On Jan. 6 Matthew Thomas Purse, a 45-year-old Navy veteran from Irvine, California, arrived at the Capitol with a red patch reading “DON’T SHOOT — PRESS” sewed to the back of his black tactical vest. Big, white letters on his helmet screamed “PRESS,” too. And a press pass declaring his credentials as a member of the media dangled from a lanyard around his neck.
But later that day, as he took hold of a microphone on the steps of the Capitol building, it was clear that Purse was actually a participant at the anti-democratic “Save America” rally — which had just exploded into a deadly attempted insurrection.
Moreover, it was clear that he hated journalists.
“First of all, mission accomplished, Patriots,” Purse said to scattered cheers from the right-wing mob that had just stormed, vandalized and looted the building, disrupting a joint session of Congress, according to a video reviewed by HuffPost. “History has been made here today. Simultaneously you broke in through the front and through the rear! They could not stop you! You occupied the building! You caused them to stop what they were doing! They had to evacuate! They couldn’t complete their session! Mission accomplished! Excellent!”
Before handing off the microphone to a fellow Make America Great Again enthusiast, Purse gestured over to a patch of grass near the Capitol building. “The lying press is hidden over there ... ” he said.
Later, Purse led a group of about 20 supporters of former President Donald Trump to a staging area for media outlets, where he immediately started accosting reporters, at one point targeting an Israeli correspondent with anti-Semitic slurs. Footage from the onslaught went viral and quickly became emblematic of the violent vitriol directed at the “fake news media” on Jan. 6.
Yet months later in July, after being arrested and charged for being part of the horde that invaded the Capitol building, Purse once again tried to pass himself off as a journalist, telling The Associated Press he was in the Capitol as “part of a legitimate news organization,” which he declined to name. “The record will show I was not there in any illegal capacity,” he said.
But HuffPost has learned the name of Purse’s “legitimate news organization.” It’s called Happening Center, and it is an unabashedly white nationalist website which hosts livestreams and a private message forum. It gained thousands of followers throughout the political tumult of 2020. Videos and social media posts produced by Happening Center — archived and preserved by anonymous anti-fascist researchers — show it at times embracing outright neo-Nazism and praising mass murderers.
Of all the characters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, Purse could prove to be one of the most malevolent. The horrifying extent of his extremism has gone unreported, both in the press and in court documents, and is further evidence of the fascist ideology that drove the events of Jan. 6.
His presence also undercuts the revisionist right-wing narrative that the rioters were merely a group of bumbling MAGA tourists, as opposed to what they really were: the vanguard of a dangerous, racist mass movement hellbent on destroying what exists of American democracy.
Neither Purse nor his lawyer, Hilary Potashner, responded to repeated requests for comment on this story.
‘Mr. Extra Creepy’
Television viewers across the world saw Purse’s zealotry that day. On Al Jazeera Balkans, he led a pack of Trump supporters as they charged into the part of the Capitol lawn designated for media, immediately harassing reporters. “This is the lying press!” Purse yelled into the Al Jazeera camera as the correspondent struggled to continue his broadcast.
In Denmark, viewers could see him heckle Danish Broadcasting Channel reporter Lillian Kretz. “Sorry, sir, I’m trying to do my job,” Kretz pleaded with Purse, attempting to calm him down.
“Well, you know what? I’m trying to do my job too,” Purse responded. “You know what part of my job is? Getting in your face!”
And in Israel, viewers could see Purse barge in front of the camera while harassing Channel 13 reporter Gil Tamary. “I’m gonna get in your face now and I’ll tell you why, yid,” Purse said, using a slur for Jew.
“What is a goy?” Purse continued, using a Hebrew term for a non-Jewish person that in recent years has been appropriated by white supremacists as a way of self-identifying.
When Tamary replied that he didn’t know what a goy was, Purse grew angrier, calling him a “lying Israeli” who was “playing the pilpul game.” The term “pilpul,” which refers a method of studying Jewish religious texts, has also been appropriated by anti-Semites as a way of referring to Jews as deceitful or conniving.
Near the end of the segment on Channel 13, Purse blocked the entire camera with his head and could be seen mouthing the words “The Goyim know,” a reference to yet another anti-Semitic meme, this one used by neo-Nazis to depict Jews as evil puppet-masters.
As Purse finally finished his rant and walked away, Tamary, the Israeli reporter, sarcastically quipped: “Thanks, man. Thank you very much for being with us.”
הטרלול שעבר גיל תמרי בשידור ישיר מוושינגטון, וההתמודדות המכובדת שלו: pic.twitter.com/kJpcHk1erY
— Ran Boker רן בוקר (@ranboker) January 6, 2021
Purse’s real identity would go unknown for months. He had introduced himself to multiple people on Jan. 6 as “Marc.” A group of anonymous online sleuths dedicated to exposing the Jan. 6 rioters took to calling him “Mr. Extra Creepy” as they dug through photos and video footage looking for clues.
By May, the sleuths had collected evidence showing that “Marc” or “Mr. Extra Creepy” was really Purse, who public records show has mostly resided in Arizona and Florida, but now lives in southern California. He enlisted in the Navy in 1995 and served two years as a Damage Controlman Fireman Apprentice, a Navy spokesperson told HuffPost, receiving the National Defense Service Medal. The Navy spokesperson would not disclose the circumstances of his separation from the military.
In 2009 he was arrested and eventually pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, copyright infringement and forfeiture, according to court records, after he and an accomplice were caught selling $500,000 worth of counterfeit software.
He was arrested again this past July on federal charges related to his joining the mob that invaded the Capitol.
According to an FBI affidavit, surveillance footage showed Purse entering the Capitol at 2:59 p.m. on Jan. 6 through the Columbus Door on the eastern side of the building, clearly identifiable in his “PRESS” helmet and vest, carrying a long black pole with a camera and microphone affixed to the end.
“Purse appeared to be standing off to the side, observing the crowd’s interactions with the law enforcement officers,” the affidavit says. “At approximately 3:03 p.m., as the crowd became more volatile ... Purse crossed the room and exited the Rotunda.”
Court records show Purse’s disguise as a journalist had nearly gotten him off the hook. When the Department of Justice first sought to charge him, a federal magistrate judge declined to sign off on an arrest warrant, arguing prosecutors had failed to prove Purse wasn’t actually a reporter. There are laws in place, after all, the judge argued, that protect journalists from being prosecuted for doing their jobs.
Prosecutors came back a week later and filed an amended affidavit. Purse, the FBI had learned, had not received “any credentials from the Capitol, which allowed members of the news media access to areas inside of the Capitol,” the affidavit stated. He also had no “employment history” related to “any news media organization.” And although “Purse has a website, the website appears to be primarily used for live streaming and does not contain original content. The website also includes a private forum for discussions.”
This time the judge signed off on the arrest warrant.
Purse has since pleaded not guilty to charges of entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly conduct in a Capitol building, and parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.
He was released from jail on the condition that he surrender his passport to authorities; wear a location monitoring device; stay away from Washington, D.C., except for when attending court; and not possess a firearm, destructive device, or other weapon.
Potashner, Purse’s lawyer, didn’t respond to a request for comment as to whether she planned to argue in court that he was a member of the press on Jan. 6.
MAGA vs. The Media
Over the last couple decades, courts across the country have had to determine whether livestreamers, bloggers and other citizen journalists are real journalists, deserving of legal privileges attendant to the profession. These court decisions have sometimes been harsh to independent journalists doing solid, ethical reporting.
Still, it’s hard to imagine a court that might be sympathetic to the handful of Capitol rioters who have tried to make the absurd claim that they were at the riot as reporters.
White nationalist troll Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet livestreamed himself from inside the Capitol building for nearly 30 minutes. The footage, according to a federal complaint, shows him screaming about revolution, calling a police officer an “oathbreaker” and a “piece of shit,” and encouraging people not to leave the building. Yet his attorney has argued in court that Gionet was in D.C. with no agenda “other than to film what was taking place.”
Nicholas Ochs, a prominent member of the neo-fascist gang the Proud Boys, and his friend Nicholas DeCarlo also livestreamed from inside the Capitol, where at one point they lit up cigarettes. “Congress stopped the vote when we stormed the Capitol,” Ochs says in a video. “As we’ve been saying all day: We came here to stop the steal.”
“We did it!” DeCarlo replies. “That’s what I came down here to do. That’s what we did.”
Later, both Ochs and DeCarlo claimed they were in the Capitol as journalists. The name of their media outlet: Murder The Media, another far-right livestreaming website. The pair even posed for a photo by a door inside the Capitol where someone had scrawled “MURDER THE MEDIA.”
The photo is a lasting reminder of the vicious contempt for the press among the MAGA faithful on display at the Capitol, and at the heart of any fascist movement.
Trump supporters on Jan. 6 dragged an Associated Press photographer down a set of stairs — “We’ll fucking kill you!” someone screamed — before tossing him over a ledge. They attacked camera crews, leading journalists to abandon their equipment, which the rioters then looted or destroyed. All told, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker said it had documented nine assaults of journalists during the chaos, along with multiple reports of equipment damage, harassment, and threats. (I was not there that day but one rioter threatened a reporter whom he mistook for me.)
Trump and his allies had fomented this hatred for years, deriding any outlet that didn’t push the former president’s propaganda as “fake news.” Purse preferred a slightly different nomenclature to describe the media: “lugenpresse.” The term, which means “lying press” in German, was most commonly used by the Nazis and Adolf Hitler to discredit reporters, and has been revived as a slur among the modern far right in Germany.
“Lugenpresse!” Purse can be seen screaming on Jan. 6 at a reporter from WBFF, a Fox affiliate out of Baltimore. “This is what’s going to happen now: We’re going to make you feel uncomfortable!”
Purse and a gang of Trump supporters continued to follow and loudly harangue the reporter. “All the good video was taken by the patriots that went inside!” Purse screamed at one point. “You weren’t inside! Where were you?”
“This is the most aggressive we’ve seen the crowd,” the nervous reporter says on camera as he’s being swarmed. WBFF producers eventually cut away back to the anchors in Baltimore.
“We apologize for that,” one of the anchors said. “Totally out of control.”
Later that night, as the National Guard formed a shielded phalanx around the Capitol building, and as the horror of the attempted insurrection came into focus — five deaths, lawmakers fleeing for their lives, a president reportedly pleased with it all — Purse stood at the edge of the Capitol lawn still wearing his “PRESS” vest and helmet.
Shama Bartlett, who works for an independent livestreaming media group called CJTV, was also there, and recognized immediately that Purse was not a journalist. “He was an agitator, he wasn’t there reporting the news,” she recalled to HuffPost.
When Bartlett approached Purse, he identified himself as working for Happening Center, and said he was livestreaming himself on a platform called DLive. (The Southern Poverty Law Center documented at least five extremists who used DLive to stream from the insurrection.)
Purse showed Bartlett the press pass he’d made for himself and chuckled. “You know press badges, they mean nothing,” he said. “Yours is cute.”
Bartlett told HuffPost that it seemed Purse “believed he was press but also believed that identifying as press was a way of working the system so you can do what you want without being targeted by police.”
Purse was clearly excited by what had transpired in D.C. that day. “This is just the start,” he told Bartlett. “I’d say mission accomplished. We broke into the Capitol.”
Bartlett’s interview with Purse ended up lasting 30 minutes — during which time Purse made multiple bigoted statements — until The National Guard eventually stepped in, pushing them from the edge of the Capitol lawn, and surrounding the MAGA activists still lingering there. Bartlett and Purse said their goodbyes.
A few months later, in March, Bartlett says the FBI contacted her about her chat with Purse. Agents were curious if she had better audio of the conversation (she didn’t), and were particularly interested in a portion of the interview when Purse talked about the attack as the “first operation of this new generation of patriots.”
A ‘Legitimate News Organization’
The extremism Purse displayed in his interview with Bartlett is echoed in even darker rhetoric put out by his website, Happening Center.
The site is currently inactive, but an archived snapshot of the Happening Center homepage — captured by The Wayback Machine, incidentally, on Jan. 6 — shows a banner image containing multiple far-right memes. Pepe the Frog, the cartoon which became the online mascot of white supremacists, is featured five times.
Widgets for users to watch Happening Center’s livestream on DLive, and to donate money to the site, were on top of the page. (Happening Center appears to have had about 5,000 followers on DLive.)
In the Happening Center “Swag Shop,” an “All Communists Get The Rope” sticker and a “Degeneracy Must Be Purged” sticker were both on sale for $14.88. That price was intentional. “1488” is a common code among neo-Nazis. The number 14 references white supremacist David Lane‘s infamous “14 Words” slogan — “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children” — and the number 88 is shorthand for “Heil Hitler,” as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.
It’s hard to see how Purse might argue in court that Happening.Center was a “legitimate news organization.” Its main function appears to have been a hosting place for a racist and anti-Semitic livestreams. Purse and other Happening Center “staff” would display live videos from political demonstrations across the country while voicing commentary. If fans heard something they liked, they would donate money.
In one “live call-in” episode — a copy of which was preserved by anti-fascist sleuths — a Happening Center staffer with a voice that sounds like Purse’s commented on live footage of Black Lives Matter protests. Some 600 people were watching, and a live comments section full of Pepe the Frog avatars chimed in with vile remarks.
At one point in the episode the voice which sounds like Purse stated that “Semitism and Semitic behavior is the cause of anti-Semitism.” This voice also stated that any persecution of Jews happened for a “good reason.”
Another, shorter livestream — again, captured and preserved by anti-fascists — showed Purse standing outside the Supreme Court at night, his face lit up menacingly by a red light. He was there, he explained to viewers, to deliver the “official Happening Center eulogy” for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had just died.
Ginsburg’s life, Purse said into the camera, “served no other purpose than to serve as warning as to why no one should not allow cunts on the Supreme Court.” He then added: “So we say of her passing, tamp the dirt down, tamp the dirt down.”
Although Happening Center never seems to have attracted more than a few thousand viewers, it’s clear that it was part of an online ecosystem of far-right livestreamers who flock to sites of civil unrest around the country, eager to attract viewers with dramatic scenes of protest or violence. In a January post to its account on Gab, the far-right Twitter knockoff, Happening Center alerted its fans that it had “staff on the ground in #DC” for the inauguration, where the country was bracing for turmoil.
Purse appears to have had access to the Happening Center’s Gab account. In late February 2021, he got into an argument with another Gab user, posting an angry, all caps message littered with homophobic slurs from the site’s account, which has over 3,500 followers.
“Hey Faggot,” he began, “This is me, on Jan 6 in front of the Capital calling out the Zionist Jews tot their faces live on Israeli TV. I was there.”
The picture accompanying the post shows Purse interrupting the Israeli channel’s broadcast. The words “WE KNOW. THE GOYIM KNOW” are inscribed across the photo.
It’s unclear if Purse was responsible for all of the Happening Center’s posts on Gab. What is clear is that the account routinely posted typo-filled racist and anti-Semitic content, and sometimes praised mass killers.
“SEMETIC BEHAVIOR IS THE PRIMARY CAUSE OF ANTISEMTISM,” reads one post from February, a word-for-word recitation of what Purse appears to have said on the live call-in episode.
“HITLER DID NOTHING WRONG,” the post continued. “WE WILL RID THIS WORLD OF THE DIRTY RAT KIKE AND THEIR SUBVERSIVE WAYS ONCE AND FOR ALL.”
A Gab post from that same month read simply, “Read Siege,” a reference to an anthology of neo-Nazi essays which advocates committing acts of terror.
In May, the Happening Center account wrote that “Brenton Tarrant is a hero and shall be celebrated,” referring to the white supremacist who massacred 49 Muslims inside two New Zealand mosques.
Many other posts used the N-word and slurs against Jewish people. “N****r and k**e loving race traitors like you will have the last bullets saved for you,” read one.
A White Supremacist Insurrection
Purse likely felt at home among the rioters on Jan. 6. Multiple white nationalist flags were spotted at the Capitol that day. Prominent white nationalist Nick Fuentes was there, reportedly encouraging the sea of red-hatted Trump supporters to invade the Capitol.
Richard Barnett, a self-identifying white nationalist from Arkansas, took a seat in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office with a shit-eating grin on his face, propping his feet up on her desk. Robert Keith Packer walked through the halls of Congress wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with a skull and crossbones and the words “Camp Auschwitz: Work Means Freedom,” a reference to the slogan on the gates of the infamous Nazi death camp.
And white supremacist Bryan Betancur, who according to a police affidavit “has voiced homicidial ideations” and “has stated he wanted to run people over with a vehicle and kill people in a church,” was photographed with a Confederate flag on the Capitol steps.
Purse seemed so at home that he stuck around D.C. on Jan. 7, giving a series of interviews and chatting with his MAGA brethren. One video shows Purse, as the sun set over D.C., attending a small vigil for Ashli Babbitt — the rioter fatally shot by police as she attempted to break into the House chamber. Purse was no longer wearing his “Press” gear. In an interview with a livestreamer, he stated that the U.S. Air Force should name a base after Babbitt, who was an airwoman.
It’s unclear when Purse left the Capitol that night. According to airline records obtained by the FBI, he flew out of D.C. the next day.
The Happening Center website is taking a break. A message on its homepage reads: “DUE TO THE NUMBER OF THREATS TO HAPPENING.CENTER’S STAFF AND ASSOCIATES, WE ARE TEMPORARILY SUSPENDING ALL NEWS BROADCASTS UNTIL SUCH TIME AS THE SAFETY OF OUR PEOPLE CAN BE GUARANTEED.”
Its Gab account, however, has meanwhile been posting away, daily pushing anti-vax propaganda and whinging about the “invasion” of Haitian immigrants at the border.
The banner image on the Gab account includes text that makes clear Happening Center’s ever-burning hatred of the media.
“We will splinter the MSM into a thousand pieces and scatter them to the wind,” it says.
Ryan Reilly contributed reporting.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.