‘Ready for Civil War’: Illinois Man Arrested With Bombs Posted Right-Wing Content

This story is being published in partnership with American Doom, a newsletter that focuses on right-wing extremism and other threats to democracy.

Just after 3 a.m. last Friday, in a small Central Illinois city infamous in the area for being a former sundowner town, a Pekin police officer pulled over a car for a traffic violation, according to an affidavit. Dalton Mattus, 34, was a passenger inside the vehicle, and police say they found a canvas bag under his seat locked with a padlock. When an officer asked what was in the bag, Mattus reportedly said the officer would have to get a warrant to find out. Police took the bag and let Mattus go, then obtained a warrant from a judge and opened the bag inside city hall. There, they found a .45 caliber pistol and two homemade pipe bombs rigged with BBs, evacuated the building, and called in a bomb squad from neighboring Peoria, according to local reports.

Mattus was charged with being a felon in possession of a weapon — his felony stems from a 2018 theft conviction. Police then went to his home and engaged in a brief standoff before arresting Mattus, according to local media. There, police say, they found three more pipe bombs. Authorities haven’t said what they believed Mattus planned to do with the bombs, but he allegedly told police that he had made them for protection from “undocumented immigrants and a corrupt government,” a local radio station reported. Police told a local TV station that “the general public was not at threat.”

Rolling Stone and American Doom analyzed more than 200 of Mattus’ social media posts going back to 2016. Starting around June 2020, Mattus’ posts suggest he was sucked into the dregs of the far-right internet, where he voraciously consumed and posted about conspiracies and anti-government vitriol.

Among the hundreds of posts Mattus shared over the past several years were his willingness to “go to civil war,” and his support for conspiracy theories ranging from chemtrails, to QAnon, to election lies, and sweeping anti-government conspiracies. In March 2023, Mattus changed his profile picture to an upside-down American flag with the phrase, “We are not OK.”

“To everybody that is disgusted with the way our government is being ran,” Mattus said in an April 2023 TikTok video. “There needs to be, like, a call to arms. Something needs to happen — now.”

Kevin Johnson, Tazewell County’s lead prosecutor, tells American Doom and Rolling Stone: “It’s very possible that there will be some additional charges, including some of the things that you’re asking about. Obviously we’re investigating that aspect of it, including why he had those devices.”

American Doom and Rolling Stone attempted to contact an attorney for Mattus but could not identify one. The Tazewell County Public Defender’s Office said Mattus does not have an attorney assigned from their office. The county prosecutor said his office does not currently have information about an attorney for Mattus.

Political conspiracies have been fueling right-wing radicalization online for years, security experts and others agree, gaining momentum in 2020 thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, nationwide protests against police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, and Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. The antisemitic attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, the anti-immigrant massacre at an El Paso Walmart in 2019, the attack on two New Zealand mosques that same year, and the white supremacist mass murder at a gay nightclub in Colorado in 2022 were all committed by right-wing extremists who were partially radicalized online by political conspiracy theories.

Mattus, a welder by trade who worked at area manufacturing giants Caterpillar and Komatsu, according to his Facebook profile, prolifically shared conspiracy content. In recent years, Mattus also became a father, saying he wanted children because it would give him “something to fight for.” Mattus’ previous run-ins with the law, in addition to the felony theft, include misdemeanor convictions for theft, criminal trespass, domestic battery, and damage to property; he was also the subject of a restraining order, court records show. Online, Mattus also complained about having his children taken away by family with the help of child protective services.

“Now my children are pumped full of vaccines that they didn’t even need and for what reason but the (sic) poison them,” Mattus wrote on Facebook on Dec. 3, 2023. “I was a monster before my children were born and now that I don’t get to see them anymore you will see the fucking devil.”

Since June 2020, Mattus has posted multiple times a day about nearly every right-wing conspiracy imaginable, including posts about gun control efforts, the pandemic, the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and QAnon-fueled claims of rampant pedophilia among Democrats.

Mattus also posted several times about the 2020 election being “rigged” against Donald Trump.

“I am completely disgusted that people voted for Joe Biden to be the president,” Mattus wrote on Facebook days after the 2020 election, calling Biden a “fucking child molester,” an unfounded QAnon claim. “I am fucking irate this is complete and utter bullshit I’m ready for the fucking Civil War,” he wrote.

Asked if Mattus’ descent into right-wing conspiracies was as much a reality as it appeared in his online postings, a family member who did not want to be named said that the truth about Mattus’ beliefs was “probably whatever it appears” online. “It looks like you’ve got all your information off his posts anyways, so it looks like you’ve got everything you need,” the family member told American Doom and Rolling Stone. 

Mattus’ consumption of right-wing conspiracies came at a time when social media companies actually had some form of content moderation that sought to prevent the type of extremist material that Mattus took in. Now, Facebook and others have reduced content moderation protections for political speech, allowing content creators and politicians to disseminate misinformation and falsehoods. Facebook is among the leaders of platforms allowing for the proliferation of political misinformation regarding the 2024 election, and is home to hundreds of right-wing militia groups who are openly organizing on the platform — much like they did in the lead-up to Jan. 6.

Mattus has expressed anti-government sentiment on Facebook since 2020, before joining TikTok in 2023. There, his consumption of conspiracy content apparently exploded, resulting in hundreds of TikToks shared on Facebook expressing support for a toxic stew of right-wing conspiracies, gun fetishism, civil war fantasies, apocalypse prepping, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, and violence against Democrats, the left, and government officials.

“If it was up to me I would gather patriots and go to civil war against these domestic terrorist (sic),” Mattus wrote on Facebook on September 5, 2020. In March 2023, Mattus said it was time “to fight before it comes to your front door directly.”

In one of just a handful of his personal TikTok posts, Mattus shared a pair of videos in June 2023 in which he discussed a conspiracy that U.S. veterans were being kicked out of hotels in favor of “illegal Mexicans,” and his frustration that he couldn’t buy an AR-15 assault rifle or extended magazines due to Illinois gun laws.

“They’re slowly taking away our gun rights so we can’t defend ourselves from them. […] I’m fucking tired of it. My whole family thinks I’m fucking nuts because all’s I’m fucking concerned about is what the government is doing to us — and for some reason, our country’s so goddamned concerned on what the fuck a gender is,” Mattus said in the video, posted on June 25, 2023. “If you have a dick, you have a dick. If you have a vagina, you have a vagina. I don’t give a fuck if you’re gay or not… It’s all fucked. Wake the fuck up!”

As college students protested U.S. support for Israel’s war in Gaza, Mattus uncharacteristically took the side of protesters, sharing a handful of posts supporting them — including a video from a Code Pink TikTok account that criticized Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) for calling a pro-Gaza protester a “terrorist.”

Bree Zender contributed to this report.

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