By Randy Arrington
LURAY, June 25 — A series of events over the past few weeks seems to have people all across the county talking, emailing, texting and posting on Facebook. However, as is often the case, there seems to be a lot of misinformation going around.
And while the “chatter” is focused on recent protests and vandalism around the region in reaction to the killing of George Floyd and the growing call for reform in systematic racism — the real concern seems to be focused on the forming of an armed, citizen-based militia.
Following a June 17 peaceful protest in Elkton’s Stonewall Memorial Park by a group called Youth for Black Lives Matter, accusations began to fly about the involvement of the Page County Sheriff’s Office at the event. Some of the social media claims state that as many as 19 off-duty Page deputies bearing weapons had come to the event to intimidate a group of black teens and their supporters.
Page County Sheriff Chad Cubbage says that’s not the case.
“We were operating under the authority of the state code at the request by the Town of Elkton in writing to assist them with additional manpower and resources that we had available and were acting on duty showing our badge of authority,” Sheriff Cubbage stated in a response to PVN on June 22. “We also made contact with our county attorney to make sure we were in compliance in all areas.”
The Elkton Council had approved a permit for the peaceful protest on Monday, June 15. However, during that meeting, council members discussed reports of larger groups coming into town from outside the area, according to reports by John Hood of WHSV TV3.
It is unclear why Elkton requested help from the Page County Sheriff’s Office rather than the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Department, but the board of supervisors in Rockingham and Augusta counties have not been supportive of recent efforts to form citizen-based militias in their counties.
More than 200 gathered at the Elkton Park on June 17 to hear several speakers talk about racial injustice, but the larger groups from outside of town “did not appear to be there,” according to Hood. However, he went on to report that, “There were some people who remained outside the park perimeter armed with firearms, but they said they were not there to harm anyone.”
None of the protestors in Elkton carried weapons. The same held true for two peaceful protests and prayer vigils in Luray on June 4 and June 12 that saw heavy involvement from local clergy. While there was some concern by local law enforcement of the potential for outside groups to cause trouble at the June 12 protest, there were no incidents of any kind and no weapons in sight — except for the members of local law enforcement who attended and were praised for their service to the community.
After the vandalism of two Confederate statues in Luray on June 1, the same call to “protect our town and our citizens” went out from the Page County Militia and Emergency Corps, which is not an official organization and has no official members.
Sheriff Cubbage made it clear that he and his deputies are not affiliated with the “unofficial” organization, but he does support their existence.
“I do support a well organized Militia and that is the Constitutional right of the American people. Who am I to infringe upon anyone’s Constitutional rights?” Cubbage responded to PVN. “No employees with the Page County Sheriff’s Office are members of the Page County Militia, including [Maj.] Pete [Monteleone] and myself.”
When the Confederate statues in Luray were vandalized in the early morning hours of Monday, June 1, the following post went out on Facebook less than 24 hours of the incident.
“All of the Militia and the Monument Protectors put a BLUE PAPER on your dash so that LEO [law enforcement] know who we are. They are going to need help watching not only the monuments, but the county as a whole,” posted Darren StClair. “Talked to Local Law Enforcement and they are thankful for us to be able to back them up and help in this time of need. We will not let what is happening around us happen here.”
Jason Buracker, organizer of the local militia, posted the following on Facebook the same day: “Mrs. B’s in Luray has Blue Cards in Front to get to put on your Dash. When they run out they will put more out. Working now on getting us and LEO together for a plan of action.”
According to Luray Police Chief C.S. “Bow” Cook, there was no plan of action, and the Luray Police Department never asked for the militia’s help. He cited the potential liability of the town and his department if an armed volunteer militia member — potentially as young as 16 — actually shot someone.
In fact, the Luray police chief went as far as to say that the only way the group might be of service to local law enforcement was in the case of a search for a missing person, which citizens may do now — without a militia.
Search and rescue is one of the many things that volunteers were going to be trained for if they signed up for the Page County Militia during a “call to muster” held Saturday, June 20 at the Luray VFW.
Jason Buracker organizer of the “muster” responded to local media questions prior to the event, stating the following:
“Yes it is Militia…which by US and Virginia Constitution the people of every state and county should have…and I believe in doing this the Right way. We want to get people involved in helping others and safeguarding every person in Page County. The Emergency Corps will be people who can help out in the event that there are people in need…i.e. lost in the mountains, boaters or rafters in trouble, help fighting fires if we get another mountain fire, getting people to safety if there is another natural disaster or man-made that in an instance that Local EMS cannot get to them that hopefully we can.
“By doing the Corps we hope to get more people involved in helping others around the county and my hopes that in doing so that we get more volunteers for the local Firehouses and Rescue Squads. With the Militia we will help defend ALL people in Page County if ever needed and we want to get programs started to educate old and young with firearm safety, survival skills, and just keep everyone safe.
“This is not Political or anything like that….this is a Page County coming together thing, which now adays is more important than anything. We hope everyone who can, comes and joins…it doesn’t matter creed, color, religion, or political affiliations…again this is about helping serve Page County and the People for the People ARE the County.”
A flyer containing some of the general comments that Buracker made and information about the June 20 “Call to Muster” at the Luray VFW was circulated throughout the county and on social media.
The flyer stated: “Volunteers from the Unorganized Militia of Page County, defined in Virginia Code 44-1 as ‘All able-bodied Residents of the Commonwealth…, who are at least 16 years of age and… not more than 55 years of age,’ have been called to Muster at the Luray VFW Comer-Jones Post 621.”
The flyer went on to say that: “The purpose of the Muster is to preserve the tranquility, peace, and civil order by beginning to organize volunteers in the event full organization of the ‘Militia’ is required to defend the Rights and Liberties of the citizens of Page County. The ‘Emergency Corps’ will be on call to help with Natural and Man-made Disasters and/or to help the citizens in need. We will train in Fire Fighting, First Aid, Trauma, Water Rescue, Search and Rescue, and Firearms Training.”
The promotional piece also stated six requirements that “those attending the Muster must adhere to”:
- Volunteers will be required to provide their names and contact information. The roster of volunteers will be kept confidential.
- All Militia Volunteers must be able to lawfully possess a firearm under current law. Any Volunteers under 18 years of age must attend with a Legal Guardian.
- Volunteers who do not possess a firearm or are over the age of 55 are encouraged to attend to help the Militia in a support role and/or work in the Emergency Corps.
- Anyone attending the Muster as a volunteer or in a support capacity will not wear any clothing containing political messages; shall carry no signs; and shall only carry, wear or display the flag of the United States, Flag of the Commonwealth, or the flag of the Page County Militia and Emergency Corps.
- Open carry and Legal Concealed carry is encouraged.
- Volunteers for the Militia should bring an “unloaded” semi-automatic rifle, in good working order, preferably a variant of the AR-15 platform. If Volunteers do not possess an AR type then they should bring a firearm of their choice in good working order, but rifles are preferred as they are best suited for Militia Service.
PVN did not attend the muster, and has received no report on how well it was attended or how many signed up for the local militia. With split support within the law enforcement community, it is uncertain what the future holds for the Page County Militia.
Under the Virginia Constitution, the governor is the commander and chief of any citizen-based militia within the Commonwealth. The group can only enlist recruits and conduct exercises under the request of the governor. As of June 25, Governor Ralph Northam has made no request, nor issued any formal executive order, for a group of Page County citizens to form a militia and arm themselves with AR-15s to aid local law enforcement or protect the welfare of the citizens and their property.