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Viva Las Vegas! Activist makes radical relocation

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Former East Village rabble-rouser John Penley is rolling his dice on Las Vegas.

For around the past eight years, Penley had been living in Asheville, North Carolina, where he grew up. He had participated in the Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan in 2011, but then, unfortunately, found himself priced out of the city. So he decided to head back Down South.

Recently, after a family dispute over his late parents’ house — his sister wanted to sell it, he wanted to keep living in it — he again found himself on the outs. 

“My sister evicted me,” he said.

Shortly after arriving in Vegas, John Penley was documenting a Trump rally. (Photo by John Penley)

After doing some research, Penley decided Vegas would be his next stop.

So he packed up his stuff, rented a U-Haul, got a driver and headed out West.

As for what made up his mind about moving to Sin City, he said, “Honestly, it was cheap rent, and it was a city that had stuff going on.

“For $1,150 a month, I’ve got two bedrooms, a big living room, a bathroom, two big walk-in closets, with utilities, everything included.”

Fake news! The white Trump supporters toted “Latinos for Trump” and “Black Voices for Trump” posters. (Photo by John Penley)

He’s been going through some serious health issues lately, but the Vietnam-era veteran is re-upping with the Veterans Administration in Vegas for his healthcare.

Although he picked up stakes and relocated, Penley — a former New York City news photographer in the 1980s and ’90s — didn’t leave behind his urge to document events, especially political demonstrations, one of his specialities.

John Penley being arrested in 2012 at a demonstration against war and in support of helping homeless veterans at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Courtesy John Penley)

During the recent Nevada caucuses, he snapped photos of white Trump supporters who, he was incredulous to see, were toting “Black Voices for Trump” and “Latinos for Trump” signs. 

Talk about “fake news”!

The former East Village rabble-rouser is turning over a new leaf in Las Vegas, and enjoying that Nevada is a state with legal recreational pot. This marijuana dispensary is right down the block from him. (Photo by John Penley)
Las Vegas, a place with “stuff going on.”

Two-and-a-half years ago, he documented the clash between the alt-right and antifa at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville where a woman was killed by a white supremacist who plowed his car into a group of antifa marchers.

Another benefit of moving to Las Vegas for Penley is that, as of three years ago, recreational marijuana has been legal there. All those years of fighting to legalize pot, he mused with a chuckle, and now he is, at last, living in a state where the weed has been freed.

Alt-right members held a hate-spewing tiki torch march, above and below, the night before the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. (Photo by John Penley)
(Photo by John Penley)
Antifa and alt-right members clashing in Charlottesville in August 2017. (Photo by John Penley)
Klan members at a rally in Charlottesville in July 2017 to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. (Photo by John Penley)
Antifa members marching in Charlottesville in August 2017. (Photo by John Penley)


  1. john doe john doe April 2, 2021

    Wow, what a legend. Great to hear John Penley is doing well. I used to live below him on Avenue D and he shared many of his incredible stories with me on the fire escape. I even wrote about him for a project I did at Hunter College. Not many left like him Downtown!

    • John Penley John Penley April 3, 2021

      Thank you John Doe for your kind words. I also add here that Tom Palumbo died, of cancer, soon after he made his comment. We were very close and both supported Veterans For Peace. I think of him often.

  2. Blackjack Blackjack April 18, 2020

    There’s so my sweet thankful about you John I think the best part is your sense of humor thanks for keeping it alive love you,

    • Blackjack Blackjack April 18, 2020

      *There are so many

  3. Yaudi Yaudi March 6, 2020

    Thank you John! May the dice roll in your favor all the time!
    Peace and Loce

  4. Tom Palumbo Tom Palumbo March 2, 2020

    And to think first time i met him I took him for a narc/undercover. Been proven wrong several times since!

  5. bill perry bill perry March 1, 2020

    ty, Village Sun, and Lincoln, for spot lighting the amazing 30-some year stretch of time that straddles the millennium divide, when John Penley captured so many amazing moments that define our generation.
    bp, VET for PEACE

  6. The Last Pyrate The Last Pyrate March 1, 2020

    Love ya Johnny, and glad you feel safer in a more friendly environment. Keep it up comrade, we will share space again. ✌???? ???? The Last Pyrate

  7. John Penley John Penley March 1, 2020

    Asheville NC radio show host Russell Johnson drove me out here all the way from West Asheville. Russell was brutally beaten, injured and arrested 2 times for protesting police brutality around the country with Veterans For Peace and I love him for bringing me to Vegas and he now has a Vegas vacation apartment any time in my hood.

  8. clayton clayton March 1, 2020

    John has certainly been hardcore on the activist trail for decades. No question he has earned his place as an LES legend. Disappointed, after all he did to fight for the squats, he was never offered a place. He spilled his blood for that cause. I wish John the best and thanks to Lincoln and the Village Sun for writing this and keeping us in the loop how John is doing,

    • John Penley John Penley March 1, 2020

      Overheard on a Vegas public bus [IT SUCKS] here and wanted to pass it on…..Get as much credit as you can and buy event safety and security with nonperishable food items and if it all melts down [I really hope that DOES NOT HAPPEN] you will be ahead of the game of survival and life. PEACE Thanks Clayton glad we are both still alive.

  9. Chris Chris March 1, 2020

    Love you John and love that you are still making waves!

  10. John Penley John Penley March 1, 2020

    Leftover Crack who are from NYC East Village and played at the Donut Riot at the 9th Pct. that I organized with Jerry the Peddler and Bill Cashman of C Squat a long time ago will be playing Vegas this spring on a new tour. Surprised to find that Vegas is a big Punk music stronghold and has bars and casinos that book lots of big and not so big punk bands. Oh and FYI I now have 2 bathrooms and a large kitchen too. Also…Thank you Elizabeth for the kind words.

  11. Elizabeth Elizabeth March 1, 2020

    Thanks for covering Penley’s move to Las Vegas, Lincoln. Glad he has an extra room in case the Cubans ever stage another big cabaret show there – or SeWagE plays another Vegas punk gig! And it’s a diverse stronghold of progressive democratic socialists… Woo hoo!

    • John Penley John Penley March 2, 2020

      Vegas is a unionized town thanks to the Teamsters and the Mob. Who could have known that this would result in Nevada going for Bernie Sanders in 2020 ?

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