July 3, 2023

“The Retribution Squad,” A Novel by J.M. Henderson

“The Retribution Squad,” A Novel by J.M. Henderson

If you’re upset by the shenanigans in American politics and government, this is a story for you. Author J.M. Henderson, a veteran and lifelong observer of the American Way, pulls no punches in this novel about eight patriots who go after the insurrectionists and their ilk who defiled Congress and attempted to stop Biden’s presidential election vote count on January 6, 2021.

The Retribution Squad, born from the chaos of the January 6 insurrection in the nation’s capital, is operating outside the law. Led by old timers and vets, they are on a patriotic crusade to defeat the forces plotting an even bigger, more successful, much more deadly insurrection. They risk life, limb and incarceration to carry out lethal operations against the greedy and power-hungry who are destroying the Constitutional fabric of American democracy. Will their actions save the republic, or send it spiraling closer to a civil war? Are they the moral warriors who believe they are American Ronin, or just a bunch of well-funded, murderous old farts?

As the author writes in his Dedication: “This book is dedicated to all the men and women serving, or who have served, in the U.S. military. And to the really real patriots.” How did this story come to pass? Read the short interview with the author following this excerpt from his just-published The Retribution Squad.

TOOLS OF DIFFERENT AGES, technologies, and purposes festooned the walls in Jack’s man shack, out back in the yard. The loft was stuffed with boxes of material odds and ends, leftovers of many projects drooping downward as if to remind him of the need to be used. Normally, a visit to the shack was a chance to ease the tension, push it through the knives used to shape and control the wood turning on the lathe, incorporate it into a piece of furniture or wooden artwork. The production of something corporal that could be touched, caressed into fruition, was immensely fulfilling. It complemented his employment in the ethereal and quixotic realm of thought, philosophy, journalism, and literature.

A laptop opened on the workbench captured Jack’s attention now, the display illuminating his profile. Britt’s figure loomed over his shoulder, and they both stared at the data and photo on the screen. Britt, one of his oldest friends and service buddies, could not help but notice that the muted light had peeled away decades of Jack’s age. It revealed the essential, sharply etched features of the face he had first come to know, years ago when they had shared barracks accommodations. He recollected times and places shared in youth, but those thoughts were sublimated to the pressing considerations at hand, actions resulting in life and death decisions.

On the screen were two photos with different time stamps, only recognizable as the same person by the name that appeared below both. In one photo, a forty-something male wore camouflage. He had a COVID-19 face covering emblazoned with the wannabe dictator’s name, and a red MAGA hat pulled down low. Only his eyes remained exposed, and at the instant of the photo, they were wide and looking directly into a camera. The camera was carried by a fellow insurrectionist beaming the image up to the web, where it had been retrieved and filed by the Squad’s digital search algorithm. The other photo was a Minnesota state driver’s license. It displayed the same eyes, but in the roundish face of a man identified as Allen Buckner. This match of eyes had been no less than a small miracle, powered by the insane coding skills of Sasha, Clay’s youngest daughter. The reverse engineering skills belonged to James’s son, Jeremiah, a cybersecurity expert.

The kids had never met in person, and only collaborated through a set of hacked and linked commercial computers. That gave them the computer power to run what had been dubbed the Warp Speed Hack. It had been wildly successful, and eventually led to access to all state driver’s license files. They were scanned and entered in the memory bank of the eye match program that was used to identify subjects. If more than the eyes of the subjects were visible, additional face match points facilitated a faster scan of records. Matches were automatically filed into a data bank that could be searched through different sets of filters, such as geographical location, known associations, or social media presence.

In this case, they knew all. Once he had been identified and clothing markers established, they had found him in several of the insurrection videos. He could be seen to assault officers from behind with a pole. Then he broke out windows and directed what appeared to be an organized group into the Capitol. He followed the others, letting them suffer the initial police pushback. It had reminded Diego of the chickenshit platoon leaders who led from behind. He wasn’t much of a leader, but he was directing the actions of others; this made him a target of special interest to the Squad.

Allen Buckner was like an onion. As his life and routines were examined, each new piece of information led to a different layer, each layer with new connections and revelations. The first photo was time-stamped 1-6-2021 3:29 pm and was taken in the Capitol, in the hallway leading to the legislative offices. He was one of the ones who walked away unscathed, unstopped by Capitol Police who some say were aiding and abetting. His actions had been too common to single him out for the prosecutions that had ensued in the months following, when public sentiment had finally demanded some accountability. But for the Squad’s algorithm, he had those unique eyes that had stared so openly into the camera. As usual, the weight of the justice system had fallen heaviest on those whose culpability was obvious from the videos. But the ones caught on film were not ultimately responsible for the desecrations that day. Most of them were on the lowest rung of the ladder, but the information revealed that Allen Buckner had worked his way up to rung two. The Squad had determined to use him to climb the ladder to the topmost rung.

“I suppose this means a visit to Don’s Duck Blind,” said Britt.

“Pack a bag, get your gear, and I’ll call Pat the Hat. See you in Sacramento.”

“Roger that.” Britt exited the workshop, mounted his motorcycle, and drove away into the darkness just settling onto the roadway, a light mist forming iridescent circles around the solitary streetlight.

Jack stood in the doorway, silhouetted by the workshop lights, reflecting on the meeting that had set all of this in motion. Just weeks ago, he and his buds had just been a bunch of old guys. They had been looking forward to a reunion, a chance to catch up and shoot the shit.

Little did they know that a brief time later, they would be delving into espionage and coercion and violating municipal, state, and federal laws with little remorse. The violations would range from simple parking and traffic violations to multiple homicides.

Jack took one last look into the mist, which had grown heavier, his view of the street now obscure. Obscure also was the future, his and the others’. He went into the house to pack, unsure how to ready himself for that which was yet unseen and unknown. There was no doubt in his heart, but there were worries in his mind.

For his part, Britt could only contend with the large volume of vehicles moving northward on I-5. He was focused on eighteen-wheelers and hotdoggers. His old Indian motorcycle had the power to go with the flow of traffic, but for some drivers he was invisible. He had to anticipate their careless actions; he would have time to think things over on the plane. He began to make a mental list of the equipment they might need. He had been on his way home from a tech acquisition in Silicon Valley. He had taken the scenic route and stopped in at Jack’s to rest his old guy butt, drink some coffee. The information that had come in cut the break short and had propelled him northward again.

They would rendezvous at the airport, at the private hangar where Pat the Hat was doing the preflight check on the plane. By the time Roach and R.B. arrived several hours later, the flight plan would be completed, supplies would be loaded, and they would be ready to taxi onto the runway. The destination was fixed; the reception remained to be seen. That day in the mountains, they had violated the primary survival rule in the ranks—never volunteer for anything.


Diego had never felt comfortable in the Rockpile, Dr. Strange’s mountain castle. He had been there several times over the last few years, as it had become their group’s primary meeting place, but it was too opulent for Diego’s taste. Dr. Strange had acquired it from a tech executive who seriously overleveraged his platform and apps. They had been too quickly superseded by more popular alternatives, forcing him to sell and pour resources back into his company. It was architecturally pleasing to the eye, but too massive to be a part-time house for a man with a small family: just Dr. Strange, Anne, and Phoebe, their adopted daughter.

Getting together with the guys had been a tradition since the early days of their post-military service, when most of them were still in college, a few working in careers based on their military training. They would gather periodically to celebrate their friendship, catch up, and reinforce the bonds that they had forged years before. During the early years it had been in a variety of locations, usually campsites, and at times when most schedules would allow. Spring break dominated for a few years, but lately, since everyone had retired or had more control over their personal schedules, they had reserved the first week of January, after the holidays. Dr. Strange had finally established the Rockpile as their own Hotel California, keeping the doors open to the group for an entire week. Different people circulated in and out, hanging out for a few days, making sure to connect with those who came later.

A few core members were always the heart of the group, but as time progressed, other friends were introduced. It was always a service buddy or vet, and friends of friends became friends of all. Time and man’s foibles had taken their toll as well. An errant drunk driver claimed one member in the early years, and then heart attacks, high blood pressure, PTSD, and the too-prevalent cancers among the Vietnam vets. So, it was not very unusual that most of the remaining members, brothers, had all confirmed their arrival for dinner January 5, a Tuesday. Dr. Strange was barbecuing cabrita, which they would eat with all the trimmings. Little known to them at the time, the events unfolding on the other side of the nation would propel them into one more mission.

Diego arrived first, bringing provisions, and he was followed by Clay, aka “The Duke,” and Pat the Hat. Diego pushed the doorbell and monasterial chimes sounded inside. Clay stood under the portico, surveying the panoramic vista of the high Sierra Nevada. He sighed and said, “Damn, I love this place, the view, the privacy. How about you, blood?”

“It’s nice but, you know, too much . . .” Diego said, rubbing his fingers and thumb together.

“Geez, you fucking socialists are such bummers—can’t ever enjoy the good life,” Clay said. His standard of living was Bay Area-driven, and there was opulence enough in the city of San Francisco.

“And you fucking capitalists are always trying to have it all.” Diego flipped the bird to Clay, and so it would have continued, but Pat the Hat spoke up.

 “It still needs an airstrip.” A pilot’s observation.

The door swung open, and Archie appeared, not a huge guy, but rippling muscles under the black sweater. Half Cheyenne and half Lakota, he was all Marine Recon and Dr. Strange’s body man and head of security. “Good evening, sirs, nice to see you again,” he said. He stepped back, opening the large wood door wide, and beckoned them to enter. “The boss is on the terrace. Please join him once you have stowed your gear. Refreshments on the way.”

Clay started in on Archie right away. “Hey, Thirteen, how’s it hanging?”

“Sir, please don’t call me that; it’s an unlucky number.”

“Okay, please don’t call me ‘sir.’”

“Yes, sir.”

Clay wanted Archie to feel like one of the guys. Archie wanted to feel like Archie—once a jarhead, always a jarhead.

Diego brushed by. “Hey, Archie.”

Pat the Hat followed. He simply nodded his hat at Archie, and Archie nodded back. It was enough. Archie would always call them sirs; they were the Elders. What he saw was an extended clan to which he had become attached, and some he revered as warriors. They bore the battle scars that witnessed their personal sacrifice.

Archie had that in common with the warriors and had their respect as well. They had seen him working out and then swimming in Dr Strange’s pool with only three-quarters of his left leg, a high-tech prosthesis waiting near the ladder. That was thanks to an IED on his second tour in Afghanistan. After several surgeries and months of rehab and training, he was able to walk; to Archie, that meant he could run. It was not easy, but with time he ran, and then he refused an early medical separation. After passing a strenuous physical fitness test, the Crotch allowed him to serve out his enlistment as a training sergeant. Young wannabe recon candidates vied for an assignment to Archie’s platoon. Most were told they would learn to stay alive but also warned not to fuck up, because he kicks ass with a titanium foot.


Diego tossed his suitcase on the bed, unzipped one side, and removed a snap lid plastic container slightly smaller than a shoebox. He carried the box down the hallway to the third-floor elevator landing. There were eighteen individual rooms with private baths, suitable for the corporate retreats of before. Now only some of the rooms were occupied.

Dr. Strange had a second-floor suite with all the imaginable amenities, and a few unimaginable ones as well. The sauna might be expected, but not the secure communications facility rivaling that of the White House. He had made his money in computers, satellites, and telecommunications, and he had made plenty. Archie occupied the staff quarters on the first floor for security reasons.


Dr. Strange had earned his nickname for two reasons. One was his warped sense of humor, which usually made someone the butt of the joke. The other was his idea of a future much transformed from the present. He was viewed as “out there,” but where he was everyone would be going. He would be there waiting with the technology the world would need. As far as the sense of humor, he once convinced a contingent of the guys on a walk through the Korean countryside that he had appointed himself as the Grand Poobah. He had said he would touch his walking stick to their noses and bond them as brothers forever. They had all been stoned and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Once he had dutifully touched each of their noses with his wizard-like walking stick, he pronounced them Pig Nose Brothers. Then he explained that while he was walking behind them, he had touched his walking stick to the nose of a large sow in a pen they had passed. He had guffawed with glee, which lasted until he realized he was the only one laughing, the others eyeing each other with unspoken communication.


January 6, 2021

The day dawned with bright alpine sun penetrating the tall glass windows of the great room. As events unfolded on the national stage, they filled the screens of multiple TVs positioned around the lounge area. The guys had assembled for coffee and rolls, some putting a little hair from the dog that bit them in their morning coffee. The crew in its entirety had finally assembled. The late risers had joined the early risers, who had already begun to grumble and bitch about the events happening on the Ellipse of the National Mall.

“Dammit, can you believe this shit? Listen to that fucking moron,” Jack said. “What a pompous jerk, like he’s really going to walk down to the Capitol with the rest of those yo-yos.”

“How about the empty suit lawyer with that ‘trial by combat’ bullshit,” Clay said. “The crowd really ate it up.” Clay worked with lots of lawyers. Empty suit was a mortal condemnation. “He really overloaded his ass with that. That shit can be prosecuted. Just takes some asshole—”

He was interrupted by a loud snort. Darrell spat a large piece of bagel back onto the plate he was holding. “Look, look, look at this.” He pointed to one of the screens, showing a large mob surging up the steps of the Capitol building. One by one and then simultaneously, all the screens filled with different images of the rioting. The number of rioters swelled. They pushed the police lines back and assaulted those they were able to catch.

“Oh no, look at the asshole with the flag,” Britt said. A bearded man beat a Capitol Police officer with an American flag. Others threw objects and kicked and punched the officer. Still others pushed past the police lines and flooded into the Capitol building.

The acts occurring on-screen seemed unreal, like scenes from a bad sci-fi movie. Then cell phones around the room began to hum and ring. Diego tapped the screen on his phone and opened a text from his son: Dad, go to this link, NOW! Diego did as he was instructed and soon was watching a jerky live stream from inside the Capitol. Inside the building, rioters smashed the windows in the doors that separated the mob from the legislators. Just as one person tried to climb through the broken-out window, a shot rang out and the rioter fell back, wounded.

“Finally,” Diego said, “they’re fighting back.”

As the minutes, then hours, passed, it was apparent that Capitol security was outmatched and overrun everywhere. Pat couldn’t believe his eyes. “What happened to the riot police, the horses and dogs, the fucking water cannons? Give me a couple choppers with tear gas and I’d disperse those assholes.”

 “What a bunch of fucking assholes,” Jack said. “They ought to have their asses kicked.”

As they watched events unfold, on TV and live streams on personal devices, tempers continued to flare. Many pejoratives were launched at rioters and the big liars who had fanned the flames of this insurrection. Finally, reinforcements arrived. The domestic terrorists—militia members, real estate agents, white supremacists, state legislators, QAnon believers, and active and retired military, police, and firefighters—were pushed out of the Capitol and onto the lawn. Tear gas wafted from inside the Capitol, and officers in riot gear shot more from the upper steps of the building. “Finally, they’re gassing the fuckers,” Pat said.

“Yeah, but they’re letting the fuckers walk away, what the fuck?” Jack said. “They ought to be facedown in the dirt.”

“Or in a pool of their own blood,” Diego said.

“Too many,” Britt said. “They’re doing good to reclaim the building. Besides, there will be a shitload of tape.”

They watched a plump lady turn and shoot the bird to the surging riot police. She then turned and waddled to the open door of a motor home. Her banker husband gunned the motor; they were ready to make their unhindered escape.

Many questions formed in the minds of citizens, legislators, and even the Capitol and Metro Police. How had this been allowed to happen? There were scenes of police escorting rioters and taking selfies. In one case, a cop donned a red ball cap as if to identify himself to or with the insurrectionists. These things led to deep suspicions.

 Fortunately, many officers had distinguished themselves by their bravery and sacrifice. They had made a heroic defense of democracy and the lives of those within the Capitol. Many were bruised, beaten, and wounded, and one officer had made the ultimate sacrifice.

Dr. Strange reentered the room after he had been summoned away earlier by Archie and had been in his operations center for some time. He was pissed off and said as much, his face reddened and his jaws and hands clenching at the same time.

“Sons of bitches, motherfuckers.” He paced back and forth. “They have to pay. They’ve gotten away with the lies and manipulation too long.” He put a hand to his balding pate. “I should have done something sooner. I should have seen this coming.”

“Yeah, they ought to be arresting and charging these fuckers,” Pat said. He raised a one-finger salute to the screen. “Assholes.”

Dr. Strange exploded. “Not those clowns in costumes, the ones who sent them, organized this mayhem. Who do you think funded this, made the reservations, bought the plane tickets? I’m going to root them out and make them pay the piper.” He turned from the TVs and faced the group. “I’m going to need help. Who’s in?”

“I’m in,” declared Clay.

“Me too,” said Diego.

“Nobody should skate on this. I’m in,” said Jack. “What about you, R.B.?”

“I’m always down with the bros. Nobody skates,” said Britt.

Sitting cross-legged on the windowsill, Pat lifted the bill of his hat and stuck out a silent thumbs-up. The others, no doubt considering their personal abilities to help in such an endeavor, remained noncommittal and unsure until Dr. Strange broke the silence. “Look, guys, I know it’s asking a lot, but we’re going to need drivers, couriers, commo folks, and ops guys. I know I can count on you. I’m hiring and paying for all the expenses. What about it, fellas. Show of hands, everyone—who’s in?”

The original five hands went up alongside Dr. Strange’s hand. Then, perhaps liberated from personal funding concerns or intrigued by the possibilities, other hands went up, with nods and glances. Finally, all hands had raised, forming a circle of patriots. As hands began to go down, Dr. Strange called out. “Keep them up, boys. I think we should renew our oaths—you know the drill.”  

He began, and the others chimed in on key. “I, state your name.” Laughter broke out; it was an old joke. “Seriously.” He began again, “I, Dr. Strange.”

The others followed in succession.

“I, The Duke.”

“I, Roach.”

“I, Diego.”

“I, R and B.”

“I, Pat the Hat.”

And thusly it went, Papa Tango, Woody, Krash, Darrell, Johnny Storm, and Oracle, all reciting the oath that had bound them to the nation all those years ago and forever.

A native son of the Lone Star State, J.M. Henderson moved periodically as a service brat. Back in Texas, he left college in 1966 to enlist in the U.S. Army. After graduating as a Mandarin Chinese translator from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, he served in Viet Nam and other Asian deployments. After separation in 1970, Henderson returned to college where he earned an M.A. in Sociology, Summa Cum Laude, and three teaching credentials, including a bilingual certificate in Spanish. He has worked as a community action trainer, bilingual secondary teacher, and community college instructor. After thirty years as an educator, J.M. Henderson embarked on a new career in fiction writing. This is his first novel. There will be a sequel. He lives in Northern California.

The Retribution Squad was published today and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle editions.

Featured image: “The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor” (1846) by Nathaniel Currier, courtesy D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts.

An Interview with J.M. Henderson

FC: When did you first get the idea to write this book?

JMH: Like the story itself, the idea was born from the January 6th Insurrection. I had a visceral reaction to the assault on Congress. So much attention was paid to the militia groups involved and the force they represented. The reports emphasized how many veterans were in the militia groups. I, as a veteran, didn’t feel they represented my thinking. The question began to form: what if a different group of veterans arose as a counterforce to those seeking to bring down our democracy?

FC: What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

JMH: The story began to take on a life of its own; I merely had to transcribe it. Sometimes that was demanding, to try to keep up with the story streaming in my head. Late nights, sore digits.

FC: In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?

JMH: It took on a more encompassing sweep of issues than originally intended. Events compelled me to modify my original story line.

FC: What other writers or creative persons have influenced you and your work?

JMH: I have enjoyed the works of many different authors, but to mention a few: Robert Crais, John Sandford, Tim Dorsey, J.L. Burke, Lee Child. I like the hard-hitting main leads of Crais, Child and Sandford and the descriptive enticements of Burke. I appreciate Dorsey’s ability to portray offbeat characters as the heroes of the story, at least in their minds.

FC: Persuade someone to read The Retribution Squad in 50 words or less.

JMH: It’s a good story, an entertaining read that also encompasses a lot of thought-provoking issues for our current and future times. The characters are unique and operate in bonds of affection and cohesion. Some people might call the book controversial and edgy because of its content and presentation. You decide.

#American dissent#attack on Congress#january 6 2021#red and blue politics#trump insurrection

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *