Light Foot Militia rises in Idaho's backcountry
The panhandle of Idaho is known for its beautiful mountains, trees, and waterways.
It's also home to a growing group of men and women who call themselves the Idaho regiment of the Light Foot Militia.Members believe they are the "teeth of the Constitution" at a time of economic and political uncertainty for the United States of America.
Cody Hoyt, a corporal in the Light Foot militia, looks west over the Clark Fork River and Lake Pend Oreille near the Idaho and Montana border during an overnight cold weather training exercise.
Commanding officer of the Idaho regiment of the Light Foot Militia, Maj. Jeff Stankiewicz, attaches an American flag to a pulley before raising it during a weekend-long training session on public lands near Priest Lake, Idaho. The U.S. government gave him this flag at the funeral of his father, Stephen Stankiewicz, who was a decorated World War II veteran.
“Hoisting my father’s flag and displaying it during our training session was important to me,” said Stankiewicz, , who helped form the Light Foot Militia in Idaho in 2009. “It’s a symbol of my family’s history of serving our country, my father would have been proud of me for helping organize the Light Foot Militia.”
The U.S. Constitution’s 2nd amendment allows citizens’ their right to arm themselves, and many state constitutions reinforce this idea. Stankiewicz cites the Idaho Constitution and says that "every able-bodied male, ages 18 through 45 years old, already belongs to the militia -- it’s his decision whether he serves or not."
Members of the 21st Battalion of the Idaho Light Foot Militia march on a 3-mile hike along a rural road near Priest River, Idaho, during a cold weather training exercise.
Members of the group consider themselves a constitutional militia and say they are not affiliated with any hate groups. However, the Southern Poverty Law Center lists them as one of 1,274 patriot groups that "engage in groundless conspiracy theorizing, or advocate or adhere to extreme anti-government doctrines."
Willard Protsman, captain of the Light Foot Militia's 21st battalion, carries his gun case to another militia member's vehicle prior to an overnight training exercise in the mountains near Clark Fork, Idaho. The militia conducts training exercises each month to further its readiness.
Protsman is also the regiment executive officer of the Idaho Light Foot Militia, and acts as a liaison with local law enforcement, government and media.
According to the organization's website, members of the Light Foot Militia should not live in secret. It also encourages the public to attend meetings and training sessions.
Capt. Willard Protsman, executive officer for the Idaho regiment of the Light Foot Militia, lights a cigar between training exercises at a camp near Priest Lake, Idaho. The former Civilian Conservation Corps camp now serves as a base for the militia’s overnight and weekend training exercises.
Protsman says that while the militia has at times been portrayed as racist, it's not.
“If you take a look at the demographics of north Idaho, there aren’t a whole lot of blacks, Hispanics or Asians,” said Protsman. “With all the bad press that militias have gotten, especially for north Idaho, we’re not going to disparage a black guy from coming to our meetings --although it’s almost akin to one of us going to a Crips or Bloods meeting and saying, ‘Hey, I wanna join!’”
Charlie Clemens, a 16-year-old recruit and son of Idaho Light Foot Militia member Robert Clemens of Couer d'Alene, trades a shotgun for a rifle during a weekend training exercise near Priest Lake, Idaho.
Because of his age, Charlie is not legally allowed to join the Light Foot Militia, but his father encourages him to train alongside militia members on a variety of exercises, including first aid, close quarter combat and live fire marksmanship.
Robert Clemens guards a logging road near the militia's training camp along the Idaho and Montana border near Clark Fork, Idaho. Some members of the Light Foot Militia are former members of the U.S. military, but others have no military background.
The militia in northern Idaho is comprised mainly of working-class men. Some have struggled to find work during the recent harsh economic times, as have many others in the region. They list a variety of occupations, including firefighter, welder, mechanic, police officer and security guard.
A member of the 63rd Battalion of Light Foot Militia based in eastern Washington awaits orders from his commander during a close combat training exercise in an abandoned office building in Spokane Valley, Wash. Battalions of the Light Foot Militia in eastern Washington and Idaho take turns hosting various training sessions.
Members of the Idaho Light Foot Militia do not use Global Positioning Satellite systems to navigate, fearing that doing so could give away their position in a combat situation. Instead they use U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management maps with a coordinate scale and protractor to remain “off the grid.”
Cpl. Cody Hoyt runs towards a mock enemy during a combat training exercise near Priest Lake, Idaho.
The Light Foot Militia started in Kootenai, Bonner and Boundary counties in northern Idaho, but units have sprung up around the country, including in Utah, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Texas and Pennsylvania.
“There are units of Light Foot militia all over the place now; it’s pretty much nationwide,” said Hoyt, explaining that members use social networking sites to share information.
Cpl. Cody Hoyt of Couer d'Alene, Idaho, consoles his son, Josiah, after a live fire training exercise during a weekend training near Priest River, Idaho. Hoyt explained that his son has never been fond of loud noises, but that he is slowly trying to get him more accustomed to firearms.
“My kids are still pretty young, so to them I’m guessing it feels like a camping trip,” said Hoyt of bringing his children to weekend-long training sessions. “My goal is to educate them that this is our right to do this, I bring them so they can see the value in the teamwork side of the militia -- we are a band of brothers.”
Cpl. Cody Hoyt of Couer d'Alene, Idaho, places his rifle in the backseat of his vehicle prior to a target practice exercise during a Light Foot Militia training exercise.
Members of the Light Foot Militia train together to prepare for a time when they must protect themselves, their families or their community from an unforseen scenario.
"You get the same general idea from everyone that times are getting bad and if/when a mob gets to my house it’s already over. There’s nothing that will stop them from taking everything I have and killing me and my family," said Capt. Willard Protsman. "So they (militia members) are looking realistically at stopping the problem before it gets to them."
Cpl. Cody Hoyt's girlfriend, Brandy Vanderzander, carries a dead rabbit back to camp after Hoyt shot it with his handgun in the presence of their children. Initially they had planned on eating the rabbit, but discarded it after being told by the battalion medic that it may contain harmful bacteria.
"We’re trying to build a sense of community, not just the guys but the families also," Light Foot Militia commanding officer Jeff Stankiewicz said, recounting his unit's decision to open weekend training sessions to families. "Other groups won’t do that, but we’re trying to prepare our families. Schools don’t teach our kids this stuff so we have to teach them."
Members of the Idaho regiment of the Light Foot Militia gather in Maj. Jeff Stankiewicz's cabin for breakfast after an overnight training session at a nearby camp.
“In being a member of the militia, there’s the idea of the chance at being a hero in the community, but it’s not the main driving force,” said Capt. Willard Protsman. “Most militia members do it because of a want to be part of a mutually supportive group.”
Maj. Jeff Stankiewicz holds a rabbit outside his cabin in northern Idaho, where he lives with his wife, Leslie Brown-Stankiewicz. They raise chickens and rabbits in an effort to live sustainably and to prepare for a situation when they might not be able to obtain groceries.
Charlie Clemens, 16, and his father, Robert, practice administering IV fluids during first aid training in Athol, Idaho. Preparedness is an important facet of the militia mentality, as members want to ensure they can help each other in a crisis.
"Our division of labor is chosen based upon whatever experience some may have," said Maj. Jeff Stankiewicz. "Most recently a new member came to us who is a retired SWAT training office for the Las Vegas Police Department. Almost immediately he was asked to become training officer."
Militia member and former executive officer Mark Rovik discusses the Light Foot Militia patch, and proper uniform guidelines with other militia members at his home near Rathdrum, Idaho.
According to the Light Foot Militia standards, a 69-page document available on the group's website, the unit’s patch is green with a Spartan helmet with crossed swords pictured below the ancient Greek words, "Molon Labe," meaning "Come and get them."
Maj. Jeff Stankiewicz, commanding officer for the Idaho regiment of the Light Foot Militia, stands in front of the group's booth at a gun show in Priest River, Idaho, while another member, John Slack, checks the gunsight of a weapon offered for sale at the show.
"The governor is supposed to appoint officers and the Legislature is supposed organize, equip, and train the militia," Stankiewicz said, describing why he and other like-minded individuals founded the militia. "It’s the same mandate as education in the state, but they just don’t follow it."
Maj. Jeff Stankiewicz and Cpt. Willard Protsman meet with Kootenai County Commissioner Jai Nelson after her swearing in on Feb. 20, 2011 in Couer d’Alene, Idaho.
Stankiewicz said he and Protsman showed up "to support someone who believes strongly in the Constitution."
Members from multiple battalions of the Light Foot Militia salute the American flag while, left to right, Willard Protsman, Robert Clemens and Randall Klein remove it from a makeshift flagpole and fold it at the end of a weekend training exercise near Priest Lake, Idaho.
"The Constitution is what protects your freedom and liberty. It’s the document the guarantees everything you do," said Maj. Stankiewicz, describing the reason he and his fellow militia members felt duty-bound to join the Light Foot Militia. "It’s the whole point of it and why we are our here to defend the free republic. The 2nd Amendment is the teeth of our Constitution."
•PhotoBlog: Learn more about the Idaho Light Foot Militia