From Malheur To Jan. 6: Militia Organizes Letter Writing Campaign To Insurrectionist ‘Political Prisoners’

WASHINGTON DC - JANUARY 6: Members of the Proud Boys make a hand gesture while walking near the US Capitol in Washington, DC on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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Those imprisoned and awaiting trial for alleged crimes related to the Jan. 6 insurrection have benefitted from a torrent of positive mail, thanks in part to one North Carolina militia group.

The Patriot Mail Project bills itself as a grassroots effort to support what its members regard as “political prisoners” — Jan. 6 participants who have been detained for their involvement in the Capitol insurrection. It’s operated by members of the Stokes County Militia, a North Carolina group that ran a similar campaign in support of the 2015 Bundy siege of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Paula Calloway, a member of the Stokes County Militia and organizer of the letter writing campaign, told TPM that she got involved in politics in 2010, over a local King, North Carolina controversy around whether the city could continue to hang a Christian flag on a public veterans’ memorial. Calloway was pro-flag.

The Jan. 6 campaign began, Calloway wrote in a blog post about the effort, with a call from Pete Santilli. A right-wing internet radio host, Santilli was arrested at Malheur before federal prosecutors dropped charges against him.

The ensuing letter-writing project by the organization — which the Southern Poverty Law Center described as “a paramilitary antigovernment group” — involves a Facebook group, a website, and a spreadsheet of 92 people charged in connection with the insurrection. The militia, which also ran a Christmas program for the kids of Jan. 6 defendants, helps sort, forward, and do postage for mail to the insurrectionists.

The correspondence has produced a series of maudlin letters from Capitol rioters written in something approaching the style of the dispatches used to narrate Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary.

Take Kyle Fitzsimmons, who described in a November 2021 letter how Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) led the rioters in a prayer circle during a congressional visit.

“I hunt and trap and am missing the daily woods walk I would be taking checking the trap line this time of year,” he wrote in the Nov. 17 handwritten message, wistfully describing autumn in Maine.

Fitzsimmons faces federal charges including assault on a federal officer. A butcher by trade, Fitzsimmons donned his white protective coat on Jan. 6 before he made his way to the front of the Capitol’s west terrace and allegedly attacked Capitol police.

“Being away for so long has put a crimp in the household’s finances and I worry about my baby girl seeing something to light up her eyes on Christmas morning,” he added in his letter, which Patriot Mail Project posted online. “Many of the folks who have written me have heard of my love of that little girl and I’m sure more will before this spectacle sees itself resolved.”

He added that “MTG led a prayer circle,” telling the prisoners “don’t lose hope” and “you are not forgotten.”

“From the cells of the D.C. DOC,” Fitzsimmons signed the letter, the flourish referring to the city’s Department of Corrections.

He addressed the letter to Calloway, who disputed the SPLC’s characterization of the group in texts with TPM.

“You will find us at BBQs and Christmas parades not in the woods running around in gear like the SPLC and others would like to think,” she wrote.

Calloway added that she regarded the Jan. 6 defendants as political prisoners because she felt that the few who are behind bars are receiving disproportionately harsh treatment.

It’s a line that echoes calls from politicians like Rep. Greene and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who apparently first noticed the horrific conditions in D.C. and federal jails when Jan. 6 defendants ended up there. The D.C. jails are notoriously decrepit; it only became an issue for many right-wing lawmakers when Capitol rioters had to face those conditions.

Calloway also claimed that the insurrection itself was riven with federal agents, and was itself the product of a government conspiracy.

“If you go back and look at the Malheur cases you will find in the end that it was informants, undercovers and instigators who were responsible for the outcome,” she wrote. “Same with the J6 event. Have you not seen the footage where they are being ushered in by law enforcement, moving barricades and waving them through?”

Elected Republicans seeking to deflect blame for the attack have pushed that line over the past year, baselessly claiming that those who attacked Congress were otherwise well-intentioned anti-voter fraud activists, baited into the violent assault by unnamed — and unfound — federal agents. The former president himself has claimed that “the insurrection took place on November 3rd, it was the completely unarmed protest of the rigged election that took place on January 6th.”

The letter-writing drive is organized through an online spreadsheet, focusing mostly on those who either remain behind bars or who are under court-imposed home confinement. The list appears geared toward those who are fighting the charges, and guides readers to crowdfunding sites to help the alleged insurrectionists pay their legal fees.

The scale of the project isn’t totally clear. The group boasts that it’s sent out “thousands” of letters to Jan. 6 defendants; given that only around 700 have been charged, that would mean an inundation for the relative few — more than 80 — who remain imprisoned.

The Patriot Mail Project isn’t the only group to have the idea, either. Gateway Pundit, the conspiracy-theory promoting website, recently called on readers to send Christmas cards to three alleged insurrectionists who would then share the seasonal greetings “with the rest of the prisoners,” in site editor Jim Hoft’s words.

The Patriot Mail Project blasts out letters that it has received from Jan. 6 participants on its Telegram channel and social media feeds, including one from an unnamed correspondent who described how corrections officers, upon handing out a bundle of mail from well-wishers, said “that this jail has never before in history seen such support from the community.”

The author went on to describe how the insurrection defendants reacted.

“Some of the ‘manly men’ tried to hide it, but there was not one person who wasn’t deeply affected by that act of kindness,” the person wrote.

It’s all at a time when, recent polling shows, one-third of Americans believe that violence against the government is justified.

Calloway emphasized in texts with TPM that her group does not condone violence, and that it mainly focuses on disaster relief and charity work. She went on to describe the group as having “support from our local law enforcement agencies and our community far and near.”

It’s the same point that many commentators have made since the insurrection: that the members of the mob, and those sympathetic to them, are everyday Americans, even if they call themselves members of a “militia.” Sometimes, that’s by design.

“We just don’t look like or behave in the ways the media would like to portray any group with any similar word in their name,” she told TPM.

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