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Militias, not lone-wolf ‘nutcases,’ are the real threat, photographer warns

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | We all know their photos by now: The “QAnon Shaman,” the Brooklyn judge’s bearskin-bedecked son, the goofily grinning guy toting off Nancy Pelosi’s lectern.

These treasonous miscreants, who have all been arrested, are just a few of the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 in a shocking day of rage that left five people dead and the entire world aghast.

An Ohio Minuteman displays his patches, including the distinctive Armor of Guard, at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017. (Photo by John Penley)

But what about the potentially far more dangerous militia members who invaded the U.S. seat of government? Is law enforcement hunting them down, too, and with the same urgency? That’s what a photojournalist who covered the turmoil during Donald Trump’s presidency and its campaign lead-up was wondering recently.

That is, wondering until this Tuesday, when it was reported that federal prosecutors had filed conspiracy charges against three members of the Oath Keepers, an extremist, gun-loving group claiming thousands of members around the country. According to news reports, the complaint says the trio planned and coordinated prior to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

Militia members at the Charlottesville far-right rally in 2017. (Photo by John Penley)

The complaint alleges that, while at the Capitol, one of the Oath Keepers, Thomas Caldwell, received a Facebook message stating, “All members [of Congress] are in the tunnels under capital seal them in. Turn on gas.”

Antifa and neo-nazis clashing in Charlottesville. (Photo by John Penley)

John Penley, a former East Villager now living in Las Vegas, was not surprised the feds are finally zeroing in on militia members and far-right extremist groups who joined in the insurrection. In fact, just a couple of days before Tuesday, he had been asking when the crackdown would commence on these groups’ members who breached the Capitol.

A counterprotester and militia member facing off in Charlottesville three years ago. (Photo by John Penley)

Penley shared with The Village Sun photos he took of Trump campaign events, the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, protests at both 2016 national political conventions and more. One theme running through some of the pictures is the presence of one militia group, in particular, the Ohio Minutemen, with their distinctive Armor of God patch.

“I call it the ‘Trump Era Series,'” Penley said of the photos. “You’ve got that Army of God [patch] connection. They were at the inauguration and Charlottesville and the Capitol riot. They just got identified [for storming the Capitol] but none of them have been arrested yet.

At a campaign rally in Asheville, North Carolina, in 2016. (Photo by John Penley)

“I think they’re afraid of these people,” he wagered of what law enforcement is likely thinking. “They’re organized. They’re not like individual nutcases — it’s easy to go around and lock those people up. The militias have been organizing for armed revolution or a breakdown of society for a long time. … They’ve been planning that the government’s going to come and take their guns for years.”

City Council District 3 candidate Marni Halasa took a stand at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016. (Photo by John Penley)
Lampooning Trump at the national Rainbow Gathering in Vermont in 2016. (Photo by John Penley)

Penley said the Ohio Minutemen, in particular, have had a presence at many of the events that he has covered in recent years, some of which have featured conflict.

“This one group is really out there in the streets, above the others,” he said. “You can see how there’s a progression of fascist involvement with Trump as time goes on.”

White supremacists during their infamous tiki-torch march in Charlottesville the night before the Unite the Rally. “Jews will not replace us!” they chanted as they marched. (Photo by John Penley)
Ku Klux Klan members marched at their own rally in Charlottesville in 2017, three weeks before the Unite the Right event. (Photo by John Penley)
Like a warm-up event, Klan members descended on Charlottesville for their own rally three weeks before the Unite the Right hatefest. (Photo by John Penley)

A voracious news junkie, Penley has a bad feeling about how things are trending. Before the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, he had accurately predicted there would be major violence there. Antifa counterprotesters and white supremacists clashed in Charlottesville, with one of the latter plowing his car into a group of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32.

At a Las Vegas rally for Trump’s reelection, Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys (not pictured), gave out “Latinos for Trump” signs to white people to hold up, according to the photographer. (Photo by John Penley)

Afterward, Trump infamously said there were “fine people on both sides” at Charlottesville and was decried for not strongly condemning the neo-nazis.

“It’s all up in the air, but I’m afraid it’s heading toward civil war,” Penley said. “I’ve been in the streets covering this. The pandemic is making people that were already crazy crazier. The Trump stuff has given them something to be crazy about,” he said of Trump’s reckless charges that the election was stolen.

A QAnon conspiracy theorist at the Trump Las Vegas reelection rally. The slogan at the top of his sign stands for “Where we go one, we go all,” a line by Jeff Bridges from the 1996 Ridley Scott disaster-survival movie “White Squall.” (Photo by John Penley)

“If they do arrest that militia, it’s going to be like Waco and Ruby Ridge,” he predicted. “If they do arrest ’em, all hell is going to break lose.”

He was referring to the F.B.I. siege of the Branch Davidians cult in Waco, Texas, in 1993, in which 79 people died after a 51-day standoff, and the deadly 11-day siege of Randy Weaver and his family in Idaho in 1992 by U.S. marshals. Weaver was a white supremacist who had failed to appear in court on gun charges.

Antifa members marching in Charlottesville in 2017. (Photo by John Penley)
In Charlottesville, counterprotesters made their feelings clear about the far-right extremists. (Photo by John Penley)
Code Pink members at the R.N.C. in Cleveland protesting against Trump’s immigration policies. (Photo by John Penley)

“Once they go after one militia and start to round them up,” Penley said, “the rest of them will go into combat mode. They’ve been preparing for this. … The Oath Keepers around the country are not going to be happy. This is going to go on and it’s going to provoke a whole lot of terrorism.”


  1. John Penley John Penley February 11, 2021

    The Proud Boys , Militias , Trump and his White Supremacist followers always claimed they loved cops and were pro law and order. They also claimed that Antifa were terrorists. Antifa, as it turns out, were the main fighters against the Proud Boys who are now facing terrorist style charges. You can’t make this stuff up folks. Trump and company actually tried to violently overthrow Democracy and the American government NOT ANTIFA !!!!

  2. Kurt T Hill Kurt T Hill January 22, 2021

    I agree with John. Lone wolves are a danger, but organized fascist gangs are even more threatening in the long term. What we are living through is not simply a rerun of the Thirties (or the Sixties). Today American left/progressives (including most of the trade unions) are in no position by ourselves to deal with these threats. I guess we are going to have to do a Popular Front with the bourgeois democrats who also see the danger of the fascist right (after all, it was they who were being “hunted” during the bloody Capitol riot two weeks ago). At the same time we will have to press our “partners” on enacting real, structural reforms that will erode the grievances of the right-wing base (e.g., a real National Health Service, debt forgiveness, creating good-paying, union jobs, helping mom & pop businesses, etc. Wall Street got bailed out after 2008. Now it’s time to bail out Main Street instead.

  3. Brendan Sexton Brendan Sexton January 20, 2021

    I think (i don’t pretend to know), that these jokers have gotten away with talking terrible shit for so long, marching around in their martial dress-up duds, that if they are challenged seriously, slapped hard, it may shut quite a few of them up, and send many into retreat. At least a few of them might find some other madness to take up their excess testosterone. (World of Warcraft or something.)
    Not all, not by any means; but so much of this crap has gone on so long without serious challenge they are getting the feeling that no one has the stuff to stop them — so why not jump in and make trouble?
    Anyone who doubted they could get away with this crap was convinced by the Bundy mess.
    Those events (bundy, ruby ridge, waco) happened out of sight to most Americans. But if *these* jokers, the Capitol invaders, are dealt with harshly and by the dozens and hundreds, it will happen on everybody’s TV or phone screen and be noted in everybody’s favorite blog. In other words, I think this event *can be* a watershed event, but I honestly don’t know if the new Administration, the Congress, the police and enforcement agencies have the cojones to make it such. I think we’d better make it so, or otherwise we will just prove their case — they really CAN get away with murder.
    We must not let that happen.

  4. John Penley John Penley January 20, 2021

    I also believe that Roger Stone will be arrested again and charged with conspiracy along with others involved in the Capitol storming and murder of a Capitol police officer.

    • John Penley John Penley February 1, 2021

      In the near future, Americans will realize that Trump, ironically, got more dangerous White Supremacists off the streets, doing hard time, in high-level Federal Prisons, than anyone in the country. He convinced these not-so-intelligent Citizens to storm the Capitol and commit serious felony crimes, mostly against Capitol Police, after Trump went around the country for four years talking about Law and Order and how much he and his followers loved cops. Stay tuned — this gets better every day.

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