*The following article contains discussion of suicide/self-harm.
Members of a group of self-proclaimed "patriots" launched a stunt urging all supporters of their cause to crank call the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Crisis Line–which possibly blocked veterans from getting actual, real help in a time of crisis.
The stunt involved supporters of the 1776 Restoration Movement clogging the Veterans Crisis Line to protest how veterans who were arrested for their participation at the January 6 Capitol Insurrection were being mistreated while in custody.
According to the group's Facebook page, the Bunker Hill, West Virginia-based group touts itself as a "Patriot movement for the restoration of our constitutional republic, and return to a moral society."
A man who was identified as Justin Johnson urged viewers watching the far-right group's live-stream vigil taking place outside the VA’s National Capital Regional Office in Washington, D.C. to clog the helpline.
“So, you dial 988—they made it easier than ever to call. So, you dial 988 and then you press 1," he instructed viewers.
Johnson, who was wearing a red T-shirt that read “Tun Tavern” held up his cellphone to the camera to show viewers the crisis number and said:
“So, let them know that there is inhumane treatment going on at the D.C. jail.”
Here is the YouTube video of the group's live stream.
One person with a legitimate need allegedly called the hotline but was unable to get through due to the lines being busy with prank calls.
“When I couldn’t get through I almost went through with my plan but then my mom intervened,” the text read.
“This has real world consequences. I just pray nobody took their life.”
Task & Purpose said they were "unable to independently verify the authenticity of the text."
The message was screenshot and shared by progressive Twitter account Mueller, She Wrote who called out the GOP for their typical enabling of extremist groups.
In a separate video tweet, Johnson boasted about the effectiveness of his tactic in clogging the Veteran's Crisis Line, saying:
"So, the trolls, they took the bait.”
He also justified the backlash to his prank by arguing calling the hotline was not the same as calling 911.
“I’ve called the crisis line before a few times and the first thing it tells you when you get on there is: If this is an emergency, please hang up and call 911."
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee asked the VA for more information about how the 1776 Restoration Movement’s stunt affected veterans seeking guidance during a time of crisis.
Committee spokesperson Olya Voytovich told Task & Purpose:
“The Veterans Crisis Line is a critical resource for veterans in distress, which is why it’s imperative that the system run smoothly and efficiently at all times."
“Any obstruction of that service is completely unacceptable and morally reprehensible."
"The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee is in contact with the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure this issue is resolved as quickly as possible.”
If you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
To find help outside the United States, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has resources available at https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/