In recent years, citizen militias have become increasingly prevalent throughout the United States.

According to a 2015 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), there was an estimated 276 known militia groups in the U.S. that year alone.

These militias, often armed, have made their presence known by appearing at several protests and demonstrations across the U.S. recently. The images of these men and women decked out in military uniforms, clad in body armor, and carrying menacing rifles has done little to help with an overall negative impression — not to mention the violence that’s often highlighted by the media at these events.

The common perception is that they’re all militants, driven by a violent desire to overthrow the United States government. Though while dissatisfaction of the government's handling of things — or lack thereof in some cases — can be a motivating factor, some militias are simply looking to be of service to their community, constitution and country. Recently, a militia commander gave us insight into his group’s intent.

Colonel Christian Yingling is the statewide commander of the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia. He and 32 members of the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia were a part of the presence at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was one of the groups that were armed with "weapons better than the state police," as stated by Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Be that as it may, the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia did their best to stay in the background of everything going on. But no matter how distant they tried to be, says Yingling, their presence and armed status sent a strong message. A message that stated boldly: We come in peace, but we are prepared for anything.

When asked what his militia's role was during the Charlottesville event, Yingling stated, "Our role was to ensure that the 1st Amendment rights of both the protesters holding the rally and the counter protesters, were respected during the course of the rally."

He went on to say their role changed from rights protection to that of peacekeeper when it became evident in their perception local law enforcement was going to be "hands-off" in response to the rally. So "hands-off," in fact, that a recent video shows uniformed law enforcement officers standing still and not attempting a response just moments after an alleged white supremacist shot a handgun towards a crowd of counter-protesters.

Yingling says he realized the authorities weren’t going to do anything after having a conversation with his second in command, George Curbelo. Yingling saw Curbelo sitting on a park bench, aloof from the crowd and displaying a concerned look on his face. At that moment, Yingling says he asked Curbelo what was bothering him. He replied, "We are alone here. Law enforcement will not be supporting us."

Curbelo continued, explaining he had approached a law enforcement official and asked the officer if they were going to do anything about the violent confrontations taking place in front of them. The officer allegedly said, "We are not here for crowd control."

Hearing that, the militia’s commander says he responded with, "We have one of two choices: One, we either pack up and leave or two, we stay and see this through." They all chose the latter.

Later, when the event was deemed an "unlawful assembly" by authorities in the afternoon, the 31 members of the Pennsylvania Light Foot militia had already been on ground in Charlottesville for close to six hours. In that span of time, the members did everything they could to maintain a semblance of order and peace, says Yingling, He goes on to say that neither himself or any of his members ever raised a weapon toward anyone during the perilous engagement.

Another story the commander recalls is when three to four of his militia members got sealed off in an alley by the protesters and counter-protesters. The militia members and one of the team's medical personnel had went into the alley to recover and treat another militia member injured by pepper spray and acid, he says. When the team arrived, they ended up moving their injured member into a nearby funeral home so a medic could render aid to the individual.

By this time, the crowd had converged on the area, and the team remained sealed off from any route of escape. Eventually, a team quick reaction force (QRF) of militia members made their way through the crowd and extracted the alienated members back to the safety of the militia's staging area.

Christian Yingling also stated that although the authorities were remiss in Charlottesville, there were instances, at such events, where local law enforcement not only maintained control, but they had also welcomed the militia's assistance due to their staff being overwhelmed.

In this case, some believe militia assistance could be a useful tool for an overwhelmed police force in the future. Militia can and is able to serve as a citizen defense force, says Yingling — a concept similar to that of the original militia during the infant years of the United States. The original concept was to provide a community defense force in the absence of a government sanction force.

Over the years, the role of domestic response was largely held by each states' National Guard elements. But with the National Guard's increased participation in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, a void has opened in domestic response here at home. Yingling believes that citizen militias can fill this role, and prove to be a positive apparatus across the nation.

Having a reserve of citizens ready to come together at a moment's notice to aid their fellow Americans in a desperate time of need could prove beneficial to our nation's disaster response, he says. This could also be forthcoming in the relationship between the citizens and the government as well. Supposing an idea like this one comes to fruition, it possesses a potential restoration in how the populace perceives citizen's militia.

A positive perception would entice people to join their local militias.

Even though a stigma exists upon militias in the United States, the groups possess the capacity to provide a great service to this nation. Militias respond in times of need, bringing with them a non-biased presence to tense situations. The only side most assume is the side of constitutional adherence. Militias often stand ready to assist in disaster relief, civil unrest and any other domestic issues that may arise. Militia’s, to some, are just as relevant now as they were 241 years ago.

“[The events of Charlottesville] brought on the awakening of a sleeping America,” says Yingling. “It was a proverbial slap in the face."

Receiving phone calls from other militia commanders throughout the nation, he says they admitted to being "ashamed of themselves, because they sat around and watched everything unfold on television instead of taking action and assisting."

Those militias, says Yingling, are now more active in their communities and take more stock in the state of affairs across the nation. It’s evident the events at Charlottesville may have lifted the nation out the state of apathy it was seeped in.