From Uvalde to Lewiston, Extremists Are Responding to Mass Shootings

uvalde militia

The Justice Department released a 575-page report last month detailing law enforcement failures that exacerbated the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The document identifies groups that were first to respond to the shooting, with one glaring omission: a citizen militia called Patriots for America.

Shortly after the gunman was killed on May 24, 2022, members of the Texas-based militia posted footage approximately 40 feet from the shooter’s truck — revealing a loaded semi-automatic rifle that investigators had not yet recovered — and 50 feet from an incident command center. Newly-verified footage shows that militia volunteers spent at least eight minutes beyond the established police line, recording videos and spreading conspiracy theories from the scene, unimpeded by law enforcement.

Far-right responses to mass shootings create personal safety risks and advance harmful conspiracy theories. When extremists frame themselves as humanitarian or “neighborhood watch” groups, they sow distrust in government agencies and make it easier for sympathizers to mobilize. Previously, emboldened militias and neo-Nazis cosplaying as humanitarians have targeted public officials, threatened unarmed civilians at gunpoint, and even been convicted of murder.

Extremist mobilization to mass casualty events appears to be an emerging pattern; in October 2023, armed neo-Nazis responded to shootings in Lewiston, Maine, and gained access to the gunman’s address after officials claimed a secure perimeter was established.

The Response

Founded in 2015, Patriots for America (PFA) is a right-wing militia that operates along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Texas-based group claims to defend the border while “working together with law enforcement to rescue minors and children from sex trafficking.” The militia was active in neighboring Zavala County when, according to PFA volunteer Natly Denise, its members responded to reports of an incident in nearby Uvalde.

The militia has released footage that shows heavily armed PFA volunteers intercepting migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border as far back as 2021. These videos typically feature camo-clad volunteers, armed with long guns, hiking through remote swathes of southern Texas. In footage of one patrol attributed to PFA’s leader, Samuel Hall, and shared by the Western States Center, five migrants are instructed to empty their pockets and unlace their shoes — a harsh tactic employed by immigration enforcement agents to prevent detainees from traversing rough terrain, according to former senior Border Patrol agent Jenn Budd.

Patriots for America volunteers regularly espouse QAnon conspiracy theories online, according to the Tech Transparency Project. This rhetoric often targets migrants and promotes false narratives regarding secret child exploitation rings. PFA’s leader, Hall, even traveled to Juárez, Mexico, to investigate baseless claims that a Christian charity was involved in an international child sex trafficking scheme.

In 2023, Hall sued the McKinney Independent School District in Texas after being banned from its campus for railing against the “distribution of child pornography” in a school board meeting — part of a national campaign by conservatives to ban literature they deem inappropriate. 

Hall, PFA’s leader, declined to comment for this story.

This predilection for far-right conspiracies and distrust of federal officials was blatant among the PFA volunteers who responded to the 2022 shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

In footage uploaded to Instagram at 3:34 p.m. Central time, PFA volunteer Natly Denise and a man identified as independent right-wing journalist Taylor Cramer can be seen driving north on Farm to Market Road 1436 in La Pryor, Texas, toward Uvalde. Denise claimed that Cramer received a “news notification,” prompting them to investigate further. By this time, the gunman had killed 19 fourth grade students and two teachers, and injured 17 others inside Robb Elementary School, according to the Justice Department’s report.

In a statement to Rolling Stone, Cramer denied any association between himself and PFA.

“There’s some stuff happening with… with all of this.” Denise told her Instagram audience of nearly 53,000 followers. “I’m putting it all together, but… we’re going to be there very soon.”

Less than 26 minutes later, Denise restarts her livestream — this time, from a sidewalk near Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School. As she narrates, Denise pans across the scene to reveal PFA associates dressed in camouflage and body armor, and a low roofline appears over her right shoulder. Rolling Stone has verified that the structure is the northwest face of Robb Elementary School.

ROBB composite

Above: A composite image shows Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, created from a video posted to Instagram by Natly Denise on May 24, 2022. Below: Identical features appear in Google Street View imagery captured at this location.

Natly Denise/Instagram; Google Street View

Soon after, Denise turns toward a vehicle that appears to have crashed into a nearby ditch. She approaches the wreck, identified in the DOJ report, alongside PFA volunteer Terry Anderson, and a gray Ford F-150 comes into focus; beside it are a dark bag and what appears to be a loaded semi-automatic rifle.

Metadata attached to Denise’s archived Instagram livestream indicates that she and Anderson recorded footage of the shooter’s vehicle before 4:02 p.m.; the Uvalde Critical Incident Review corroborates that the F-150 and nearby evidence had not been assessed by this time. In fact, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) investigators failed to process the vehicle and its contents that day, which caused evidence to be compromised by heavy rainfall and winds.

Denise and Anderson captured footage within 40 feet of the gunman’s truck, which was not secured by nearby officers wearing what resembled DPS uniforms — save an errant strand of yellow “caution” tape lying on the ground.

Behind the wreck, Robb Elementary School comes into full view. 

Rolling Stone has verified the footage shared by Denise; the northwest roofline, south pavilion, nearby fencing, and telecommunications equipment match Google Street View imagery collected in June 2023. From their positions, PFA volunteers were less than 400 feet from Robb Elementary School’s northwest entrance.

Denise pans across the scene to show a nearby incident command center. A cluster of tents and first responder vehicles surrounds the Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home, where students are being reunited with their families. Fifty feet away, militia volunteers gather for a group prayer. PFA leader Hall leads the prayer beside Denise, Anderson, and the militia’s second in command, Shawn Tredway.

Denise, Tredway, and Anderson did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.

PFA volunteers remain on the scene until an officer who appears to be affiliated with the Uvalde Police Department instructs Texas DPS agents to move the group behind the police line. “I’m gonna be honest with you guys… it feels like there’s something more to this” says Denise, before ducking under yellow tape which reads, “police line do not cross.”

Neither the Texas Department of Public Safety nor the Uvalde Police Department responded to Rolling Stone’s requests for comment.

Militia volunteers spent over eight minutes inside the police perimeter — an area that appears to be a staging zone between the crime scene’s inner and outer boundaries. The gunman’s nearby truck remained unsecured during this time. While PFA volunteers were not recorded initially crossing a police barrier, footage shows them ducking under one to leave. 

PFA volunteers remained on the scene for at least 19 minutes.

Later, footage timestamped at 4:37 p.m. and posted to Instagram by Denise the same evening shows a man resembling PFA leader Hall inside Uvalde’s nearby SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center. The facility was being used as a reunification site for Robb Elementary students and their guardians. As the militia volunteers were removed for recording grieving families, the man resembling Hall was asked about PFA’s affiliation; he claimed that his militia was working with Don McLaughlin, Uvalde’s then-mayor.

McLaughlin, who did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment, resigned from the position in July 2023 to run for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives.

An Emerging Pattern

This form of vigilantism is concerning, and it isn’t the only time far-right extremists have mobilized to the scene of a mass shooting. 

In the late hours of Oct. 25, 2023, law enforcement officers initiated a search for the gunman who killed 18 people in Lewiston, Maine. Unbeknownst to these officers, they were not alone. Also patrolling the woods of rural Maine were purported members of Nationalist Social Club 131 (NSC-131), a neo-Nazi organization based in New England.

Historically, NSC-131 has “targeted immigrant, LGBTQ+, and Jewish communities” under the leadership of Christopher Hood, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The neo-Nazi group, which was recently sued by the Massachusetts and New Hampshire attorney generals for civil rights violations, was among the first on the scene in Lewiston. Soon after the first 911 call was placed, armed neo-Nazis mobilized to the suspect’s registered address.

Hood, the NSC-131 leader, did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.

Just 28 minutes after law enforcement publicly identified the suspect, an anonymous NSC-131 member posted a call to action on Telegram, imploring sympathizers to “converge on Lewiston… to assist in the search.” 

“It is critical that Nationalists show up to help support the community,” the message, timestamped to 9:48 p.m., read.

This call to action, first reported by the Daily Dot, had been viewed at least 5,500 times by the following morning.

A clip shared to NSC-131’s Telegram channel at 1:57 a.m. on Oct. 26 shows four men driving down a nondescript, moonlit road. A woman’s voice resonates, in static audio that seems to come from a police scanner, played through a bluetooth speaker. At least one of the men is armed, cradling an AR-style rifle in his lap.

Additional footage posted to Telegram by Hood and geolocated by Rolling Stone shows the gunman’s registered address in Bowdoin. A distinctive fence post, set of illuminated windows and doors, and nearby greenery is unique to this location at 941 Meadow Road.

In a preliminary report, Maine State Police claimed that tactical teams had arrived at the shooter’s residence by 10:01 p.m. — 13 minutes after NSC-131 sympathizers were called to join the manhunt. According to the assessment, a secure perimeter was established around the gunman’s house at this time.

This report conflicts directly with the NSC-131 leader’s footage, which appears to have been filmed from a car window as it passes the shooter’s residence. “The Nationalists… were shocked that there were no police vehicles outside, and no law enforcement stopped them from surveying the property,” Hood’s caption read. “We must step up to the plate and come to our peoples [sic] defense ourselves.”

lewiston composite

A composite image shows 941 Meadow Road in Bowdoin, Maine, created from a video shared to Telegram by NSC-131 leader Christopher Hood on Oct. 28, 2023. Below: Identical features appear in Google Street View imagery captured at the shooter’s registered address.

Christopher Hood/Telegram; Google Street View

The Maine Department of Public Safety and State Police did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment beyond disclosing that the agency does not have any record of a search warrant for the Meadow Road address.

The Risks of Extremist Mobilization to Mass Shootings

These responses to geographically disparate mass shootings exemplify anti-government vigilantism by right-wing extremists who believe that the government is incapable of protecting Americans. 

In recent months, chapters of the Oath Keepers and Patriot Front have responded to environmental disasters, demonstrating similar motivations and behavioral parallels. 

When anti-government extremists attempt to frame themselves as charitable, “neighborhood watch” organizations, it can endanger victims, first responders, and bystanders. And when armed extremists respond to mass casualty incidents, the risks to personal safety are exacerbated.

Historically, the organized anti-government movement has been in direct conflict with federal agencies during standoffs at Waco, Ruby Ridge, Bundy Ranch, and Malheur. This form of vigilantism — wherein extremists respond to mass casualty incidents and other catastrophes — more closely resembles anti-government militia activity along the U.S.-Mexico border. Now, extremists who harbor distrust for the federal government are attempting to take its place.

Critics argue that law enforcement agencies — which failed to confront the Uvalde shooter for 77 minutes or capture the Lewiston shooter for three days — are in desperate need of community support. Among other far-right militias and activist groups, organizations like PFA and NSC-131 claim to provide this. 


However, their distrust for some government officials isn’t predicated on their analysis of botched police responses to mass casualty events; it’s colored by conspiracies about U.S. government officials facilitating child sex trafficking and aiding an invasion by foreign soldiers at the southern border. Recognizing this false equivalence provides additional context for why organizations near the fringes of conservative politics are responding to catastrophes.

In an increasingly turbulent political environment, government and law enforcement officials need to take a hard look at how extremists operate in their jurisdictions, and how far-right responses to a growing list of political, environmental, and public health risks threaten vulnerable communities.

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