Josiah Buster (left) and Mishael Buster (right) (Kootenai County Sheriff's Office, via AP)
Two brothers who were recently arrested in Idaho along with 29 other members of white nationalist group Patriot Front have extensive ties to a Christian nationalist church known for its apocalyptic outlook and culture war teachings. Mishael and Josiah Buster, ages 22 and 24, respectively, are affiliated with On Fire Ministries, a religious nonprofit founded a year ago in Spokane, Washington, by former state Rep. Matt Shea, who’s known for his ties to extremist groups. Much of the congregation’s teachings hinge on the Bible’s Book of Revelation, whose apocalyptic visions have inspired far-right paramilitary extremists for decades. Like other Christian nationalist congregations, the church frames culture war issues, such as trans rights, immigration, vaccines or critical race theory, as primordial battles between good and evil.
Up until last week, Matt Buster, Mishael and Josiah’s father, was described in the “leadership” section of the congregation’s website as heading a subgroup called “Real Men’s Ministries.” A flyer for his group cites Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Buster also appeared onstage with Shea as recently as this past weekend.Mishael appeared onstage with his father at an On Fire Ministries event in December.A post on the congregation’s Facebook page last year also described Mishael as being part of the ministry’s “online team,” according to Range, a media outlet based in the Pacific Northwest. Josiah, who currently lives in Texas, was photographed at an event linked to On Fire Ministries last year with his father.Representatives from On Fire Ministries also helped promote the far-right event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on June 11, which was intended to clash with an annual Pride festival there. Shea, who appeared in Idaho himself and livestreamed the arrests, also put out a video statement asserting that Matt Buster was “not part of On Fire Ministries leadership in any capacity,” but that he was a “brother in Christ and we do not judge him for the actions of his sons.” He also claimed that neither son had ever had anything to do with the congregation.
On June 11, the day of the Pride event, local law enforcement stopped a U-Haul truck heading downtown. Inside were 31 members of Patriot Front, equipped with shields, flags, and a smoke bomb. They quickly surrendered to police—much of which was caught on video by stunned onlookers—and charged with misdemeanor criminal conspiracy. The 31 arrests and subsequent release of their names and mugshots yielded a rare opportunity to better understand who belongs to Patriot Front, a notoriously secretive group that splintered from the neo-Nazi organization Vanguard America in the wake of the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in summer 2017. The Buster brothers, specifically, have illuminated the ideological overlap between the surging Christian nationalist movement and Patriot Front, whose leader intentionally cultivates a clean-cut aesthetic and seeks out allies within popular right-wing causes, like abortion, with the goal of widening its pool of potential recruits. A local activist group, Stronger Together Spokane, was the first to link the Buster brothers to On Fire Ministries following the Coeur d’Alene arrests. On Fire Ministries has become particularly notorious in the Pacific Northwest because of its roots with Shea, who served in the Washington House from 2009 until 2021. A 2019 investigation by the Washington Legislature found Shea “participated in an act of domestic terrorism” when he “planned, engaged in, and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the United States government" between 2014 and 2016, including the Bundy’s armed standoffs in Nevada and Oregon and an armed conflict with the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department in Priest River, Idaho.
Shea also once wrote a four-page document called “The Biblical Basis for War” and supported a group that was training child soldiers to “be effective in Christian warfare.”Shea initially spread misinformation that the individuals in the van in Idaho were “antifa” but has since moved away from that conspiracy and instead claimed that the Buster brothers were ensnared in a government operation that came to Coeur d’Alene with the goal of “smearing peaceful Christians and patriots.” On Fire Ministries platforms a regular show called “Church and State” for “Christian patriots.” It’s less of a sermon and more far-right shock-jock fare, where hosts touch on a wide range of issues, including drag queens, why patriots eat red meat, Prince Charles’ support for the “antichrist,” communists’ secret pedophilic agenda, and so on. These shows are hosted by Gabe Blomgren, the singing worship pastor at On Fire Ministries, and Caleb Collier, coordinator of the conservative think-tank The John Birch Society and assistant director of The Church at Planned Parenthood, which has organized anti-abortion protests at Planned Parenthood and used the Proud Boys as security. (In one show from May, Collier, inexplicably, eats a red crayon. “Semper fi,” Blomgren says admiringly, referencing the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps. “Paper and all. What a man.”)
Matt Buster has been photographed at events with Collier, as well as with Shea. He was photographed with his elder son, Josiah, at a “Medical Freedom Rally” in Spokane last September, where Shea spoke and Proud Boys attended. The Buster family also has ties to similar churches led by Christian nationalist pastor Ken Peters, including his “Patriot Church” network and The Church at Planned Parenthood. There are similarities between Josiah Buster’s history and one application to Patriot Front. The group’s internal chats were obtained by antifascist infiltrators and published by media collective Unicorn Riot. They included notes from interviews with prospective members. VICE News cross-referenced details in one set of notes and found a lot of similarities between the details included and what we know about the Buster brothers. For example, in an interview conducted in December, an applicant told his Patriot Front interviewer that he’d been part of the Church at Planned Parenthood and said he considered himself a “Christian nationalist” and believed the biggest threat to the U.S. was “cultural marxism,” which he described as “the knife to America’s throat.” He also mentioned that he followed white nationalist livestreamer Nick Fuentes closely. The applicant was from Spokane but now lives in Texas, which is consistent with what we know about Josiah). That applicant described himself as having served in the U.S. Army from 2016 to 2020. The Daily Beast confirmed that Josiah Buster served in the Army for that exact timeframe. And as for whether he believed violence was a good way to achieve political goals, the applicant responded that it was currently “not a viable choice, but it’s not completely off the horizon as for the future.” Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.