Arizona vigilante Michael Meyer of 'Veterans on Patrol' arrested amid Pizzagate-style conspiracy theory

Michael Meyer, the head of the vigilante group Veterans on Patrol (VOP) that’s been involved in a Pizzagate-style conspiracy theory in Arizona, was arrested on Sunday night near Tucson on suspicion of felony trespassing.

Pima County sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Daniel Jelineo confirmed to the Southern Poverty Law Center that Meyer, 39, was stopped on June 8 by a patrol deputy in an area known as Avra Valley, northwest of Tucson, and taken into custody. Meyer was booked into a Pima County jail and had been released as of Monday afternoon.

Jelineo said the investigation was still ongoing and declined to go into detail on what led to the arrest or whether it was tied to Meyer’s activities with Veterans on Patrol. The deputy described the likely charge as first-degree criminal trespass — a felony.

Meyer, better known by the name Lewis Arthur, has been engaged for several weeks in an effort he and his crew call “Operation Backyard Brawl,” which started when they claimed to have uncovered evidence of child sex trafficking at an abandoned industrial site in Tucson.

Local and federal law enforcement debunked the claims, saying investigators went to the site and found nothing more than a former homeless encampment. But rather than putting the situation to rest, those findings prompted Meyer and his group to dig in even more, locking the gates to the private property and declaring that they were engaged in a “standoff” with authorities.

Local police eventually coaxed Meyer and Veterans on Patrol to leave the property but made no arrests.

Since then, Meyer and other members of Veterans on Patrol (VOP) have posted dozens of videos to Facebook, saying that they’re going after child trafficking cartels in the middle of the Arizona desert. In a recent post, Meyer described it as an ongoing “chess match” with cartels. He and VOP have posted photos and videos of trash, debris, desert wildlife and craggy hills but have not shown proof of having encountered cartels.

Still, their “operations” exploded in online forums devoted to conspiracy theories like QAnon and Pizzagate — both of which involve to some degree the idea that prominent politicians and businessmen are running child sex trafficking rings and that President Donald Trump is riding to the rescue to shut them down. Some of those people have been so supportive of Veterans on Patrol that the group has shared photos and videos showing mountains of donated items and gift cards they’ve received from random strangers on the internet.

They’ve also received assistance from Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who put out a call on his website in June to help VOP. Rhodes traveled to Arizona himself and made an appearance in at least one video that Meyer posted to Facebook.

But Meyer and his group have also had their share of detractors, even among the far-right. Alex Jones, the most prominent conspiracy theorist in America, posted a note on his InfoWars website last month saying he believed the VOP operation was a “honeypot” and urging his fans to stay away from it. Members of the antigovernment militia movement have also been critical of Meyer because of his history of bizarre behavior.

Meyer, who is not a veteran himself, has been arrested multiple times in recent years, including after he climbed a light pole in a Phoenix suburb to bring attention to veteran suicides.

Update: Late on Monday, Meyer appeared to acknowledge his arrest in a post on Veterans on Patrol’s Facebook page. The post, which was unsigned but written in first person, called the sheriff a “coward” and spun even more conspiracies about local ranchers and major companies in the area being in cahoots with traffickers. The post encouraged VOP’s followers to put three locations “under 24.7 (sic) surveillance.” It described the locations as “targets” for “those hunting big game.”

“I am back on the Ground more determined than ever,” the post read. “The timing and nature of the arrest only solidified the facts we have uncovered the past month. People who act as though they rule us, now have reasons to fear us.”