Following the apprehension of armed men at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Troy, New York last week, authorities say they found weapons, fireworks, ammunition and a tactical manual from a regional “Minuteman” group in vehicles belonging to the armed crew.
Initially, the entire eight-person crew was detained at the protest. Two were subsequently charged and the investigation is ongoing, according to the Rensselaer County district attorney’s office.
At the protest that Sunday, police tracked the men as they walked through the protest crowd, then followed them back to a parking lot.
Law enforcement found “a tactical manual tying the group to the New England Minutemen militia group” in the vehicles the men brought to the protest, according to a statement from Rensselaer County District Attorney Mary Pat Donnelly’s office.
The manual “was eye opening to read,” Troy’s Deputy Police Chief Dan DeWolf told the Times Union.
One of the men charged, a soldier at Fort Drum, faces one count of criminal possession of a firearm in the second degree. Noah Latham was allegedly carrying a loaded “ghost” hand gun at the protest — that is, a gun without a serial number, increasingly favored by pro-gun absolutists as a way of skirting regulation.
An arrest report for Latham obtained by TPM describes his occupation as “Army UAV operator,” likely meaning that he pilots “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or drones.
Another man in the group, Nathaniel Shepard, was charged with two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, 16 counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, and one count of criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree.
Police found two assault rifles and scores of ammunition in his vehicle, according to the complaint against Shepard. He also allegedly carried a billy club openly during the protest, a misdemeanor.
The Times-Union noted that a group by the same name as the one cited by prosecutors — New England Minute-Men, or NEMM — is featured in a YouTube video showing purported members of the group doing various military-style drills. Elsewhere on the web, an Instagram account purporting to belong to a member of the group features several references to the “Boogaloo,” a term meaning armed conflict with the government that has become popular among extremists on the internet.
But it hasn’t stayed on the web: “Boogaloo” supporters have flaunted their beliefs publicly at protests recently. And some have resorted to violence: Two men allegedly involved in the Boogaloo movement were charged federally Tuesday with the murder of a Federal Protective Services officer in Oakland; one of them was also charged with the murder of a sheriff’s deputy a week after the Oakland killing. Three men in Nevada face charges over alleged plans they had to use the Black Lives Matter protests there as cover for violence.
Three of the men in the Troy protest group were from out-of-state, according to Donnelly’s office. During the protest, the men wore body armor and bullet proof vests and some carried loaded guns, two-way radios, and batons, according to the statement.
And though it’s not clear how or if Shepard and Latham are members of the “Minuteman” group — their lawyer didn’t return TPM’s request for comment — it would be just the latest in a pattern of armed groups showing up to Black Lives Matter protests.
Upon his arrest at the protest, Latham reportedly told police he was there to “keep the peace.”
But prosecutors say the group’s intentions still aren’t clear.
“The decision of these individuals to attend the rally with loaded firearms, protective gear, fireworks and two-way radios leaves open questions as to their intentions,” Donnelly, the district attorney, said in a statement.
Local station 7News reported that it spoke to Latham for a February story about a proposal to make Jefferson County a “sanctuary” for the Second Amendment.
“We want to restore the Constitution and Second Amendment status as best we can because a lot of us feel that it has really been infringed upon by the SAFE Act and a lot of the new proposed laws,” he told the station at the time, referring to New York’s Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act.
The station noted Facebook posts from Latham that were critical of the police. “[S]o you’re just gonna use police brutality on protesters against police brutality at the police brutality protest,” he wrote recently. Latham also called for police jobs to require a four-year criminal justice degree, the station noted.
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