“Non-”Profiting on the Militia Movement: The Freedom Fighters Foundation

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FULL TEXT: The Freedom Fighters Foundation (FFF) is a 501c3 non-profit affiliated with militia groups and Border Patrol whose partner organization has been conducting rallies in Indiana. While very little investigation has been done into this group, NSFH is in conversation with other national researchers who are also concerned that these rallies could have a chilling effect on voters. While it is not yet clear how an organization with apparent ties to militia movements attained non-profit status, we do know they are collecting donations and selling merchandise. 

This report discusses the information we have about the FFF and how they are impacting local elections. Beginning with the origins of the group, it eventually turns to the “Trump Trains” organized by the local FFF chapter in Terre Haute, highlighting their deeply bigoted and violent social media posts indicative of a dangerous ideology. 

What is the Freedom Fighters Foundation?

There hasn’t been a lot of national coverage of this organization, which originated in California. Much of what we have learned about them has come from the FFF’s ties to Indiana right-wing rally groups, particularly those that are part of the Trump Train car caravans. The Freedom Fighters Foundation has had non-profit status since 2017, but prior to that, they appear to have been a private gun range. In 2016, they were served a warning letter by the County of San Diego indicating that their property was violating several building and noise codes. In response, they tried to argue that they could operate without a permit because they were a private range. 

According to reporting by NBC7 in San Diego, people on the range identified themselves as Border Patrol agents. When asked by NBC, the FFF wrote back and said they operated a private range which people could visit by invitation only, including, “people who work for federal and state law enforcement agencies.” NBC reported that Border Patrol claimed not to know that their members were affiliated with this dangerous organization, and thanked NBC for “making them aware of the issue.” 

Neighbors’ complaints cited the dangerous and disruptive conditions at the range. People were especially concerned about injury from stray bullets. However, they were also worried about the physical layout of the range and the extremism of its operators. One neighbor, a former FBI agent, worried that because there was only one exit and one entrance to the range, there was potential for a situation similar to Waco. Habitually aggressive toward those around them, the owners of the range, when this former agent tried to confront them for shooting on a high-fire day, threatened to have him arrested for trespassing. Trying to present themselves as both agents of the law and exempt from it, the FFF made the case that their neighbors had no right to safety or peace, and threatened those around them by referencing their ties to law enforcement. In the same year that the FFF seems to have applied for non-profit status, the former CEO of the FFF pleaded guilty to gun trafficking charges

As a non-profit, FFF is able to sell merchandise and collect donations:

Those symbols — recognizably the mark of the Three Percenters Militia — indicate an affiliation with a dangerous movement. In Bloomington, the Three Percenters showed up in armed support of Sarah Dye at the Farmers Market. In Vigo County, Three Percenter flags have been seen regularly at Trump Train events. According to the ADL, the militia movement originated in the 1990s and the Three Percenters in 2008: 

The Three Percenter concept may be best understood as a way to simplify, popularize and spread the ideology and beliefs of the militia movement.  The militia movement is a right-wing anti-government extremist movement that arose in 1993-94. Its core belief centered on the idea that the federal government is collaborating with a shadowy globalist and socialist conspiracy (often referred to as the “New World Order”) in order to strip Americans of their rights and freedoms, starting with their right to bear arms, so that Americans can be made slaves to the New World Order and its agenda. Militia activists view the federal government as tyrannical and illegitimate; some seek to defend Americans from its perceived ravages, while others occasionally plot to attack the government. 

This armed anti-government group often aligns with other extremist organizations, as we saw here in Bloomington with the American Identity Movement. The ADL also points out that they have a pattern of members facing criminal charges, such as the gun running charge against FFF’s former CEO. 

Our concern is not only the way non-profit status legitimizes this group, but also the lack of transparency surrounding the activities they may be funding. Although the extent of their influence remains to be seen, there is a subsidiary organization here in Indiana and others in Ohio and Kentucky. This raises important questions about the nature of this movement, how far it has spread, and how it distributes its funds. Additionally, we are concerned about where this funding is coming from. Their 2018 990EZ reveals sizable donations. They indicate receiving loans from Antoinette Djokich, Chris Louchios, a “Charles A Schmidt Trust,” and Mike Real, but by and large, where their funds originate is a mystery. Djokich is also listed as the organization’s CFO. The CEO is Tim LaFrance, and the listed directors are Hans Wiederrich, Chris Louchios, and James Luber. 

FFF in Indiana

Disturbingly, a local organization called “The Freedom Fighters of Central Indiana” has been hosting pro-Trump rallies throughout in Terre Haute, disrupting traffic and littering. The founder of the local organization is Hunter Ash, a Q-Anon and Blue Lives Matter Republican. The Freedom Fighters Foundation (CA) twitter account shares far-right views about the second amendment, government, and gives some indications of white supremacy. The main FFF account has shared posts from Stephen Crowder, Jack Posobeic and Charlie Kirk, all Nazi acolytes. While the accounts for the local FFF-CI have been comparatively quieter, a recent meme about gun rights has raised questions about their allegedly non-violent protest:

The most immediate threat from FFF-CI seems to be the pro-Trump rallies that they have been organizing. Online, these efforts have been a rallying point for a wide variety of far-right organizations and figures, featuring individuals like the owner of Top Guns, who once produced an advertisement that appeared to threaten Beto O’Rourke with gun violence. On October 17, the group organized a “Trump Train,” a car rally in support of Trump. Footage of the rally was uploaded onto Tik Tok, including multiple videos from different users

Like their counterparts in California, disruption to the community peace seems to be the hallmark of this group. While organizers claim these events are positive rallies in favor of the Trump campaign, their actions and rhetoric suggest otherwise. By loudly occupying public spaces, extremist groups demonstrate their power, numbers, and ability to “get to” their perceived enemies. Not only a nuisance to the community, now these rallies are turning toward what appears to be direct voter intimidation and interference. On October 31, the members of the “Trump Train” are joining a Vigo County Republian as well as Back the Blue protesters for a “Republican Voting Rally.” According to our sources, the plan is to pack the City Center parking lot so that people seeking to vote are unable to find parking. 

We are deeply concerned about this activity disenfranchising Vigo County voters. Moreover, we find it particularly troubling that this Trump Train is connected to what appears to be a private militia organization with non-profit status (and that such a thing even exists). It’s unsurprising, however, that these groups would be connected to a business venture. As we have repeatedly seen, many extremist groups do seek to profit from what they are doing, and extremism can be lucrative both as a business in itself and for social media companies like Facebook. 

We’re calling on the Vigo County Board of Elections to send a strong message to the community that voter interference will not be tolerated. We’re also calling on local government to respond directly to those who attempt to intimidate voters, and we hope both the media and the IRS takes an interest in how the Freedom Fighters Foundation managed to acquire non-profit status.