DUNCANSVILLE, Pa. — The first meeting of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia drew only six men—all old guard members of now disbanded groups.
It’s the sixth time Christian J. Yingling is starting from the beginning. Over 12 years, the 48-year-old from the Pittsburgh area led a group called the Westmoreland County Regulators, followed by four iterations of the Pennsylvania Lightfoot Militia.
As commanding officer of the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia Laurel Highlands Ghost Company, based out of Latrobe, Yingling attended protests such as the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Aug. 11 to 12, 2017 and the “Defend Our Flag” rally in Gettysburg on July 4, 2020.
Militias are controversial groups of privately armed citizens. They were out in force this past year of massive civil engagement, patrolling both right- and left-wing rallies and protests.
Militias rarely give an inside view of their operations. But the Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia agreed to embed FOX43’s Harri Leigh for one of their training weekends, held in West Central Pennsylvania, to dissect their motives and mission.
After a dispute between members, Yingling left his post with the Light Foot Militia to start a new group.
“It was just build, make it big, burn it down, build mega big, burn it down, build, make it big, burn it down,” Yingling said. “And that's kind of where we're at today.”
Militia membership is often fluid, as groups frequently form and disband.
“The militia attracts alpha types,” he said. “When you attract enough alpha types, eventually somebody is going to butt heads.”
The Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia is associated with the national Light Foot Militia, which the ACLED classifies as having a low history of and moderate potential for violence.
This time around, Yingling is founding a new group outside of the Light Foot organization. Under the new Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia, Yingling believes he can set a new agenda.
“I'm trying to change how you look at the militia,” he said.
Yingling said has a new vision of what a militia could be: a third-party watchdog of both the government and extremist groups.
“We do tactical training. We wear camouflage. We carry guns. Absolutely. But that's not all we do,” Yingling said. “You know, we want to do community service stuff- help out at food banks, you know, go help, clean up a playground.”
The Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia trains for different situations, though most involve government overreach. In one exercise, members were given 15 minutes and $50 to buy enough supplies to evade authorities in the case that the government mandated COVID-19 vaccination.
“The government is never going to look at us in a favorable light because we are, in my opinion, always going to be a threat to them,” Yingling said. “Not necessarily in the fact that we're in a militia, but in the fact that our militia and other militias out there are the first ones to stand up when there's constitutional violations taking place, the first ones to step up, ‘Whoa, Hey, Whoa, time out, slow down.’”
But everything the militia does is protect others’ individual liberties, members said.
“We’re helping the community, but we’re armed,” said Bob Gardner, PVM’s executive officer.
The militia’s methods, though, are controversial, and many say problematic.
This is the first in a five-part series taking an honest look at the modern militia movement and how the Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia’s vision fits in it. The series will continue May 17 with a look into the history of the modern militia movement and why it’s intertwined with gun rights.
*Editor’s note: The Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia declined to be part of this story. However after publication they reached out to clarify that while Christian Yingling and Bob Gardner were former members, the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia still operates separately and independently from the Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia.
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