Priest River, Idaho
By Matt Mills McKnight
On a piece of public land near Priest River, Idaho, designated in 1911 as the Priest River Experimental Forest and used over the years by the Conservation Corps., a growing group of like-minded individuals gather to prepare for the worst and express their right to bear arms.
This wasn’t the first time I met members of the Light Foot Militia, but it was the largest gathering of them I had seen in the few years I have been documenting their story. We have kept in touch, and when they contacted me about attending their third annual gathering, I jumped at the opportunity. In years past they were less enthusiastic about having me around for this event, so I was thankful for the access. We first met when I was living in Sandpoint, Idaho, a beautiful mountain lake community about 45 minutes north of Couer d’Alene, Idaho. Jeff Stankiewicz, a welding manager, started assembling a local unit shortly after President Obama was inaugurated in 2009, and it has been growing since.
Enter camp and it’s separated by battalions from various counties of northern Idaho and eastern Washington, an American flag strewn up a makeshift wooden flagpole in the center of it all. Men, women and children mill about and prepare their little corner of the camp.
“People’s feelings in our country started changing with the Tea Party,” said Stankiewicz, during a conversation with other members of the militia and families at an evening bonfire. “I moved to northern Idaho in the nineties and after Waco and Ruby Ridge many of the militia had gone underground. It was all considered taboo and it stayed that way for a long time.”
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.”