- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2022

An advocacy group for those charged in the January 6 assault on the Capitol was denied a permit to host a 5-kilometer suicide awareness road race for a rioter who took his life earlier this year.

The request by the Patriot Freedom Project, which filed an application to the Pittsburgh District Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of the family of Matthew Perna, was rejected due to the group having a perceived political affiliation, authorities said.

Mr. Perna, 37, died of suicide in February prior to being sentenced for his role in the riot.

Mr. Perna‘s aunt, Geri Perna, said she was “floored” by the rejection, which she blamed on political bias due to his participation in the riot.

“January 6th was one day in the life of my nephew’s 37 years on Earth. It was one day. One day that ruined his life,” Mrs. Perna said. “Now, all we want to do is memorialize him.”

The rejection letter, signed by Bill Spring, the resource manager for Shenango River Lake recreation area, cited security concerns for denying the permit.

“Although your event has the salutary purpose of raising awareness for suicide prevention and supporting mental health, the event is also linked to the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021,” it reads.

The letter continues: “Due to security concerns at the dam, and to avoid creating an appearance the Corps of Engineers is endorsing political causes of viewpoints in an election year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is unable to permit access to the dam.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers traditionally refrains from endorsing any political causes, organizations or candidates.

The Pittsburgh District of the Army Corps of Engineers asserted that it must maintain a neutral stance toward all political activities, but expressed its sympathies to the Perna family.

“The Pittsburgh District extends its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Matthew Perna. The Department of the Army and the Corps of Engineers take suicide prevention very seriously,” the organization said in a statement to The Washington Times.

In the case of the 5K run, the department said it couldn’t grant the permit because it came from a “special interest” political group.

“In this case, the apparent purpose of the Matthew Perna Freedom 5K is to further and promote the activities of a special interest group with a specific political — rather than strictly recreational — purpose,” they said.

The application reviewed by the Washington Times sought a permit to stage a 5K run with an estimated 200 participants for Oct. 15 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The form did not list that the event would have a political cause, but dubbed the race “Matthew Perna Freedom 5K.”

Ms. Perna said the idea of holding a race in honor of her nephew was brought forward by his friends at his funeral because of his affinity for running. The location was meant to go through a local trail near Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, his hometown.

Mr. Perna pleaded guilty last November to four counts, including one felony count of obstruction of an official proceeding, as well as witness tampering and disorderly conduct.

In his obituary, Mr. Perna‘s family said he had peacefully demonstrated his beliefs but was unable to deal with the stress of the aftermath and the long delays in deciding his case.

Matthew Lawrence Perna died on February 25, 2022 of a broken heart,” his family said in the obituary. “His community [which he loved], his country, and the justice system killed his spirit and his zest for life.”

• Mica Soellner can be reached at msoellner@washingtontimes.com.

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