Although I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to observe Mike Seeklander’s instructor development course in New Mexico in November, a silver lining was that I got to spend a few days in Phoenix visiting with some of the amazing gun culture people/businesses there, like Wilderness Tactical Products, Haley Strategic Partners, and Cecil Burch of Immediate Action Combatives.
I also had the opportunity to spend an entire day with John Correia of Active Self Protection.
After I wrapped up my observation of Suarez International’s Pistol Gunfighting School, I made the 90 minute drive from Prescott to North Phoenix. I settled into my room at the La Quinta Inn adjacent to I-17 and opened my laptop to the sound of sirens and a helicopter that seem to be circling the hotel. As much as I wanted to step outside to see what is going on, I recognized the danger in doing that. I focused instead on the YouTube video I needed to watch to prepare for my meeting with Correia the next day: “Carjacking Victim Goes ‘John Wick’ on Carjackers.”
As is his regular practice, Correia draws three lessons from the video. The driver is credited for getting out of the danger zone by immediately speeding away from the carjacking, and the passenger is praised for his marksmanship (hitting both attackers despite hanging upside down in an overturned car) and staying in the fight (having been shot three times before defending himself).
It turns out the passenger, Ibrahim Peerbhay of South Africa, sent the original surveillance video to Correia. As he has done with over 600 other videos, Correia posted it with narration and commentary on his Active Self Protection YouTube channel. When I watched it Monday night, it already had 998,443 views in a little over a month. During my visit with Correia on Tuesday, it crossed the one million view threshold. (It has nearly 1.2 million views today.)
With over 600,000 subscribers and 20 million views a month, Active Self Protection is one of the leading gun-related channels on YouTube. But nothing about Correia screams “Social Media Sensation.” He works at a small desk in the corner of a bedroom which was converted into an office and studio when his son joined the Navy after high school. Correia himself is a Navy veteran and sports a full beard, but his resemblance to a SEAL ends there. He served as a Nuclear Option Electronics Technician, which sounds more impressive than Correia’s characterization: “I made hot water.” In studio the day I visited he wears flip-flops and a t-shirt, and endures his share of fat jokes in the comments on his channel.
Correia originally began narrating videos and posting them to his ASP Facebook page as a way of driving customers to his gun training business. But by the start of 2015, the Facebook page had 100,000 followers and the idea that the narrated videos could become a business in itself seemed plausible. Frustrated with his inability to monetize his narrated videos on Facebook, Correia jumped to YouTube in 2016. By December he had nearly 200,000 subscribers and 20 million views per month. For a channel that specializes in videos of “real robberies, muggings, carjackings, and other defensive situations” with guns, knives, and other weapons, Correia has been successful in negotiating YouTube’s advertising standards. “I bat about .650,” he tells me, meaning that 65% of the videos he posts are approved by YouTube for advertising.
The business is good enough that this past July he made Active Self Protection his full-time job and made his full-time job part-time.
Although he is best known for his YouTube videos, Correia still teaches 8 or so gun training classes a year. He conducts the classroom portion of his Arizona CCW (concealed carry weapon) permit course at West Greenway Bible Church in nearby Glendale. The church’s pastor enthusiastically embraces the class.
Of course, John Correia is the pastor.
Correia doesn’t actively promote his faith on the Active Self Protection channel, but it is never far away. The day we meet he drinks from a Jesus coffee mug and wears an Active Self Protection t-shirt with a passage from Psalm 144 printed boldly on the back: “Blessed be the Lord, my rock who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle” (Psalm 144:1).
After spending most of the day in his home studio narrating a video of an undercover police shooting a man who attacked him with a knife and talking about his H&K VP9 (for his newly launched Active Self-Protection Extra channel), Correia receives a text message from someone at his church reminding him of a four o’clock meeting there.
The meeting, to review line-by-line the ministry statements of one his pastoral apprentice, lasts for nearly two-hours. After a short break, Correia convenes a church staff meeting at six. It is like most evangelical church meetings I attended in my career as a sociologist of religion. We begin by praying for each other, then turn to the organizational realities of fund raising, staffing, and scheduling. The meeting concludes with a late addition to the agenda: church security.
It is the Tuesday following the Sunday massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland, Texas. Any separation between Active Self Protection John and Pastor John dissolve in this moment. Correia asks, “How many people in the congregation carry?” They count at least five people who are armed every Sunday, including Correia and three others at the meeting. A discussion of who else carries, a possible training session at the gun range, and what to do in the event of an active shooter in church is put on the agenda for the next congregational meeting.
“I pray to God it doesn’t happen,” Correia tells his staff with the faith of a born-again Christian. And with the confidence of someone who spends most of his waking hours handling guns and thinking about armed self-defense, he adds, “It’s 36 yards from the pulpit to the door. I know I can make that shot.”