'Good way to die': An AR-15 worshiping Moonies sect mobilized for Jan. 6 and is recruiting the far right to its apocalyptic vision
Screengrab from a video rodofironministries (Sean Moon) posted on Instagram.
August 03, 2021
With just over three weeks to go before the 2020 presidential election, former White House senior counselor Steve Bannon addressed a crowd gathered on the grounds of Kahr Arms/Tommy Gun Warehouse in Greeley, Pa. by video. He warned about a supposed Democratic conspiracy to steal the election from Donald Trump.
"What the left intends to do — and you're seeing it in Pennsylvania right now — use the courts, use social media, use the mainstream media to try to make sure Trump is not declared the winner that night," Bannon said. He went on to promise that the Trump forces would "win this thing," adding: "Pennsylvania is the key that picks the lock for a second Trump term."
Frank Scavo, a local Republican politician who had previously served on the Old Forge School Board in Lackawanna County, emceed the event. Following Bannon's remarks, Scavo reinforced the previous speaker's points.
"You heard Steve Bannon," Scavo said. "Now is our time, now is your time. Working the polls — all you're doing is making sure that it's going straight, that it's going according to plan. All you're doing is making sure that there aren't busloads of people which show up and just happen to vote."
Then, Scavo introduced the next speaker — a man dressed in a camouflage-patterned suit and tie and wearing a crown of bullets, with a gold-plated AR-15 rifle slung over his shoulder. It was Pastor Hyung Jin "Sean" Moon, leader of World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, more commonly known as Rod of Iron Ministries. Alongside Kahr Arms, the gun manufacturer owned by older brother Kook-Jin "Justin" Moon, Rod of Iron Ministries hosts the "Freedom Festival," an annual celebration of firearms, military service and patriotism in the Pocono Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania.
"Pastor Moon has the message," Scavo told the assembly. "He has the answers, and the answers are from above. Pastor Moon is the vessel that delivers the message, but it's up to us to deliver on what the word of God is."
Since 2017, Rod of Iron Ministries, an offshoot sect led by the youngest son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon that worships with AR-15s, has increasingly aligned itself with Donald Trump, while aggressively evangelizing to the pro-Second Amendment and anti-government flanks of the far right. Consistent with the teachings of the Unification Church from which it sprang, Rod of Iron Ministries considers Sun Myung Moon "as a returning Jesus," or "True Father." Believers call Sean Moon the "2nd King," although Rod of Iron is bitterly divided against other factions led by Hak Ja Han, the widow of Sun Myung Moon and Sean's mother, and his older brother Hyun Jin "Preston" Moon, which are also vying for recognition as heirs to the legacy of the cult's founder.
Among the groups involved in the insurrection, including the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, and loose configurations of Three Percenters, the role of Rod of Iron Ministries as a hub of organizing for the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol has been largely overlooked.
Following the 2020 election, Rod of Iron Ministries deployed its American members to a string of large rallies in Washington DC, Harrisburg, Pa. and Valdosta, Ga. in November and December that helped build momentum for the Jan. 6 insurrection, along with church members enlisted from Japan and South Korea who also fanned out across Pennsylvania for almost daily roadside rallies in support of Trump. As leader of Rod of Iron Ministries, Sean Moon promoted the big lie that the election was stolen from Trump, while issuing apocalyptic warnings to his followers to prepare for violent confrontation as President Biden's inauguration approached. They marched in paramilitary formation in DC, with members outfitted in tactical vests, helmets and protective glasses, while networking with other pro-Trump groups such as Vets for Trump and Phyllis Schlafly's Eagles, along with Pennsylvania political figures like Frank Scavo.
On Jan. 6, a video shared on Instagram by Sean Moon shows him and at least a dozen Rod of Iron Ministries members reacting to chemical spray from law enforcement officers on the plaza outside the Capitol, and Moon later led members onto the scaffolding on the west side of the building. One Rod of Iron Ministries associate, Robert Pickell, pushed against a line of Capitol police officers in riot gear outside the Columbus Doors as other rioters pelted the officers with projectiles and bashed out windows with flagpoles. In video reviewed by Raw Story, Pickell can be seen charging into the police line to the left of the entrance, as the doors open and another person yells, "They're in!" Pickell has not been charged, but Frank Scavo, who introduced Sean Moon at the Rod of Iron Freedom Festival in October 2020, faces a charge of violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building, among other felonies offenses.
'It's not even their country'
Beginning in mid-October, teams of Japanese and Korean believers chaperoned by Rod of Freedom Ministries member Ted O'Grady crisscrossed Pennsylvania, from the state capital in Harrisburg to State College and back east to Honesdale, holding almost daily roadside rallies in support of Donald Trump.
An update on the Facebook page for the Newfoundland Sanctuary Church — Rod of Iron Ministries' headquarters in rural Wayne County — indicated that the international visitors had initially planned to come for seven days in October to attend the Freedom Festival and a Trump fundraising dinner. But after Nov. 3, Sean Moon asked them to stay another 21 days to travel "all over Pennsylvania rallying with the message of the Trump landslide!" Later, Moon "asked them to extend their visit to 40 days because of the electoral emergency in the USA." The sect reported that more than 100 Japanese and Korean members "responded to the call of Heaven, going out to rally no matter what the weather."
The weekend after the election, the Japanese members — dubbed by O'Grady as the "Elite J-Team Warriors" — joined a pro-Trump rally in Harrisburg, and posed with state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a retired Army colonel and expert on hybrid warfare who has acknowledged being present outside the US Capitol on Jan. 6 and is currently a leading voice in the campaign to launch an "audit" of the 2020 election in Pennsylvania.
In a Nov. 12 sermon streamed over the internet, Sean Moon held up the Japanese visitors in positive contrast to his American followers, praising them for their fervor.
"We have to seriously train up our American folks," Moon said. "And just watching them, wow, they put the US to shame. Seriously, it's not even their country and they're out there three times a day, okay, doing the prayers for the country. You can't say, 'Well, they don't have jobs.' Hello. They gave up their jobs to come here."
Growing increasingly agitated, Moon warned that if Biden became president, they would have "to fight against a tyrannical, globalist, Satanist, Luciferian force."
Raising the specter of Biden ordering the confiscation of guns — a perennial bugaboo of the far right — Moon asked, "How many conservatives are actually going to go out in a pile of lead? Or brass — a pile of brass? That means you're going to be in a gunfight with the police. How many conservatives are going to do that? Because in a gunfight with the police, because of the numbers, eventually they'll probably win, and you will die, and your whole family will die."
Addressing younger members of the sect, Moon railed, "Are you going to be the kind of bitch that says, 'Oh, I'm being threatened to die! Oh, crap. But I really like my life. And I really like video games. And if I just go along with this, maybe I'll be able to play for a couple more years and be able to enjoy my life a little bit. And what about my wife and what about my young baby and all that?' You don't think every warrior on the face of the planet [doesn't] think about that? That is not an excuse. There comes a point when there's no turning back if you're allowed to pass a certain precipice."
'Our veteran friends and folks have contacted us'
Sean Moon closed by reminding followers during his Nov. 12 sermon about a "big rally coming up on Saturday in DC" — the Million MAGA March — and instructed them to "be there." He added, "Already, our veteran friends and folks have contacted us. They're going to be down there, too, so we're hooking up with all of them."
On Nov. 14, Rod of Iron members, including Robert Pickell, joined other Trump supporters to protest the election results in Washington DC. Rod of Iron Ministries member Kyle Yoder memorialized an antagonistic encounter with antifascists while referencing the sect's paramilitary formation.
"Got up and personal with Antifa with my peace police peace militia camo on," he wrote on his Facebook page.
Jerry Heying, a veteran private security professional and firearms instructor who serves as national vice president of the Rod of Iron Riders — the sect's "motorcycle ministry" — documented his presence with a Facebook post showing himself standing in front of the Supreme Court with Pickell and Sean Moon on Nov. 14.
A month later, when Trump supporters gathered in DC again on Dec. 12 in advance of the electoral college vote, Heying marched at the front of the line with Sean Moon and Justin Moon as members chanted, "Stop the fraud," "The media lies," and "Biden lost."
The sect markedly enhanced its paramilitary appearance for the Dec. 12 rally, with younger members, including Yoder, wearing tactical vests, and some wearing helmets inscribed with Bible verse citations.
Heying is the president of Executive Protection Institute, a bodyguard training school with offices in New York City and Winchester, Va. Heying told friends on Facebook that over the course of his decades-long career, he has worked extensively with the US Secret Service as a private contractor to help protect US presidents.
Following the 2018 death of former President George HW Bush, Heying posted a photo on Facebook showing himself standing with the former president, writing, "I was fortunate to have worked around Pres Bush in numerous occasions."
A Rod of Iron Ministries friend commented on Heying's post: "Why is that fortunate?"
"As a professional protector I have worked with the USSS almost 100 times with multiple individuals from Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary, Ford, Obama and others," Heying wrote in response. "Regardless of my personal beliefs or opinions, these experiences were unique and at a pretty high level. My personal experiences with this man were positive and notable despite what some may believe or consider. This was the same for others I protected who at the time were respected but later fell from grace."
Another friend from Rod of Iron Ministries came to Bush's defense.
"I think he had a good side and supported Father," the friend wrote, referring to Rev. Sun Myung Moon. "I'm not sure how Deep State manipulates people but I'm sure they have many devious methods that hone in the higher you are."
Heying let the friend's assessment go without further comment.
Rod of Iron Ministries is currently offering a precision shooting course taught by Heying, with all proceeds going to the sect.
Heying could not be reached for comment for this story.
'Leaders in this movement'
When plans materialized for the Jan. 6 rally in DC, Rod of Iron members were quick to respond.
"Big protest in DC on January 6 th," Donald Trump tweeted on Dec. 19. "Be there, will be wild!" Kyle Yoder shared a screengrab of the president's tweet on his Facebook page on the same day, wondering: "Is Trump calling 'we the people' to DC?"
On Christmas Eve, Teddy Daniels, the Pennsylvania director for a group called Vets for Trump, shared a popular meme riffing on Emanuel Leutze's "Washington Crossing the Delaware" painting. "Americans willing to cross a frozen river to kill you," the meme reads. "In your sleep. On Christmas. Totally not kidding. We've done it."
The meme was re-shared from Daniels' page 348 times.
On Jan. 4, Daniels would post a photo of his combat boots, while announcing that he would be speaking at the Jan. 6 rally in DC. The language in the post was both sentimental and strikingly martial. The ode to "an infantryman's boots" described a veteran (Daniels) who "knows they are their [sic]… waiting… just in case he needs to once again serve his country. And become the Ass kicking, life taking, lifesaving, bad ass he once… and still continues to be."
Daniels was a featured speaker at a "Stop the Steal" rally held at Tommy Gun Warehouse, the store in Greeley owned by Justin Moon, along with Sean Moon and Frank Scavo, on Dec. 29. A flier for the event also listed Steve Bannon as one of the keynote speakers, although it's not clear whether he actually appeared, in person or otherwise. But the inclusion of Bannon, who took over Trump's then-floundering presidential campaign in August 2016, is notable. That same month, Rod of Iron Ministries established links with the Trump family, with Eric Trump speaking at the grand opening of Tommy Gun Warehouse. Video from the event shows Trump speaking with Justin Moon, with Sean seated nearby. Later, as documented on Sean Moon's Instagram page, he met Donald Trump Jr. at a "Sportsmen for Trump" rally at Lehigh Valley Sporting Clays in North Whitewall Township in August 2020.
Teddy Daniels remarks at the Dec. 29 "Stop the Steal" rally at Tommy Gun Warehouse suggested that Jan. 6 would not be an ordinary political rally.
"I see these Republican politicians sittin' back on their hands and not doing a thing," Daniels said. "They're in a position to do it, and they're not doing it. So, you know what? We're gonna make our voices heard now. They will hear us. They don't want to listen the easy way? Well, there's always a hard way of doing things. And sometimes I like taking that hard road. People tend to learn a lot more when you drag 'em down a hard road."
Then, Daniels publicly acknowledged the Moon brothers.
"Sean, Justin: Thank you for putting this on today," he said. "Thank you for bringing the people together to get this done. Thank you for being leaders in this movement."
Daniels was well acquainted with Rod of Iron Ministries, having been a featured speaker at the Freedom festivals for two years running. The close relationship has continued: Only three days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, Sean Moon would give the opening prayer at Daniels' congressional campaign kickoff (Frank Scavo served as emcee), and Daniels is slated to return as a speaker at the third annual Rod of Iron Freedom Festival in October.
Meanwhile, Daniels' group Vets for Trump has been enmeshed in efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Joshua Macias, co-founder of Vets for Trump, and another man named Antonio LaMotta were arrested on weapons charges outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia where election officials were tabulating votes on Nov. 5. Police found an AR-15 style rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in a silver Hummer that carried the two men from Chesapeake, Va. to Philadelphia.
On the eve of the Jan. 6 rally, Sean Moon posted a stylized video on Instagram entitled "Rod of Iron Riders Scout DC" that showed him leading the pack in a camouflage skull mask, replete with an ominous soundtrack. He followed with a post promoting the "March to Save America," that declared, "Trump wants to see you in DC."
The graphic included three panels instructing supporters to come to Freedom Plaza on Jan. 5 at 1 p.m., then to the Ellipse at 9 a.m. on Jan. 6, and finally to the Capitol building at 1 p.m.
Charging the police line as other rioters breached the Capitol
Based on a review of social media, open-source photography and videos and a written account reviewed by Raw Story, Sean Moon, Justin Moon and other Rod of Iron Ministries members, including Jerry Heying and David Kanagy were in line at the Ellipse to hear President Trump at about 7 a.m. on Jan. 6. Kyle Yoder and his father were also at the Ellipse. Heying has reported that he was at the Ellipse from 6 a.m. to noon, but it's not clear whether he went to the Capitol. With a two-way radio clipped to his shoulder, Pastor George Cook, Texas president of Rod of Iron Riders, posted video of Trump's speech on Parler. His video showed Robert Pickell listening to the speech from the Washington Monument.
Following the instructions on the "March to Save America" flier shared on Instagram, Rod of Iron members left the Ellipse before Trump finished speaking. Carrying the American flag, along with the flags of Japan and South Korea, a Three Percenter flag, a Trump 2020 flag, a flag depicting Trump as Rambo, and the Rod of Iron Ministries flag, depicting crossed rifles and a crown atop the handle of a sword, they had reached Constitution Avenue and were marching towards the Capitol by about 1 p.m.
Separate from the larger group, Pickell carried a bullhorn and an American flag to the east side of the Capitol. At 2:23 p.m., he can be seen in a Parler video published by ProPublica jostling with a Capitol police officer. Police fired a flashbang and officers equipped with shields can be seen pushing Pickell and the other rioters back. Another video posted on Parler two minutes later shows Pickell still facing down the police line on the left side of the entrance as an unidentified person says, "They got the door open! They're in."
A longer video that captures a wider angle shows that Pickell remained on the police line for at least 10 minutes, sometimes pushing against the officers as other rioters pelted the police with projectiles and used flagpoles to break glass out of the doors. Police used riot shields and hands to repeatedly push Pickell and others away from the doors. Pickell appears to be buffeted between police and rioters during some parts of the standoff, but at a critical moment when the door opens, he can be seen charging back into the police line without anyone pushing him from behind. It is unclear whether Pickell went inside the Capitol building.
Raw Story was able to identify Pickell by comparing stills from the battle outside the Columbus Doors with a photo of him with church administrator Gregg Noll from a 2018 article in The Chronicle, a community newspaper published by Strauss News, that includes his name in a cutline.
A 2020 letter to the Pike County Courier, also published by Strauss News, lists Pickell as resident of Greentown. In the letter, Pickell says he is a Navy veteran who moved about 30 years ago from New York City to northeast Pennsylvania to raise his children, and that he ran an HVAC and electrical contracting business. In June 2021, Pickell, again listing Greentown as his residence, made a post on a discussion board for two-way radio users.
Pickell could not be reached for comment for this story. A spokesperson for the FBI Philadelphia Field Office declined to comment on whether Pickell or other members of Rod of Iron Ministries are under investigation. A spokesperson for the FBI Washington Field Office also declined to comment on the matter.
Frank Scavo, who chartered buses to bring protesters from Pittston Township to DC, entered the Capitol building through the Columbus Doors at about 2:40 p.m. with a large group of rioters. While inside the building, Scavo recorded video, at one point turning the camera on himself and stating: "This is top-secret shit. We're in the Capitol. Stormed the f***ing Capitol of the f***ing United States at 58 years old. What the f*** is wrong with America?"
Following Scavo's arrest in March, Richard Panzer, the president of World Peace and Unification Sanctuary-USA, launched a fundraiser on GiveSendGo to support his legal defense. The campaign has already exceeded its $12,000 goal, with Rod of Iron Ministries members donating while hailing Scavo as a "patriot" and "godly American peace warrior."
Ernie Preate, one of Scavo's lawyers, declined to make his client available for comment for this story.
While Pickell and Scavo were on the east side of the Capitol, video and photos show Sean Moon leading a group of Rod of Iron Ministries members on the west side of the Capitol. In video documenting a previous mobilization in DC, Kyle Yoder referenced Rod of Iron Ministries breaking up into three or four teams and mentioning the Rod of Iron Riders (a biker group) as a distinct subunit, but the available documentation does not make it clear whether members intentionally split into separate teams on Jan. 6.
In a written account of the siege, Rod of Iron Ministries member David Kanagy described crossing a low stone wall to join the mob swelling the west side of the Capitol and getting hit in the chest by a teargas canister fired by Capitol police. In a video posted on Parler, Sean Moon can be seen leading sect members onto the west plaza. Kanagy said he eventually spotted the Rod of Iron Ministries flag and caught up with his fellow sect members as they were retreating.
In a video posted to Instagram, Sean Moon showed himself and other sect members hopping over the low stone wall and stepping over sections of metal barricade strewn about the grass, as they reacted to the chemical spray. One woman in the group, which also included Justin Moon, and Kyle Yoder, had a two-way radio clipped to her coat. Sean wore protective glasses while others were equipped with goggles or facemasks.
Kanagy wrote that he saw other sect members climbing the stairs through the scaffolding to the left of the west plaza and decided to follow them. As he ascended the stairs, Kanagy wrote that a man going in the other direction who identified himself as a construction worker told him it was dangerous because there were too many people on the scaffolding.
"I thought I shouldn't worry, but be there to support the King," Kanagy wrote. "If the scaffolding collapsed from so many people, it would be tragic, but that would be a good way to die as an offering."
A Shutterstock photo shows Sean Moon among other sect members, including Kyle Yoder, standing on the scaffolding. Eventually, Kanagy said, Moon encouraged them to come down, and "they regrouped in the grassy area, with J team and K team and ROI riders coming together."
On the opposite side of the Capitol, a photo shared on Twitter by Finnish journalist Mikko Martinnen at 2:44 p.m. shows Teddy Daniels, the Pennsylvania director of Vets for Trump, conferring with Joshua Macias, the group's co-founder, in the middle of a crowd near the foot of the steps leading to the Columbus Doors. Since then, Daniels and Macias have co-signed an official statement issued on behalf of Vets for Trump endorsing Doug Mastriano for governor of Pennsylvania.
A Pennsylvania judge ordered Macias and Antonio LaMotta jailed at the conclusion of a hearing at which prosecutors argued that the two men violated bail conditions while awaiting trial on weapons charges when they showed up in Philadelphia for the vote tabulation.
"At a minimum, the defendant violated the conditions of his bail once again by traveling across state lines in an attempt to interfere with a lawful democratic process," Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock argued in a motion to revoke bond. "Where he failed in Philadelphia, he temporarily succeeded in the District of Columbia."
In another video filmed on the east side of the Capitol, with the crowd considerably thinned, Daniels can be seen standing near Frank Scavo. Daniels commemorated the day by posting a short video showing Trump supporters thronging the steps on the east side of the Capitol, and writing, "I am here. God bless our patriots."
Daniels could not be reached for this story.
Raw Story was able to identify Pickell and Heying, as well as track the movements of Rod of Iron Ministries and Vets for Trump members at the Capitol on Jan. 6 thanks to the contributions of many anonymous open-source researchers, in particular the #Bluehatz team and the CapitolHunters collective.
'May God guide us through the coming revolution'
Riding the bus back to his hotel on Jan. 6, David Kanagy was impressed by conversation among six of his fellow passengers who "started talking about the rally and foreseeing a violent 2 nd revolution coming."
"May God guide us through this coming revolution to remove evil and preserve our republic," Kanagy concluded in his reflection for Rod of Iron Ministries.
Sean Moon declined an interview request through a spokesperson for this story, but in a fiery sermon shared on his Instagram two days after the Capitol siege he called Jan. 6 "an epic day" when American patriots "made a spiritual stance against evil." At the same time, Moon whitewashed the assault on the Capitol as "a peaceful protest."
Gregg Noll, the administrator for Sanctuary Church has described Jan. 6 as a "turning point" for the sect.
"Right after that event, the King announced we're entering the growth stage," Noll explained in a May 26 PowerPoint presentation.
"The sovereign citizens, what does Peace Police Peace Militia mean that Father talked about?" Noll continued. "It's really about each of us becoming responsible to our neighbor and to our country, to really become patriots in the truest way. And then based on this foundation, then the Cheon Il Guk Constitution can be launched and accepted." ("The Constitution of the United States of Cheon Il Guk," authored by Sean Moon, is described on the sect website as providing "the political framework for the future Kingdom of God on Earth.")
Shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection, Noll said, Sean Moon informed his followers that "part of this growth plan was to go to Texas." The church purchased a 40-acre campground and marina on a lake an hour east of Waco, Texas. The property was listed at just under $1 million. The sect held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the campground, rechristened "Liberty Rock," on April 20. Kyle Yoder appears to be managing the compound, based on videos posted by Rod of Iron Ministries, and Noll lauded them for "doing a good job getting the property up to where it needs to be."
One slide in Noll's PowerPoint provides a provocative hint at what Rod of Iron Ministries' political project in Texas might entail, depicting a map with the header: "The Nine Equal States of a Divided Texas." The map delineates the boundaries of future states with names like "Caddo (East Texas)," "Coastbend," "Hill Country," "Bexar" and "Rio Grande Republic." Noll did not offer any explanation for new political subdivisions.
While the Texas project is only now coming to fruition, the ideas behind it have been percolating in Sean Moon's mind for at least three years. In a sermon incorporated into a June 2018 video promoting his "Peace Police Peace Militia," Moon talked about Rod of Iron Ministries as "the people God has prepared" to reveal to conservative America "the true inheritance of the kingdom" and help them "move from sheep to sheepdog."
"That's every single one of us here — every single one of us here that understands the rod of iron," Moon said. "Amazing that the gun community is now talking about local militias. That is incredible. Incredible. And if you have veterans there, if you have former law enforcement there, hey, already guys put people in your place and location to step up and give guidance."
Moon and his sect have aggressively cultivated relationships with conservative luminaries. Moon shared a stage at a 2018 Florida Second Amendment rally with Mark Robinson, and invited the future North Carolina lieutenant governor to the first Rod of Iron Freedom Festival in 2019. The roster for the upcoming festival reflects the same star quality, including a return appearance by Steve Bannon; former Sheriff Richard Mack, who promotes a legally dubious theory that sheriffs hold the authority to act in defiance against supposedly unconstitutional acts by federal agencies; and a keynote speech by Dana Loesch, the former NRA spokesperson.
Noll explained in his May 26 presentation that the sect plans to install a gun range on the Texas property while also providing "bush-crafting training." He said Rod of Iron Ministries is also scouting properties for expansion in Florida, Tennessee and Utah.
Steven Hassan, a former member of Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church who has written four books on cults, including one focused on Trump, said Rod of Iron Ministries' expansion should be viewed with alarm. The choice to locate near Waco, Texas, where followers of cult leader David Koresh died in a fiery siege by the FBI and ATF in 1993, is significant, Hassan told Raw Story.
"When I saw that they bought the compound near Waco, Texas, near David Koresh, I was like, 'Oh, so they're training people how to shoot guns and assault rifles." Hassan added that the Moonies, along with conspiracy-monger Alex Jones and others are attempting "to program people that we're going to have a civil war in the streets and we need our guns to kill all the commies. I'm very concerned."