The Oklahoman

Group says it will train Christians on combat

Missouri event raises concerns over possible militia activity

- Judy L. Thomas

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – 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 on “hand-to-hand combat” and “fighting 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 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 offense – 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 traffics 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 filled 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 has organized protests in Joplin and Carthage this fall against “forced tyrannical vaccinatio­ns.”

“One of the very first 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 sissified 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 nonprofit 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 & fighting skills.”

It’s also for “Christians willing to adapt, change the way we think, change the way we respond & overcome difficulties & dangerous situations we may find ourselves.”

The training will cover “room clearing, hand to hand fighting and fighting 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 flashlight (weapon mounted or hand held) in dark or low light conditions.”

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