Clay Parker (left) and Bobby Lee (right), both members of the Salt and Light Brigade (Screenshots via videos posted to YouTube)
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In the video, the men are giddy as they stand on the terrace of the U.S. Capitol Building, well beyond police barricades, as part of the insurrectionist mob that overtook the heart of American democracy on January 6.
“Started down at the bottom of the hill of the Capitol, breached the barricades, walked up the hill,” says Bobby Lee, turning the camera on himself.
Chad Estes, in a Southern twang, labels the assault on the Capitol “awesome” and compares the rioters to Revolutionary War heroes. “They’re grateful that they didn’t defund their own police,” he adds of the lawmakers locked inside the building.
“What do you think it’s going to be like on January 20, if they put Biden out here trying to get swore in?” asks Clay Parker, waving a flag emblazoned with a pine tree and the words “An Appeal to Heaven.” “What do you think it’s gonna be like then?”
At one point, someone off-camera just shouts it out: “We’re having a coup.”
For the three men in the video, January 6 was a triumph—enough that they filmed numerous videos of themselves (including a music video set to the song “God’s Not Dead”). They were attending President Trump’s rally and supporting his baseless claim that the November election had been stolen from him. And they all belong to the Salt and Light Brigade, a far-right group that aims to wage “spiritual warfare” on behalf of Pass the Salt Ministries, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has previously identified as an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group.
The Brigade portrays itself as a group of Christian warriors dedicated to defending American culture from their enemies—most prominently, LGBTQ+ people and their allies, although the group is also deeply opposed to supporters of abortion rights. Obsessed with warlike rhetoric and the perceived erosion of Christian values, the messaging of the Brigade and Pass the Salt Ministries also fixates on the idea that American men are becoming, in the words of the group’s leader, Dave Daubenmire, “sissified.”
According to the videos they posted online, Brigade members ended up participating in the breach of the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, an attack that led to the deaths of five people and dozens of arrests. After VICE News inquired about the videos, many were scrubbed from the internet.
The videos don’t show whether any associates of Pass the Salt Ministries ended up entering the Capitol Building. But they do show the three men standing just feet away from it as Trump supporters wander around them. The facade of the Supreme Court is, at times, visible in the background.
Daubenmire also showed up at the Capitol on the day of the insurrection. He has a long history of attacking LGBTQ+ people and bemoaning women’s political and economic advancement.
Over just the last few years, he’s compared gay sex to child murder and bestiality and said that letting women play sports could turn them into lesbians. In another rant, he mocked former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who’s gay, and called to make homosexuality “unthinkable again.” On Wednesday, Daubenmire misgendered Dr. Rachel Levine, who has been nominated to serve as President Joe Biden’s assistant secretary of health. (She would be the first openly transgender person to be confirmed by the Senate.)
In a now-deleted video from January 6, Daubenmire claimed that he was being filmed from the steps of the Capitol.
“I don’t want to act like I’m brave or anything, because I didn’t have anything to do with this. There’s some brave patriots that, somewhere along the line, stormed the gates,” said Daubenmire, a Trump flag draped over his shoulders. “Hey, we tried to do it through peaceful means. We still hope to do it through peaceful means. But, I guess, game on.”
“We own the steps of the U.S. Capitol,” he said.
Daubenmire has also propagated conspiracy theories: He’s questioned whether millions of Jews died in the Holocaust and said that the coronavirus is a “reaction to 5G.” Daubenmire, who is white, has wondered aloud whether the U.S. has benefited from accepting interracial marriage.
Daubenmire also maintains a regular webcast and styles himself as “Coach Dave”—a nod to his past life as a football coach at a public high school in London, Ohio. Daubenmire liked to lead his players in prayer, which triggered a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and kicked off his career as a far-right pundit.
In the years since, Daubenmire and his followers have thrown themselves into protesting for countless conservative and fringe causes. He’s known for screaming at abortion patients at a clinic in Columbus, a local abortion rights activist told VICE News. In October, Daubenmire took people to pray outside former Attorney General Bill Barr’s house; Barr walked out and prayed with them.
In December, Daubenmire brought a prayer group to the Great Serpent Mound, a sacred and historic Native American site in Ohio, which Daubenmire claimed released “dark energy.” The leader of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, Philip Yenyo, told a local news outlet that Daubenmire and his group disrespected the ancestors who were buried there.
“I’m not calling the Indians dark,” Daubenmire told the outlet. “This has nothing to do with the Indians.”
Daubenmire isn’t the only member of the Salt ecosystem with a social media presence. Lee, who filmed himself at the Capitol, has also posted videos on YouTube about practicing what he calls “Christian warrior training” for the Salt and Light Brigade. In one, Lee promises to teach people to “demonstrate masculine aggression without hesitation and without apology when necessary.”
The man who spoke of defunding the police, Estes, has said that he previously served in the Marines. VICE News has confirmed that Estes worked for the Texas Highway Patrol Division, including as a police officer, from March 1994 to October 2019. That time period overlaps with his involvement with Daubenmire, who he first “joined” in 2014, when the two traveled to Washington, D.C., to fight same-sex marriage, according to Estes’ speaker biography for a April 2019 far-right Christian conference.
Estes wasn’t shy about the fact that he was a cop: In that bio, he’s described as a “current Law Enforcement Officer in Texas.” He gave a talk titled “The In’s and Out’s of Building Your Own Brigade.”
Daubenmire, Lee, and Estes did not reply to VICE News’ requests for comment. But Lee’s YouTube account has since been “terminated for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines”; on the account, videos of the Pass the Salt members’ time in Washington, D.C., could be viewed days after law enforcement started arresting people in connection to the Capitol riots. They opened with a slogan: “Truth sounds like hate, to those that hate the truth.”
“To my knowledge, Pass the Salt Ministries does not hate any person or group,” Parker told VICE News over Facebook. “Hate is absolutely not promoted, but instead care and love for all.”
In a broadcast last week, Daubenmire insisted that he had only “peaceably assembled” to show support for the bogus claim that the November election was fraudulent—and suggested that he’d been paid a visit by the FBI.
“They got the FBI agents out checking with people, saying, ‘Why are you coming to D.C. for a redress of your grievances?’ Well, the Constitution guarantees me that right,” Daubenmire said. “They say, ‘Yeah, but some other guy started a riot.’ Well, what’s that have to do with me?”
Then, Daubenmire compared himself to a child having a tantrum.
“I know sometimes you gotta act like a little child, sit in the middle of the living room, and stomp your feet,” said Daubenmire, as he began to yell about the apparent injustice of no one taking his spurious claims seriously. “I’m 68 years old, and I’m gonna tell you something: That’s not fair!”