Unraveling tragedy: The power of anti-government extremism in the case of Justin Mohn

7 February 2024

By: Katherine Keneally

After the gruesome murder of Michael “Mike” Mohn on 30 January 2024, allegedly by his own son, Justin Mohn, conspiracy theories and misleading claims regarding his motivation have spread online. Some allegations sought to discredit the attack by claiming that the murder was a “false flag” or “psyop”1 coordinated by the US government and Jewish people, while others brushed off the incident as another case of mental illness or a result of Democrat policies.

While false flag claims after an incident of violence are not new 2 – and neither is the presence of mental health issues among some who have committed ideologically-motivated violence – these accusations are problematic. Though Justin Mohn likely has a “God complex”3 and may have met with a psychologist for anger issues,4 these claims and oversimplification of the incident attempt to both erase the existence of the attack and downplay the severity of the threat posed by the anti-government extremist beliefs that influenced the younger Mohn.

Justin Mohn’s social media, writings, music and lawsuits against the federal government have provided no shortage of insights on his motivations for the attack.5 After the murder, the suspect reportedly posted an approximately 14-minute-long video on YouTube, where he justifies the murder, explains his ideological beliefs, and declares himself the leader of “Mohn’s Militia,”6 while appearing to twice show his father’s decapitated head in a plastic bag. He also declared himself president of the United States. The video remained on YouTube for hours and rapidly spread to other fringe and mainstream platforms, such as X and Telegram. Throughout the video, Mohn details a litany of perceived enemies including not only federal officials, but also “illegal immigrants infiltrat[ing] our border,” LGBTQ+ communities and the Black Lives Matter Movement.

It appears that anti-government extremism was central to his motivation to commit the murder. Of all of Mohn’s reported enemies, he selected one of the people closest to him— his father— because of his history as a federal employee as disclosed in the video. Mike Mohn was a retired engineer for the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Though some have sought to blame President Joe Biden and his policies for radicalizing Justin Mohn, evidence shows he has held extremist anti-government beliefs since 2016, if not earlier.7 It is likely that his beliefs are driven in part by an inability to obtain and hold employment perceived as high paying. He attempted to sue the US government four times, claiming the government deceived Mohn by servicing him student loans. Mohn claimed that he is an “overeducated white man,” and is therefore deserving of a high-paying job. He even allegedly wrote a letter to now former President Donald Trump demanding change.8

However, Justin Mohn’s disdain for the government goes much deeper than just the Department of Education. Throughout the YouTube video and in his writings9, he calls for overthrowing the US government (even before the 2016 US Presidential election) and a desire for extreme violence against all federal employees.10, 11 In the video, Mohn claimed “the federal government has declared war on its citizens” and calls for violence against federal employees, among others – including a federal judge. In at least the last year, he also reportedly attempted to establish his own militia, though his efforts appear to have been unsuccessful.12

Though Justin Mohn’s language (e.g. he called on followers to kill parents and friends who are affiliated with the federal government) and imagery were more graphic, the same anti-government extremist beliefs and terminologies featured in the video have been amplified by mainstream figures and influencers in recent years. Examples include describing public officials as “traitors,” (see Figure 1) alleging that there is a coordinated effort involving Democrats and “illegal” migrants to infiltrate the US, and describing LGBTQ+ communities broadly as a threat. These hateful claims have been gaining traction for years, long before the suspect killed Mike Mohn.

While it is to be determined whether Justin Mohn will directly influence future attacks (as previously noted, Mohn’s video was widely shared across social media in the hours after the murder, to mixed reactions), the incident reflects a worrying trend as we approach the presidential elections in the US in November. Anti-government extremism has, and will continue, to motivate people to action, including violence. Threats to public officials, deadly confrontations with law enforcement, and targeted attacks are only a few examples of incidents we have seen post-January 6, 2021, motivated by anti-government ideologies. The threat is also visible in the recent arrest of an alleged Tennessee militia member by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on 5 February 2024, for planning to commit violence against federal border agents at the US-Mexico border.

While the ability of anti-government extremism to motivate people to commit violence is not new, the mainstreaming of these conspiratorial beliefs in recent years is. As fringe and mainstream media, influencers and politicians alike continue to amplify anti-government conspiracy theories – providing perceived validity to these beliefs – the threat is only likely to continue to worsen. Both lives and democracy are at stake.

End notes

[1] According to Brandwatch, there were over 600 mentions of “psyop” or “false flag” tied to the incident on X and YouTube between January 30 and February 1, 2024.

[2] In one of the Justin Mohn’s books, “The Revolution Leader’s Survival Guide: How Schools, Workplaces, And Social Norms Kill The Genius Inside All of Us,” he insinuated that the September 11, 2001 attacks were a “false flag attack” carried out by the US government.

[3] According to a post to Reddit by an anonymous user four years ago, Justin Mohn allegedly sent a letter to an individual in the music industry, in which he references himself as a God and Messiah.

[4] Claim was made in “The Revolution Leader’s Survival Guide: How Schools, Workplaces, And Social Norms Kill The Genius Inside All of Us.”

[5] Though most of this content was later removed by the platforms, researchers were able to archive a significant amount of Mohn’s public presence across Spotify, Amazon, Facebook, and Reddit before they were taken down.

[6] Social media suggests that Mohn was attempting to recruit for a militia over the last year; however, there is no evidence of any members or formal group.

[7] Based on the dates associated with his social media postings and writings published online.

[8] According to Mohn’s Book, “The Revolution Leader’s Survival Guide: How Schools, Workplaces, And Social Norms Kill The Genius Inside All of Us,” Mohn wrote a letter for Donald Trump, while he was president, demanding change.

[9] In recent years, Justin Mohn published various essays and books, some of which were available for purchase on Amazon. These books have since been removed by the platform.

[10] In “The Revolution Leader’s Survival Guide: How Schools, Workplaces, And Social Norms Kill The Genius Inside All of Us,” Mohn stated, “I took to the social media trying to persuade the masses to peacefully overthrow the U.S. government before the 2016 election occurred.” According to the book, it was published as an eBook on Amazon on April 5, 2017.

[11] Though Mohn makes some exceptions for certain federal government employees, such as the US military, he calls for violence against all members of the federal government who do not support him.

[12] According to the YouTube video and posts to Reddit.