What to Know
The Pennsylvania State Militia granted NBC 4 New York's I-Team exclusive access after months of organizations
Its founder says the group isn't anti-government or political, and that it's goal is to supplement law enforcement
“You need the militia around to make sure that the local area ... is protected from the marauders and wolves of society,” a member said
A few hours away from New York City, weekend warriors are involved in what they call Patriot games. Members of the Pennsylvania State Militia (PSM) drill once a month in military-style maneuvers and weapons training. They are not members of the National Guard, which is a reserve military force of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The PSM is a private militia group. Private militia training is legal in most states as long as members don’t incite violence or civil unrest and follow local gun laws. New York state has an old law that puts restrictions on private militias operating in public.
The PSM, which trains on various private compounds in northern Pennsylvania near the New York border, granted NBC 4 New York's I-Team rare access after months of negotiations.
The founder of the militia group, Staff Sgt. Michael Grove, said members were concerned about how they might be portrayed in the media. Some did not want to show their faces or give their real names.
Grove said the group is preparing to be deployed to respond to any type of threat, whether it be a natural disaster or terrorism.
“Whether it’s a hurricane or say it’s a riot. It only takes one storeowner to contact us and say, 'I don’t want my place burned down,'" he said.
Grove said the group is not anti-government or political and that its goal is to supplement law enforcement.
"I wouldn’t say we are right wing. I wouldn’t say we’re left wing. We’re just the guys in the middle," he said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks anti-government militia groups, identifying 165 in 2016. The PSM is not on their list.
“There are a lot of militias we don’t list because they’re not governed by conspiracy theories," Ryan Lenz of the Southern Poverty Law Center said. "They’re not out there thinking the United Nations is going to jackboot its way into their backyards.”
Many in the PSM have law enforcement or military backgrounds. Others are average Joes who fancy themselves as GI Joe.
The two dozen members include a retail salesman, a welder, a college student and a professor.
The professor told the I-Team he moved to Pennsylvania from New York City, where gun laws are much stricter.
“In New York it’s almost a crime to do everything, it’s a crime to sit on a milk crate,” he said. “You need the militia around to make sure that the local area where we reside is being protected from the marauders and wolves of society.”
A man who identified himself as Colonel Rokk said he taught martial arts in Brooklyn for most of his life and also recently moved to Pennsylvania.
“I’m a martial arts teacher so I’m part of the 3 percent of the people who actually know how to defend themselves and other people with my hands or a weapon if necessary," he said. "We have like minds and skill sets."
Grove said all members are required to have legal gun permits and attend monthly training drills. He also said they're all vetted carefully.
"We don’t want extremists in the PSM,” he said. “Extremists are the guys who give the militia a bad name.”
The PSM is now actively recruiting new members.