Patriot Party of Mississippi founder John Williams, left, uses a crowd volunteer to demonstrate the group’s moves while on Capitol grounds before and during the Jan 6. riot.

HERNANDO – Between 60-75 people gathered outside the DeSoto County Courthouse on Sunday for a rally organized by a local conservative group called the Patriot Party of Mississippi.

Members of the Patriot Party of Mississippi were among those who attended protests in Washington on Jan. 6 during Congress’ certification of electoral votes.

The group’s leader, John Williams, spent an hour detailing the experience of group members that traveled to Washington last Wednesday to demonstrate at the Capitol. During the rally, Williams also covered the group’s laundry list of grievances, which included railing against establishment Republicans and parroting conspiracy theories related to the presidential election and the deadly Capitol riot.

“On January 6, 2021 (the federal government) became tyrannical,” Williams said at the rally. “I’m just telling you, as far as I’m concerned, Congress declared war on the American people and the American Constitution on January 6. So we’re at that point.”

READ MORE: Congressmen Trent Kelly, Michael Guest met with Mississippi ‘patriot’ group before Capitol riot.

Williams maintains that none of the around 30 group members that went to Washington participated in the Capitol riot. They did travel to Capitol grounds following President Trump’s speech at his “Save America” rally at the National Mall, but never crossed barricades set up by Capitol police, according to Williams. The group then dispersed after tear gas was deployed in their area because of safety concerns for their elderly members, one as old as 82.

Some of the group’s members denied that any of the rioters who entered the Capitol were Trump supporters, while Williams chalks it up to a couple hundred “knuckleheads” that don’t represent Trump supporters as a whole, mixed in with Antifa members posing as Trump supporters.

Antifa is short for “anti-fascists” and used as a blanket term to refer to left-wing, anti-racist groups.

“I’m not trying to say that Trump supporters didn’t break into the Capitol, they did… This was coordinated to give a black eye to Trump supporters, and we’re not the ones who broke into the Capitol,” Williams said.

Williams says that most Trump supporters at the Capitol were peaceful, and that most of the people who stormed the Capitol were far-left Antifa activists. This claim is false and has been debunked by the FBI.

Why do they believe the rioters were members of Antifa? Williams claims one can tell based on their all-black clothing or appearance.

“If you’ve ever been up there, spotting Antifa and BLM is really easy. They’re all young. They’ve got nose rings, and piercings,” Williams said.

BLM refers to those who participated in Black Lives Matter protests last summer.

Williams also claims he saw Capitol police on the east side of the Capitol grounds taking down barricades to let members of Antifa inside. In reality, the far-right rioters tore down barricades and attacked Capitol police officers on their way to the Capitol.

READ MORE: Pro-Trump mob storms U.S. Capitol, members of Congress evacuated.

The rioters — many of whom wore pro-Trump paraphenalia and carried Confederate flags — broke windows and ransacked congressional offices and chambers. The effort to protest and overturn Joe Biden’s election over President Donald Trump was ultimately unsuccessful.

At least five people — including a U.S. Capitol police officer — have died as a result of the riot. One woman died after being shot by Capitol police, and others died after experiencing medical emergencies during the events. The breach marked the first time that the Capitol has been under siege since the War of 1812.

Williams and other group members feel like the backlash they’ve received for protesting is unwarranted, and some even feel betrayed by Trump himself.

“I feel like Trump kind of hoodwinked us too, you know, he sort of threw us under the bus,” Williams said. “We went up there to stand up for him. And we came back like a soldier from Vietnam. Our country (is) trying to spit on us and paint us as domestic terrorists.”

The group was motivated to travel to Washington by claims from President Trump alleging rigged elections in states such as Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia. Multiple crowd members brought up theories during the event that have been disproven, such as voting machines from Dominion Voting Systems switching votes cast for Trump to Biden votes. These allegations, spread by conservative media figures and politicians, have been disproven and have resulted in Dominion filing a defamation lawsuit against former Trump campaign legal advisor Sidney Powell.

Trump’s election challenges have been repeatedly rejected by state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Trump’s own attorney general, William Barr, has also said that no election fraud took place on a scale necessary to overturn the election.

Before the violence at the Capitol began, around half of William’s group met with two of Mississippi’s Republican congressmen, Reps. Trent Kelly and Michael Guest. After the violence was quelled and Congress returned to complete the certification process, Reps. Kelly, Guest, Steven Palazzo and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith all backed a failed effort by lawmakers to overturn Biden’s victory, citing the same disproven theories peddled by Williams and his group.

During the Sunday rally, Williams and crowd members expressed an anger that they said is directed more at establishment Republicans than their Democratic opponents. Williams said that Democratic lawmakers fight for their supporters in a way that Republicans don’t. He even gave Democrats kudos for their alleged theft of the election.

“I believe it was Walter Matthau in The Bad News Bears that said: ‘If you ain’t cheating, you don’t want to win bad enough.’ So I give the Democrats credit for that. Maybe we just need to learn how to cheat,” Williams said.

Williams directed group members to turn their anger toward local and state politicians that supported Congress certifying the results of the presidential election.

“I’m sorry if I offend anybody. Actually, I’m not. (Sen.) Roger Wicker is the worst one of all. And he has to go,” Williams said. “And I’m gonna tell you what, I don’t want to wait for the next election to get him out of there. Because I don’t trust the elections anymore. So I’m up for ideas on how we can pressure him to conveniently retire. But that’s what needs to happen.”

Sen. Wicker did not vote in support of overturning the election results.

READ MORE: Mississippi’s GOP congressmen voted to overturn Biden win in Arizona, Pennsylvania.

Williams wants to turn the Patriot Party group into a registered political party in Mississippi to challenge Republican candidates in down the ticket races. The problem with that is he fears that their attempts at organizing will be impeded by censorship from “big tech” that’s controlled by liberals determined to stamp out conservative dissent, he said. He encouraged supporters to give him their email addresses in order to preemptively prepare for potential bans from social media platforms.

“The First Amendment, freedom of speech, is being suppressed as we speak in this country like it’s never been before,” Williams said. “And if you don’t believe that, you’ve had your eyes closed.”

Their fear of censorship is based on the recent de-platforming of President Trump by multiple social media companies that say Trump’s rhetoric incited the mob violence on Jan. 6. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Reddit and even Pinterest have all suspended President Trump’s accounts indefinitely.

People on the far right have migrated in droves to the social media platform Parler in response to the alleged censorship of conservative voices, mostly pertaining to restrictions being placed on accounts spreading false election claims. Saturday, Amazon booted Parler off its web hosting service, and it was removed from the Apple and Google Play app stores.

Williams and his group’s members say they don’t know what the future holds, but they’re preparing for any scenario, even taking up arms to be the “last line of defense for freedom,” as one supporter put it. They even have a contingency plan in case President Biden declared martial law and came to take their guns.

“We have designated points in DeSoto County that are gathering points,” William said. “One is this courthouse, the other (is) Snowdon Grove. If something happens, you can meet your brothers in arms, at Snowden Grove or here. I’ll just leave it at that.”

Editor’s note: This article first published on Jan. 11, 2021, in the DeSoto Times Tribune.

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Will Stribling covered healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.