Leaving Washington, moving to Floyd County — Going from one armed camp to another?

We left the Washington, DC, metro area because it became too much like an armed camp after 9/11. Did we just move to another one?
Members of the Michigan National Guard and the U.S. Capitol Police keep watch as heightened security remains in effect around the Capitol grounds since the Jan. 6 attacks by a mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump, in Washington, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The U.S. Capitol Police say they have intelligence showing there is a "possible plot" by a militia group to breach the Capitol on Thursday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

One of the reasons Amy and I left the Washington, DC, area in 2004, after making it our home for 23 years, was the feeling that 9/11 had left it feeling like an armed encampment.

That was then and this is now and now shows a National Capital even more like a third-world nation with razor-wired fences surrounding the Capitol, armed troops standing post and Congress shut down on this Thursday amid threats of another attack by one of the growing number of militia groups.

On Jan. 6, the lead group of militias were the co -called “Proud Boys,” which is now in disarray after discovery that its national leader was a paid informant for the FBI, and other federal law enforcement groups.

This latest threat appears to be from the Three Percenters, another racist, right-wing group of wannabes who have passed on messages that Mar. 4 is another “day of reckoning” for America.

After three years of seeing armed military vehicles stationed around the Pentagon and missile batteries in the National Mall, I returned from one assignment to cover hostilities overseas and turned down an offer to go back to Iraq for shoot news photos after Amy said she had “a feeling” that something bad would happen if I returned, so we made the decision to retire and leave our home of more than two decades.

We thought we might get away from the violence and madness with the decision to relocate to Floyd County, home during my high school years.

But an early morning phone call from an assignment editor in Washington had me grabbing my cameras and head to Blacksburg to cover what became the largest massacre on an American college campus at Virginia Tech.

I had already accepted contract work for The Floyd Press and its then-owner Media General to cover features and news, including our county’s Circuit Court, where cases include the ever-growing methamphetamine illegal drug operation and a surprising increase in violent crimes, including murder and sexual exploitation of children.

To make matters worse, the growth of racism and right-wing extremism that exists in Southwestern Virginia brought the creation of a wannabe, and illegal, Floyd County Militia.

Militia… Virginia style. Oh, brother. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Branscom calls the militia nothing more than “a gun club” because only the Governor of Virginia can recognize a militia and the Commonwealth’s attorney general says such militias have no legal standing and are as useless as the “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” that became possible after Democrats took control of the Old Dominion’s statehouse and general assembly.

That doesn’t matter to the county’s Republican Party, where militia members now hold leadership posts and brag that they will provide “protection” in the county if called upon by the Board of Supervisors or the Sheriff.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring says the only elected official in our Commonwealth who can recognize or call out a militia is the governor and Ralph Northam has said he wants nothing to do with such illegal groups.

In a formal opinion, Herring said militias exist to “intimidate Virginians” and have no legal authority to “assume the functions of a law enforcement agency.”

Virginia’s Constitution notes that any self-declared “no private army or militia would have any justified existence or authority apart from the federal, state, or local authorities.”

The Constitution of Virginia, which is older than the U.S. Constitution, “precludes private militias,” Herring wrote in his opinion.

He adds:

The provision “ensures the right of all citizens … to live free from the fear of an alien soldiery commanded by men who are not responsible to law and the political process.”

The Code of Virginia specifically reserves to local police forces “responsibility for … the safeguard of life and property, the preservation of peace and the enforcement of state and local laws, regulations, and ordinances.” Likewise, the Code of Virginia prohibits “falsely assuming or exercising the functions, powers, duties, and privileges incident to the office of sheriff, police officer, marshal, or other peace officer, or any local, city, county, state, or federal law-enforcement officer, or … falsely assuming or pretending to be any such officer.” These provisions preserve the principle enshrined in Article I, § 13 that police power is reserved to those “responsible to the people and answerable to the law.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring

While Floyd County’s supervisors accepted the proclamation that recognizes Second Amendment Sanctuary, as it does accept proclamations that recognize Cancer Week from the American Cancer Society, it does not imply, state or give any self-created unit of citizens any right to operate outside the laws of Virginia or the federal government.

Herring and Branscom both say the proclamations aren’t “worth the paper they are written on.” Supervisor Chairman Joe Turman, a retired deputy sheriff, and County Sheriff Brian Craig do not recognize Floyd County’s militia as anything more than another group of gun fanciers.

But we still run across them from time to time. They’re easy to spot with their AR-15 “assault style rifles” and fatigue vests with extra magazines.

So much for moving away from an armed camp.

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