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LEADWOOD – Aaron Penberthy is alarmed at what he sees as the intrusion of government in the lives of the average American and he’s doing something about it — he’s become a militiaman.

A St. Francois County native, Penberthy is founder and state commanding officer of the Missouri Citizen Militia, a group made up of U.S. veterans, sheriff’s deputies, police, firefighters and everyday citizens.

“Since I formed the MCM in 2010, we have grown to over a thousand strong across the state of Missouri,” the 29-year-old Penberthy said. “The state is broke down into 37 zones. We have regular meetings and train at least once a month."

He said he’s concerned about the bad perception some Americans have of militia groups and wants to help them to understand that, in the case of his organization, they aren’t a bunch of armed wackos playing soldier and plotting the overthrow of the United States government.

“We help veterans and we respond to disasters such as tornadoes, floods, etc.,” the genial 29-year-old explained. “MCM has clothing, food and toy drives to help the needy or victims of natural disasters. We block the Westboro Baptist Church anytime they come within Missouri borders to protest anything. We do anything and everything we can to help to protect citizens of the United States of America.”

Penberthy has made a number of 27-hour one-way trips to southeastern Nevada in recent months to make a stand, along with other MCM members, against federal officers at the cattle ranch of Cliven Bundy. The rancher has been in a 20-year legal dispute with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over changes to grazing rules.

“The BLM used a paramilitary team with snipers and machine guns to force their will upon a 60-plus year old man, his wife and family," he said. “I have been rotating different MCM units since it all happened. I'm not anti-government, I'm for limited government — not this overreaching tyranny that imposes their will on the people at gunpoint. Think about it. A government agency that manages land has their own paramilitary units. I am not a racist, an extremist or a domestic terrorist just because I am willing to utilize the Second Amendment against anyone who tries to deny my rights."

Penberthy asserts that many people don’t understand the reason why there’s been a standoff for months at Bundy’s ranch.

“I've had a few people want me to explain what's going on and the reason we went to Nevada,” he said. “I try to inform people every day. The Bureau of Land Management showed up at Cliven Bundy’s property to seize his land and cattle. The first reason they gave was that his cattle was causing damage to the population of an endangered desert tortoise. Well, come to find out, the government has actually bred so many of them that they have had to kill some of them off. So, then they went to the grazing fees.”

Penberthy said 500 militiamen and protesters showed up at Bundy’s ranch “after the BLM started using Mace and Tasers, began holding unarmed people at gunpoint and fenced off a First Amendment area.”

“I can tell you right now that this whole entire country is a First Amendment area,” he said.

Penberthy believes there was an ulterior motive behind the media’s focus on Bundy’s comments in which the rancher wondered if African-Americans might have been "better off" as slaves, while referring to them as “the Negro.”

“They took something he said out of context to try to make you believe he is a crazy racist person to weaken his support,” he said. “Me and my brother, 'Charlie Delta,' will reassure you that he is not. The Feds made you believe they backed down and called it off. Since all of this, Bundy's cattle have been found dead throughout the property, some with bullet holes from the top. Agents are still being spotted out there.

“I can tell you personally from being there that this is either about something on the land or because of the deal with the Chinese — because honestly, it's nothing but desert. There is nothing on it. I can tell you even at night while patrolling with thermal imaging that there is nothing out there. They were getting ready to kill an elderly man and his family for this land. Have we reached a point to where it's OK for government agents to kill people over this — or beat up, rough up and arrest protesters? That is our reason for going and why we’ll keep going.”

Penberthy said Americans who feel far removed from what’s happening in Nevada may be in for a rude awakening.

“Now this is happening in Utah and Texas,” he said. “Soon it will be happening near you. The fact that a government agency has and is using its own paramilitary and sniper units should be enough to outrage you. The people that I met there were amazing. While we weren't doing what we were there to do, they would have breakfast, lunch and dinner ready for us at the mess hall. I looked forward to the casual conversation every evening. Our team was made up of some great people. Each one of them was a character — good people, not some ‘crazy domestic terrorists’ like they’re made out to be. We just want the killing to stop.

“No one has the right to take another person's life,” Penberthy continued. “... especially over a s***hole desert. Those who know me know that I always try to make people happy and help anyone out in any way that I can. This country belongs to ‘We the People.’ The machine has become too big. You are a statistic to them. They do not care about you. I do not care if you agree with me or not on issues. The reason why the United States Militia is responding is for your ability to exercise your individualism, your rights and your life. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men and women do nothing. Pay attention and do not just sit back and let this happen.”

Penberthy sees himself as nothing special or unusual — just an average Joe trying his best to save his country and its freedoms.

“I am that guy that waves at everyone that goes down my road and helps anyone that I can, even if I don't know them,” he said. “I’m a proud American and I’m fed up. Do you still believe in the good guys because you live in a world where madmen are famous and good ones forgotten? Where doors are locked and streets have gone silent? Where killers and con artists prey upon anyone who still follows the rules? Do you believe in people who would rather fail honestly than lie to get ahead? Do you believe in those who reach out to help even when they're free to turn their backs?

“It takes courage to be free — a special kind of backbone to reject the world that surrounds you. To sign your name where everyone can see it. To believe that there is always a right choice and an honest consequence. That's what it means to believe in America. It's time to believe in the good guys again. If there is to be trouble, let it be in our day so that our children will know peace. The price for our freedom at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay that price.”

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Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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