, 2021.; Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. February 21, 2021.; Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. July 17, 2020.; Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. December 21, 2020.

[241] Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. July 2, 2020.

[242] Taub, David. Anti-Mask Activists Will Remain in Fresno Jail After FBI Arrest on Riot Charges. GV Wire. September 3, 2021. = charges/?amp 1.

[243] Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. February 17, 2021.; Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. February 13, 2021.; Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. August 12, 2020.; Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. August 2, 2021.

[244] Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. February 18, 2021.

[245] Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. April 5, 2021.

[246]Reopen California…NOW! Facebook. Members.

[247] Search for “Benjamin Martin” in a subset of less than 200 Facebook COVID Denial groups. September 5, 2021. martin

[248] Martin, Benjamin. Facebook. August 28, 2021.

[249]Townsend, Linda. Facebook. Posted in Resist the Mandate. August 18, 2021.; Brenton Moore, Tiffany. Facebook Posted in NO masks in KY schools! August 13, 2021.; Slayden, Melissa (Admin). Facebook. Posted in Unmask Our Kids San Antonio. August 19, 2021.; Rome, Corey. Facebook. Posted in WISCONSIN Liberty, Freedom, Community, Rally & Action Page. August 14, 2021.; Webster, Suzanne. Facebook. Posted in DO NOT COMPLY. July 17, 2021.; Rambler, Romeo (Admin). Facebook. Posted in Freedom Lovers of Michigan. August 2, 2021.; Angelo, Christian. Facebook. Posed in Patriot Floridians for FREEDOM over fear! June 10, 2021.; Usilton, Lynda Marie. Facebook. Posted in REOPEN NJ. August 23, 2021.; Szeto, Garret. Facebook. Posted in REOPEN MA. August 24, 2021.; McNally, Kathy M. Facebook Posted in REOPEN MECK. July 22, 2021.; Angelo, Christian. Facebook. Posted in ReOpen South Florida. June 11, 2021.; Conrad, Linda. Facebook. Posted in Open Wisconsin Now. August 22, 2021.; Keene, Keeno. Facebook. Posted in Freedom515. May 17, 2021.;

[250] Moustos, Eric. Facebook. Posted in Utah Revial. August 2, 2021.

[251] McGinnis, Jackie. Facebook. Posted in DO NOT COMPLY. August 22, 2021.; Cozine, Laura. Facebook. Posted in Unmask New Jersey. August 19, 2021.; Acres, Bedford. Facebook. Posted in Washington State citizens against the MRNA injection mandate. August 12, 2021.; Coombs Redford, Marinda. Facebook. Posted in Reopen California…NOW! August 21, 2021.; Colella Carver, Julia. Facebook. Posted in FULLY REOPEN CA NOW MOVEMENT. August 18, 2021.; Schneider, David. Facebook. Posted in Open Up Kansas! August 12, 2021.;

[252] Patriots for Delaware Admin Team. Facebook Posted in Patriots for Delaware. July 14, 2021.

[253] Powell, Bob. Facebook. Posted in Freedom Lovers of Michigan. June 14, 2021.

[254] Braun, Matthew C. Facebook. Posted in Freedom Lovers of Michigan. June 22, 2021.

[255] Hart, Claudia. Facebook. Posted in ReOpen Hawaii. August 23, 2021.

[256] Fletcher, Craig. Facebook. Posted in ReopenWA. July 27, 2021.

[257] Fletcher, Craig. Facebook. Posted in ReopenWA. July 27, 2021.

[258] Fletcher, Craig. Facebook. Posted in ReopenWA. July 27, 2021.

[259] Chinksy, Mark. Facebook. Posted in NJ Knuckleheads. January 18.

[260] Cricchio, Lorenzo. Facebook. Posted in Long Island PATRIOTS. July 16, 2021.

Facebook and COVID Denial

How the platform is fueling another wave of far-right activism, insurrectionism, and violence, and what we can do to stop it.
A Special Report of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights

Copyright © 2021. Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights.