Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to credit the original reporting done by Montana journalist Hunter Pauli, who was first on this story and connected the dots revealing its significance.
A round of flyers advertising recruitment for a militia to “end the hijacking of America by the deep state” and to put an end to “American communism” popped up in Helena, Montana on Sunday.
It was a mystery where they came from, but the pamphlets left readers with a clue: those who wanted to “learn more” about the bid to muster a militia aimed at creating a new Congress could stop by a local church, the Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church, for an information session next month.
Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church, a church with a history of wading into political controversy, is helmed by the state chaplain of Montana’s Air National Guard, local reporter Hunter Pauli reported.
But Chad Helser, Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church senior pastor and chaplain at Montana’s 120th Airlift Wing, emphatically denied to TPM in a phone interview and subsequent statement that he or his congregation were involved in advocating for the overthrow of the U.S. government.
Instead, Hesler maintained, his church had decided to “house” the group, called Tactical Civics, due to concerns about free speech.
“We are not sponsoring this, or encouraging attendance, but we will not deny this organization the right to speak,” Hesler said.
He also emphasized to TPM that “this congregation has not made any statement, we have not advertised, supported for or against, made financial contributions, nor is this congregation recruiting or sending out recruiters for any institution other than the kingdom of god.”
Bloggers in Montana first noticed over the weekend that people in Helena were distributing pamphlets advertising recruitment for the militia, which would replace Congress with a version containing “small districts to limit politicians’ power.”
Tactical Civics is a group run by onetime Infowars guest David Zuniga. Pauli first reported Zuniga’s involvement. Its name is emblazoned on the pamphlets, which promote a plan for fighting back against a Republic that has been “overthrown by openly arrogant, lawless Washington DC and state palaces who push mask fascism, steal elections, invite in illegal aliens, plan gun grabs, and intend to make American Communism permanent.”
One local report said that members of Hesler’s church were distributing the flyers to recruit for the militia project.
“No members of the church that I’m aware of were handing out the flyer,” Hesler told TPM.
Hesler became a pastor after a career in the Air Force, which led to him becoming a state chaplain for the National Guard.
The pastor of this Montana church that wants to start a militia to "end the hijacking of America by the deep state" and stop "American communism" was sworn in last year as state chaplain of the Montana Air National Guard. https://t.co/838k8YfJ96 https://t.co/s4UHoAIkcd pic.twitter.com/S2fZp7mAKf
— Hunter Pauli (@paulimeth) March 21, 2021
The Tactical Civics session comes as the military conducts a full-force examination of extremism within its ranks following the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol. Among those charged with crimes related to the breach of Congress, more than thirty have been veterans.
At the same time, the Biden administration has recently been reviewing the threat of violent domestic extremism in the U.S. Last week, a declassified summary of an intelligence report from that review stated that “contentious sociopolitical factors” like COVID-19 lockdowns and myths around fraud in the 2020 election were likely to spur violently inclined militias to attempt attacks on the government in the months to come.
During the phone conversation with TPM, Hesler disavowed any form of violence and said that his work as a chaplain at the National Guard was “separate” from his congregation and the groups to which it lets its physical space.
“This is in no way shape or form tied in with the National Guard, nor is anything on my end doing anything within the realm of the National Guard,” Hesler said. “There is a First Amendment right, and even part of the chaplaincy is to make sure that that First Amendment right is not infringed upon.”
A spokesman for the Montana Air National Guard declined to comment on the matter beyond confirming Hesler’s position as a chaplain.
Tactical Civics endorses claims made by former President Trump that fraud was rampant in the 2020 election, and takes them to their logical conclusion: forming a network of militias in every county in the U.S. aimed at “repenting our abdication, and returning to our chores, to take our lives and republic back, one county at a time.”
The group describes its militia formations as “American Militia 2.0™,” taking the tone of an advertorial to say that “you and your neighbors not only suppress insurrections and repel invasions but enforce the Law against ‘untouchable’ private-sector criminals (Big Tech, paid ‘astroturf’ mobs of violent thugs) and public-sector criminals who are destroying America’s families and businesses with fascist, lawless orders.”
Zuniga declined to speak to TPM over the phone, but emailed a PDF presentation outlining the group’s plan for “making our servant government OBEY the U.S. Constitution.”
“In our age, when gaslighting is the Big Tech/journalist standard, plain truth and black-letter law appear to garner little interest,” Zuniga wrote in the email. “But today’s zoological feeding frenzy must eventually abate, especially in the American heartland, and truth will prevail in the end.”
Hesler says that his church is merely providing a physical space for the organization.
“This is a civics course that is going to be discussing First Amendment rights, the boundaries of First Amendment rights, Second Amendment rights, and then specifically what the statement of that, what does it mean for a well regulated militia,” he told TPM. “The organizer or the leader has asked to use the facility of Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church.”
He added that he agreed with parts of the group’s manifesto and disagreed with others.
“I can agree with the areas of the founding father’s original intentions,” Hesler said, and then added that he disagreed with a proposal from Tactical Civics that would place term limits on members of the new, post-militia Congress.