A group that says its mission is “to halt and push back the forces of darkness” is holding a tactical event in southwest Missouri this weekend to train Christians in “hand-to-hand combat” and “fighting from your vehicle.”
Called the Missouri Embattled Warriors Event, the gathering is reminiscent of the militia exercises and preparedness training that spread across the country in the 1990s. It is scheduled to run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday on wooded property along Highway Mm in Newton County between Neosho and Joplin.
“We’re a group of Christian men and women that go out and will stand against unrighteousness,” said Kevin VanStory, a real estate broker from Neosho and a leader of the Salt and Light Brigade MAKO edition, which includes Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma.
“This will be an intensive study about self defense. What happens if you were driving on I-70 last year when all those riots were taking place in Kansas City and St. Louis? It’s about time that Christians start going on the offense — at least stop being always on the defense.”
But the head of an organization that has tracked extremist groups for decades said the event raises concerns.
“The group is trying to hide far-right paramilitary training behind a friendly facade,” said Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. “Whatever the label, the group traffics in racist scaremongering to draw people into paramilitary activity. Whether or not they call it a militia, everyone should be concerned about a far-right paramilitary group like this coming to Missouri.”
VanStory said the “very loosely organized” group is not a militia and that the event is nothing to fear.
“We’ll be out in the country, and actually most of the training is going to involve airsoft guns,” he said. “I have no intention of ever using my gun on another human being unless I’m in absolute fear for my life.”
VanStory, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the U.S. House in Missouri’s 7th Congressional District, said he’s not afraid to tackle controversial issues. His Facebook page is filled with anti-vaccine posts — he refers to Dr. Anthony Fauci as a “Godless demon” — and he likes to “witness a lot and do a little street preaching.” He’s organized protests in Joplin and Carthage this fall against “forced tyrannical vaccinations.”
“One of the very first sentences in our Constitution is the right to pursue liberty,” he said. “But our liberties are getting taken away now at a pace that’s unfathomable. I am not crazy. I’m a God-fearing, USA-loving person. I never, ever in my life expected to be doing the things I’m doing now.”
He was prodded into activism, he said, because “we’ve had basically four decades of sissified or feminized pastors that have taken the man out of his rightful position as the leader of his family. ...I’m not saying I’m a man’s man, you know, I just want to protect my family.”
The Salt and Light Brigade is part of Pass the Salt Ministries, a nonprofit based in Hebron, Ohio. Saturday’s training, the organization says on its website, is designed for “Brigade members/Christians understanding the times in which we live” and for “Christians willing to learn tactical skills, preparedness skills & fighting skills.”
It’s also for “Christians willing to adapt, change the way we think, change the way we respond & overcome difficulties & dangerous situations we may find ourselves.”
The training will cover “room clearing, hand to hand fighting and fighting from a vehicle,” according to a post on VanStory’s Facebook page. “Saturday evening, a dark/low light class will be given. This will be pertaining to the use of a flashlight (weapon mounted or hand held) in dark or low light conditions.”
Additional one-on-one training is available on Sunday, the post said, which will include personal training on hand-to-hand combat and on rifles and pistols.
Tickets are $135 per person and $200 per couple, and the event will be limited to 36 participants. The Salt and Light Brigade has held similar events in other states, including Ohio, Oklahoma, Montana, Texas and Wisconsin.
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino, said the Brigade’s language “sounds very similar to the rhetoric of Christian Patriot militias that I tracked during the ’90s.”
“This doesn’t quite sound like Boy Scout camp to me,” Levin said. “But it’s my hope that they operate in a way that is consistent with Missouri’s very clear law on militias. ...When folks combine aggressive weapons training with demonizing public officials who are already under threat, that’s not a recipe for civic dialogue.”
Levin said Missouri, like all other states, has laws that ban private militias, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1886 that states have the authority to do so.
“Additionally, federal law prohibits the training and violent methods to foment civil disorder,” he said. “If history has taught us anything, it’s that private armies that do not answer to the rule of law constitute a threat.”
Pass the Salt Ministries is run by Dave Daubenmire, a former high school football coach whose school was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union in 1999 over complaints that his staff led the team in prayers and handed out Bible verses to players. The case was settled out of court, and the experience prompted Daubenmire to become an activist, he says on his website.
He quit coaching and formed Pass the Salt Ministries “to encourage the Body of Christ to step into the cultural war.”
Daubenmire, who goes by “Coach Dave,” has made headlines for protesting everything from vaccines to “homosexual indoctrination of our children in public schools” and once asking if America was weaker today “because multiculturalism is spiritual AIDS and has brought an infection into what was once a great Christian American culture.”