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Commentary: Can’t we do better than this? – State of Emergency as armed protesters head for Richmond



As Royal Examiner and myriad news agencies across the Commonwealth and nation reported, on January 15 based on what is believed to be credible intelligence gathered by Virginia law enforcement agencies, Governor Ralph S. Northam declared a State of Emergency beginning Friday, January 17 (Lee-Jackson Day) and lasting till Tuesday, January 21, the day after an anticipated guns rights demonstration at the State Capitol Complex in Richmond on Monday, January 20 (Martin Luther King Day).

The Democratic Governor’s Executive Order # 49 creating the five-day State of Emergency prohibits all weapons, including firearms, from Capitol grounds, and will provide joint law enforcement and public safety agencies resources available to head off or react to any violence tied to planned demonstrations at the state capitol. The order coincides with previous General Assembly initiatives against certain weapons in the Virginia State Capitol area and Executive Order 50 (McAuliffe) prohibiting firearms in offices occupied by executive branch agencies.

“Credible intelligence gathered by Virginia’s law enforcement agencies indicates that tens of thousands of advocates plan to converge on Capitol Square for events culminating on January 20, 2020. Available information suggests that a substantial number of these demonstrators are expected to come from outside the Commonwealth, may be armed, and have as their purpose not peaceful assembly but violence, rioting, and insurrection,” Governor Northam wrote in Executive Order 49, adding, “Assuring that Virginia’s Capitol Square and surrounding public areas are sheltered safe places for those who come to participate in the democratic process, as well as those who work on or near Capitol Square, is my greatest priority.”

Overreaction – or not?
Is it State overreaction to citizens’ normal desire and right to express political dissent to proposed legislation they disagree with or prudent action to a credible threat from right-wing extremists? Reports of six arrests by the FBI in Maryland, Delaware and Georgia around the time of Governor Northam’s State of Emergency declaration may offer a clue.

Multiple news agencies including ABC, NPR and the BBC reported on January 16 that the FBI had arrested three men in Maryland and Delaware with ties to a neo-Nazi group known as “The Base”. The men were alleged to have been in possession of several weapons and over 1600 rounds of ammunition and had discussed travelling to Richmond for Monday’s demonstration.

An online report we first encountered at the WRIC Newsroom website indicated one of the men, Patrick J. Mathews, was a former reservist in the Canadian Army who was discharged over his ties to white supremacist groups. The criminal complaint indicated Mathews had recently entered the U.S. illegally and had been illegally armed by other men arrested in the FBI operation targeting The Base. Those arrested in Maryland or Delaware at the time of Mathews arrest were Brian M. Lemley, Jr. and William G. Bilbrough.

And on January 17, three more men tied to The Base were arrested by the FBI in Georgia. According to the BBC report they were charged with attempted murder and participation in a criminal organization: “Luke Austin Lane, Michael Helterbrand, and Jacob Kaderli were planning to ‘overthrow the government and murder a Bartow County couple’ who they believed to be Antifa members, Floyd County (Georgia) police said in a statement.”

That BBC report linked Canadian Mathews to the Georgia group and the targeted killing, stating, “The gang member, presumed to be Mr. Matthews, is said to have called for the ‘death penalty’ against anyone engaged in anti-fascist activities. It was not known if the three men arrested in Georgia were planning to attend the gun-rights rally in Richmond. The group was involved in the gang’s paramilitary training camp located at a home (in) Silver Creek, Georgia, police said.

“According to arrest affidavits, The Base is a racially motivated violent extremist group that sought to ‘accelerate the downfall of the United States government, incite a race war and establish a white ethno-state,’” the BBC reported.

The shadow of the neo-fascist, white supremacist Charlottesville demonstrations and anti-fascist counter-demonstrations that resulted in three deaths, one anti-fascist demonstrator run down by a self-proclaimed neo-fascist who plowed into a crowd of anti-fascist demonstrators and two state policemen who died in a helicopter crash monitoring the situation on the ground in Charlottesville, appeared to play heavily in Northam’s decision.

“Three years ago, Virginia and the nation, watched horrified as civil protest was marred by violence and hate. The events that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia demonstrated what can happen when peaceful demonstrations are hijacked by those who come into the Commonwealth and do not value the importance of peaceful assembly. We lost three Virginians. We must take all precautions to prevent that from ever happening again,” Virginia’s Democratic governor wrote in his executive order, continuing, “The anticipated effects of the potential convergence of tens of thousands of demonstrators on Capitol Square, some of whom may not come to assemble peacefully, constitutes an emergency as described in § 44-146.16 of the Code of Virginia (Code).

The call for large numbers of guns rights advocates to gather, perhaps across state and even international lines, at the State Capitol in downtown Richmond on Monday appears to be, at least in part, a culmination of the so-called “2nd Amendment Sanctuary” movement that has circled Virginia in recent weeks and months. That effort led a large number of politically conservative municipalities, including Warren County, to designate themselves sanctuaries against pending gun control legislation being brought forward by the first Democratic majority in both houses of the Virginia General Assembly since 1996.

Second Amendment advocate speakers waive a ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ flag during Dec. 10 Public Hearing on the ‘2nd Amendment Sanctuary Resolution. The Resolution passed unanimously in front of well over 1,000 citizens, for the most part supporters of that resolution. This and following photos do not suggest anyone pictured plans to be in Richmond armed or otherwise, they are just the only 2nd Amendment debate related photos we have. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

As previously reported in Royal Examiner, among legislation being forwarded for consideration by Virginia’s new Democratic legislative majority are House and Senate Bills that include mandatory background checks for firearms purchases, red flag laws, expanded age restrictions on youth gun use unsupervised by adults, requirements to report stolen or lost firearms within 24 hours, and an expansion of the definition of “illegal assault weapon”.

County resolves – what?
The 2nd Amendment Sanctuary initiative propelled forward by these pending gun control bills was introduced to the Warren County Board of Supervisors on November 19. Less than a month later at a December 10 Special Meeting held at Warren County High School to accommodate a crowd spilling out of the school’s 1,024-seat auditorium, in its final meeting a majority lame duck County Board of Supervisors did unanimously resolve that Warren County is a sanctuary against what some see as obtrusive gun control laws. But the remaining question is, if not the Virginia State Legislature or State Supreme Court, who defines “obtrusive” or “unconstitutional” – the county board of supervisors; the sheriff; or citizens, some perhaps with a vested interest in not having their backgrounds checked or red flags waived at those backgrounds?

The pro-2nd Amendment Sanctuary Resolution crowd was hostile to the first opposition speaker, but listened quietly to several others after being chastised for rudeness by one of their own.

With such questions still looming, newly elected County Board Chairman Walter Mabe and newly-elected Sheriff Mark Butler expressed some skepticism to a January 7 citizen request that Warren County expand its 2nd Amendment stance to include formation of an armed citizen militia to assist local law enforcement in large-scale emergency or mass casualty situations.

While there is no known evidence linking local guns rights advocates to violent extremist groups like The Base, the danger of legitimate 2nd Amendment advocates having their movement infiltrated or co-opted by agents of more militant extremist groups expressing sympathy for their cause will persist. Such political dynamics are ripe when measured give-and-take political dialogue takes a back seat to in-transient partisan ideological rhetoric.

And what is troublesome in today’s political landscape, not only in Virginia, but across the nation is an increasing resistance to political discourse and procedures that are open to a bipartisan search for the truth and grounds for political compromise for a common good, rather than a partisan political one. This seems particularly true, not only in the gun rights versus legislative initiatives to stem gun violence and mass shooting causalities debate, but also surrounding presidential behavior and alleged Constitutional misconduct as the possibility or impossibility of an impartial, factually-based U.S. Senate Impeachment Trial of Donald J. Trump dominates the national political landscape.

Some political scientists and historians have said U.S. politics is currently at its most divisive level since the 1850’s lead up to the American Civil War. Governor Northam acknowledged the damaging effect of the breakdown of civil political discourse in calling the State of Emergency in anticipation of thousands of potentially armed, anti-government demonstrators being poised to descend on Richmond in coming days.

“Virginians understand that diversity of opinion keeps our democracy strong. The more voices involved in our political dialogue, the stronger we are. Civil discourse, even and especially, amongst those who disagree, is critical to our democracy’s evolution and success. When the civility of that political discourse breaks down, the Commonwealth suffers,” Northam wrote in opening his Executive Order 49 State of Emergency declaration.

Let’s listen to each other – two sisters described the positives of firearms training and competitive use on them and their family’s life.

Hope or conflict?
A recent email from a reader critical of Royal Examiner’s content as being “Liberal Propaganda” seemed to initially reflect this breakdown in civil political discourse. In that first message the reader appeared to illustrate some knowledge of the coming Richmond demonstration and perhaps anticipated consequences with the observation, “The Liberal Left VA Government will soon find the Power of the People … (expletive deleted) newspapers like this will soon be a thing of the past.”

OUCH – does it really have to be a survival of the most heavily armed or can we continue to dialogue about our differing political and philosophical perspectives in the hope of a mutually acceptable resolution? We decided to try and find out.

After that initial email aligning us with liberal messaging but not citing any examples, we reached out to inquire which articles had aroused the reader’s ire. The reply cited “Liberal VA State Government Articles” emanating from the offices of Democratic officials including Governor Northam and U.S. Senator Mark Warner, rather than any original Royal Examiner content.

“It appears that the RE has an infatuation with these folks and always are publishing articles about how much they are doing for the state but nothing is written about the DAMAGE they are doing and the great divide they are causing,” our estranged reader replied in a more measured response to our inquiry.

However as we replied, we hope a search of our State Government news category page will illustrate that we publish press releases from both Democratic and Republican state and federal politicians in balance. And this writer feels fairly confident that our Publisher Mike McCool would not allow that state political content to be slanted toward a liberal bias, much less the progressive one this writer might put forward on occasion. And if there just happen to be more Democratic officials in major electoral offices like governor, attorney general and both of Virginia’s U.S. Senate seats at this point in time, I would contend that is on a majority of Virginia’s voters, more than it is on Royal Examiner.

Will that satisfy our critic and bring them back to occasional forays onto our website to keep up with the goings on in Front Royal and Warren County? Perhaps, perhaps not – but at least we are communicating about our various perspectives. In fact, as our email dialogue continued to include our planned commentary on the Richmond situation and governor’s reaction to the intelligence about it, our reader included this thought in a response: “By the way, my hope is for Nothing but Peace and our Rights as American Citizens to stay as written in the US Constitution.”

So, perhaps there is hope, not just for us and our estranged reader, but for Virginia and the nation as a whole.

Why not talk and seek movement toward mutually acceptable resolutions beneficial to the most Virginians, and most Americans on issues that ultimately impact us all?

Because if we can’t have those discussions where all are willing to listen with an open mind to ideas other than their own, we are likely to continue living in an escalating State of Emergency as we witness the continued decline of civil political discourse into increasingly aggressive and “eyes wide shut” partisan factionalism amidst a world of “alternate facts” (also known as lies) and the potential of armed confrontations between sides such as that Virginia’s governor and law enforcement officials fear was, or may be, on the horizon for Richmond in coming days.

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Marxists vs. Fascists



historically speaking

Today, it seems that the worst possible label you can give a political leader is “fascist.” Traditionally this is a term reserved for far right leaders and has been applied by many towards President Trump. Yet recently I have seen it used against liberal governors of states who are keeping quarantines in place. Calling a liberal a fascist seems odd, but, historically speaking, it may be understandable.

In the past, conservatives sometimes referred to liberals as communists and Marxists as an attack. The problem with this today is that some on the left are owning the title of Marxist or, at least, socialist. One of my colleagues refers to himself as a Marxist, as do several students. I find this strange and perplexing. First, do people really know the difference between a fascist and a Marxist? And why is it acceptable to call yourself a Marxist but totally incomprehensible to call yourself a fascist. (For this piece, I need to note that I have a word count so I do have to generalize. I acknowledge that these topics should be explored in much more depth and understanding.)

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not arguing that we should start calling ourselves fascists. I have nothing but contempt for the concept. But should we not have similar contempt for Marxism? Since WWII, fascism has always carried a negative connotation. In fact, the term is not really used except as a slight towards opponents. The public has understandably denounced any fascist connections. The Nazis did cause WWII and were responsible for the deaths of more than 17 million during the Holocaust. What is puzzling is that if Nazis are to fascists what communists are to Marxists, then why is it acceptable to associate with communists when they are responsible for the deaths of between 21-70 million people worldwide between all the various communists’ regimes over time.

It is true that Marxist and communists are not the exact same thing. Marxism is the political ideology of Karl Marx’s ideas, whereas communism is the political system based on Marx’s ideas. However, the same holds true with fascism and Nazism. Fascism is a political ideology developed in Italy during WWI. The Great War brought about destruction that the world had never imagined, leading Italian Fascists to believe liberal democracy had failed, not unlike the communists. Both ideologies have socialist tendencies, believing in state control, but whereas communism is based on class, fascists used nationalism. Hence, communism is seen as left while fascists are seen as right. Obviously, this is a simplified explanation, but the premise is true.  States like the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea used Marxist philosophy to create dictatorships the way the Germans did with fascism.

For years I have had an issue with the generally accepted left-right political spectrum. As it currently looks, Republicans are on the right with fascists on the far right. Conversely, Democrats are on the left with communists on the far left. I prefer the model where ideology or parties are on a circle instead of a line. In this model, the bottom of the circle can be democracy with Republicans a bit to the right along the circle and Democrats a bit to the left. At the top of the circle is totalitarianism with fascism a bit to the right side and Marxism a bit the other way. This model more accurately shows more similarities than differences in Marxism and fascism. They are both failed philosophies that caused death and pain for millions, yet one is more accepted than the other. Maybe it’s time to condemn all forms of extremism. The circle chart also shows that Republicans and Democrats are not so polarized. If the two parties can purge any who adhere to either Marxism or fascism and focus instead on democracy, maybe we can work a few things out. However, for that to happen, we need to condemn Marxists as much as we do fascists.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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‘At will’ versus ‘due process’ Town employment: Time for a change of perspective for all?



Town Hall was recently decorated for Memorial Day – one reader asks if it isn’t time for a ‘re-decoration’ and change of perspective inside the seat of town government. Royal Examiner File Photo

Virginia law allows “at will” employment, meaning a person can be fired with or without cause. Front Royal government staff are “at will” employees but the Interim Town Manager has a contract which requires due process to terminate.

If Town Council believes one of its employees deserves such respect and job stability, would Council consider offering the same across the board – due-process contracts to all Town staff?

Such a move could prevent another occurrence of sudden firings of key personnel that has left at least one department, Tourism, in turmoil and in a scramble for re-structuring. It could also create confidence that it is the Town’s elected officials who are in charge of their interim town manager appointee, rather than the reverse.

Would they care by such a gesture, though perhaps too late, to try and create some sense of integrity for themselves and the image of the town?

The employees fired were part of tourism, a source of revenue; and, planning which helps find the best place for new businesses to locate. Firing the town engineer who had at least fifteen projects to supervise will now cost more and who does these jobs now?

A public accusation is also tied to the fired Director of Tourism and Community Development – “She never once reported to Town Council when we asked her to explain what she did.”

But is that an accurate assessment?

Look at past agendas until reaching one circa April 2016. She performed publicly when scheduled with the Council, ran morning Business Forums several times, and many times attended Town Council meetings along with the also suddenly departed Director of Planning.

I witnessed their attendance and input at Town Council meetings. And, activity reports were required every two weeks from Department heads until the practice stopped in November 2019. She also made it clear in public (December 12, 2016 report to Council) that she was available anytime Council members wanted to discuss any ideas, suggestions, and issues with her.

Another approach to our integrity and image problems with Council is about five months away when we could elect three new people to Council. Let’s elect persons who see the questions, fact find, consider consequences of decisions, act in a timely manner, listen, and who will be absolutely transparent to all town citizens.

What a welcome change that would be from the current majority of seemingly partisan puppets of a local political machine.

Linda Allen
Front Royal, Virginia

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Mail-In Voting



historically speaking

With the shutdown of everything non-essential and social distancing becoming the new normal, one area of concern is voting. At the very heart of our democracy is the ability to vote. However, if we eliminate gatherings, as we have been instructed to do, voting is problematic. As of now the presidential vote hopefully will go forward as planned, but we have seen a disruption in primary voting. One of the options being floated is a mail-in vote. For some, changing how we vote goes against what it means to be American; however, historically speaking, we only started our current system of voting in the 1880s.

First and foremost, it is important to understand what the Constitution says about voting. Article I. Section 4 reads, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” In other words, voting practices are controlled by the states and different states could have various practices. Because of this, states had a great deal of power over who could vote until the 14th and 15th Amendments were passed.

In early America, ballots were not provided; you were expected to bring your own. You could make your own ballot, but a popular way to vote was to take an already filled out ballot provided by your political party, not unlike the sample ballots found at some polling stations today. Usually these ballots were color coded so that foreign speakers or illiterate voters could make sure they voted for the correct party. However, color-coded ballots also made it easy for political bosses to make sure you voted for the correct person.

Unlike now, voters were not expected to cast an anonymous vote. The idea was that you should not be ashamed of who you voted for. The reason the pollsters were wrong in 2016, and I expect the same in 2020, was that many Republicans wanted to vote party but did not want to admit they voted for Trump. Early Americans were expected to vote for the common good, not for self-interest.

The switch to the secret ballot began occurring in the 1880s to battle corruption. By the Gilded Age, corruption had emerged as one of the leading political issues. The idea became so prominent that it threatened the Republican presidential dynasty, as the party divided internally between the Stalwarts, who wanted to keep the status quo, and the Mugwumps, who wanted real reform.

What was happening was that floods of immigration changed local politics in many ways. As immigrants got off the boat, they were met by party members from their homeland who provided them with a place to live already prepared and a job for them to start. This is why so many Irish became policemen and firemen; the Irish were in control of those occupations. Of course they were expected to vote for whoever the political machine ran. It was easy to vote for the right person, especially when the organization provided a filled-out ballot.

As bad as this looks today, political machines were not all bad. Early American cities had a plethora of issues – water, sanitation, paved roads, welfare, and eventually electricity. These issues were too big for most city governments to handle. It was the political machines that stepped in to handle the problems, of course with kickbacks for themselves. In some ways, the political machines were the only voice the poor had.  But in other ways the machines were taking advantage of the poor.

The power of the political machines led to middle- and upper-class Americans fighting so hard for political change. They fought for the passage of the Pendleton Act. This created a civil service exam where a test was given and, instead of political handouts, the most qualified were given jobs. With Pendleton passed they next fought for a secret ballot. If machines could not promise jobs, and votes could not be bought, it was harder for the machines to control the poor population. Pendleton was passed in 1883 and in 1888 Massachusetts became the first state to use the secret ballot and over the next decade the rest began to follow.

The mail-in ballot is not the same thing as the open ballot of the 19th Century, but it does pose similar circumstances. It may be the great equalizer that allows for more democratic participation than ever before, especially if we are social distancing. However, it could also result in less control for non-English speakers, under-educated persons, or under-employed voters. Not that voter tampering would be openly used, but there is potential for representatives of a company, union, community, or immigration group to pass out completed ballots and offer to mail them in for voters after voters fill in their personal information. We have seen something similar with McCrae Dowless in North Carolina collecting absentee ballots in 2018.  I am not saying this will happen or that we should not use a mail-in ballot. Historically speaking, I am just showing what happened in the past.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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Social Media vs. Integrity and Leadership



March 13th, 2020 is notorious for two major events – one national and one local.  On this date, President Trump declared a national emergency due to the Coronavirus Pandemic and infused state governments with $50 billion dollars in federal aid.  Locally, the Town of Front Royal was quietly servicing their amended lawsuit against the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority upping their ante to $20,226,153 plus attorney fees and other costs.

While March 13th is an important milestone in this country and community, there are two far more important time spans to remember as you read through and more fully understand the “incompetence” that past EDA Board members exhibited, inclusive of former EDA Board Member and present Vice Mayor of Front Royal, Bill Sealock.

March 1, 2002, through December 9th, 2016 (EDA Board of Directors) and November 5th through present-day (Front Royal Town Council) shall serve as a reminder for a multitude of unremarkable and remarkable events that spans the illustrious career of Bill Sealock.  This period of time equates to nearly 19 years of public service.  These dates are critically important to the community, as Mr. Sealock’s unremarkable leadership tenure spanned the period in which much of the EDA fraud occurred; and where he continued to demonstrate a lack of true leadership on the Front Royal Town Council.  Sealock was in a prime position to have leveraged his past EDA knowledge and relations to broker a better working relationship between the Town of Front Royal and the EDA; possibly staving off the $20-million-plus civil suit against his previous board.

This was certainly not too much to ask, given Sealock’s 2016 candidate platform of “refusing to pick fights with the Board of Supervisors over silliness.” I will give Sealock credit for not picking any fights, as stony silence publicly overcame him for most, if not all the troubles between the EDA and the Town.

What was far from silly was Mayor Tewalt justifiably fighting and advocating for a mutual resolution on Town and EDA projects; while Sealock demonstrated no public support, and did not publicly build a coalition to challenge the current Council status quo that had their aim set on an entity that he helped lead and manage for 14 years.

What is remarkable in this time period is the Council’s willingness to chew up and spit out one of their own. Albeit, not through their personal words, but through their proxy attorneys.  The good ‘ole boy network may not be as strong as I once thought, as the sting of the outside-contracted Town attorneys’ words characterizing the Sealock manned EDA board’s leadership and management prowess includes such shameful vernacular as “incompetence”, “failed”, “unlawfully”, “grossly negligent” and “could have been prevented”.  These words and phrases are not my own, but direct quotes and characterizations that are peppered throughout the 83-page amended complaint by town attorney & famed automobile accident attorneys Damiani & Damiani.

Another unremarkable event is Mr. Sealock’s decision to not seeking another term on Council and chalking up the reasoning due to social media influence.  There was no mention or demonstration in acceptance of personal or professional accountability, the exercise of integrity, or simple sorrow, knowing that his inaction on both Town Council and the EDA will most likely cost the community untold millions of lost money through fraud, mismanagement (I will get to the EDA’s Sealock promoted Workforce Housing Project at a later time), attorney fees, and maintaining the status quo.  Leadership involves tough decisions, accountability, integrity, taking a stand for what is right, and reconciling the wrongs.   Demonstrating and practicing leadership is clearly not a strong suit for Sealock—that ship set sail years ago.  Fortunately, the community will not be forced to decide via future elections if Vice Mayor Sealock continues to deserve a seat at the dais knowing that his actions or inaction fully contributed to the chaos, dysfunction, and near-total loss of faith in community leadership posts.

The civil suit which The Town of Front Royal believes to be factually accurate paints a blistering account of Vice Mayor Sealock’s contribution to this community.  Vice Mayor Sealock was given 14 years, 9 months, and 8 days to help lead the EDA.  Instead, he let the organization lead him down a path that will forever scar this community.  Vice Mayor Sealock was given 4 years to jointly lead on the council, from the unique perspective of his nearly 15-year front-row seat at the EDA board table.  When the time came to reconcile his past decisions as an EDA board member, instead of being at the forefront and championing alternative resolutions, or simply resigning; he sat in stony silence while the Town of Front Royal began its campaign of fleecing the entire community with eyes wide shut to its own complicity and poor judgment as the EDA situation developed.

Sealock’s legacy will be forever cemented in the Town of Front Royal vs. FRWCEDA, not through social media fodder and a nearly 20-year career of unremarkable leadership.

Gregory A. Harold
Front Royal, VA  22630

(Writer’s Note: This is not a formal statement or position of the FRWCEDA.  This is one citizen’s position based upon the facts that the Town of Front Royal believes to be accurate as detailed in their civil suit against the FRWCEDA.)

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Miracle Cures



historically speaking

As I was driving home from my office this week and listening to talk radio, the host kept talking about how if everyone took 50 milligrams of zinc each day we could wipe out COVID-19. It seems like over the last few weeks I have read or seen many so-called cures for our current crisis. President Donald Trump started a race to buy up hydroxychloroquine when he claimed it could help with the virus. Most recently, he has suggested using ultraviolet light or disinfectants. I am not commenting on these medications’ effectiveness against the coronavirus. As my kids like to remind me, I am not that kind of doctor. I am only saying that historically speaking radical cures are not new.

Whenever America has faced crises, there have always been some claims of miracle cures. Sometimes, these are quacks looking for a buck. Other times, even when the experts claimed the cures were crazy, they later proved to work.

Fear is expected during difficult time and, with social media, conspiracies can spread faster than ever before. This past week I have heard a couple different celebrities with millions of followers claim that COVID-19 was started and is being spread by 5G. They even have “scientific” evidence to prove their theories that radiation is at fault. There are even claims that Bill Gates is behind the pandemic to depopulate the world. Not to be forgotten, others have linked the virus to global warming. True or not, controversial causes and cures are a part of history.

In the later 19th Century, one such miracle cure was snake oil. As the Chinese started immigrating to America they brought the oils from the Chinese water snakes with them. The oil from this snake did prove to have healing ability, especially with aching joints and inflammation. With the success of the snake oil, less scrupulous people began to pedal their own miracle cure snake oils. The difference was most of these potions did not contain a single trace of actual snake oil. The scams became so common that the term snake oil has come to mean a hoax cure.

In the midst of the Spanish Flu there was an advertisement in the Daily Ardmoreite in Oklahoma claiming that Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic of Quinine and Iron has doubtlessly saved thousands from the ravages of the grip and influenza. An Oklahoma newspaper in Granite had a story about how one company from Camp Funston was spared from the flu because the company physician made them gargle salt water twice daily. Not to be forgotten, malaria could be cured, according to an ad in the Hollis Post-Herald, by taking Oxidine. The ad even claimed backing by the U.S. government. Interesting enough, the Hitchcock Clarion had an article which actually had good advice on how to avoid the flu. They prescribed social distancing, covering your mouth when coughing, and avoiding large gatherings. However, they also claimed you should sleep with your windows open at night. The point is that out of desperation or greed, miracle cures will be widespread.

At the same time, some controversial cures can turn out correct. In colonial America one of the greatest fears was smallpox. It was a devastating disease that could wipe out thousands and left its survivors scarred for life. The year 1721 was a particularly difficult year for Boston. In September of that year when smallpox first began, there were 26 deaths, and by October there were more than 400. The prominent preacher, Cotton Mather, had read about a treatment in Turkey where a smallpox scab was placed under a healthy person’s skin to inoculate them against the disease.

Being new, radical and Islamic, when Mather presented his findings to the medical community, he was scorned. He did find one willing doctor to perform the procedure, only to bring down the wrath of the medical and religious community to the point of a failed assassination attempt. It was not until famous doctors in Europe stated touting its effectiveness of inoculations did Mather gain some relief. What was once seen as Islamic voodoo, is now saving lives around the world.

In another time and place, the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1905 in Louisiana brought an equal amount of fear. Every couple years brought a major outbreak of the disease. With the discovery of germ theory, scientists spent years trying to find the cause of the fever in order to create a cure, but to no success. In 1898 America fought the Spanish for control of Cuba and with our “colonization” of the island came the even greater need to find a cure.

Enter Dr. Carlos Finlay. Finlay was a Cuban doctor who discovered yellow fever was being transmitted by mosquitoes. He even identified the exact type. After the US set up camp on the island, Finlay shared his information with Walter Reed who confirmed this theory of mosquito transmission. Finlay and Reed were able to reduce the mosquito population in Cuba and saw yellow fever numbers drop.

However, what should have been a godsend was not fully embraced by the South.In the South, their own medical personal remained unconvinced that the fever was spread by germs. They refused to accept an annoying bug could be the culprit.

New Orleans, one of the hardest hit each summer, decided to follow the recommendation and try to kill the mosquito population in the city. It was recommended to put a small bit of oil, like vegetable oil, into the water cisterns to kill the bugs before they developed. In the neighborhoods were this was done the people complained about the taste of their water and so they stopped. They did not believe the fix and so saw no reason to pollute their water. To force the treatment, the health board tried to pass city laws requiring it, but that efforts failed.

Between 1900 and 1905 there were no major outbreaks in New Orleans, convincing the locals that their campaign of clean homes had helped kill the germs. They were partially right. The cleaning up of homes and neighborhoods took away breading grounds for mosquitoes. It was really not until the 1905 epidemic that the city was finally able to convince the population of the importance of mosquitoes. They asked people to oil their cisterns, removed anywhere with standing water, and sleep under netting. Finally following these steps, the 1905 epidemic was the last in New Orleans. What once seemed as a radical idea proved to be what was needed.

The jury is still out for some with hydroxychloroquine, zinc, or UV light. They may prove in the end to be modern-day snake oil, or possibly the things that save countless lives.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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The Town’s money shell game and a suggestion on one COVID money saver



It never ends with the incompetence of our Town Council and Interim Town Manager. I will exclude Councilman Thompson on the waterline issue as she voted against this.

At Monday’s Town council meeting, the council made an amendment to the 2020 budget to take $2.3 million dollars from the Enterprise Fund Reserves: $1.31 million dollars from the Water Utility Reserve fund will be used to cover the cost for the engineering drawings for the Rt. 340 corridor redundant water line; $990,674 from the Sewer Utility Fund for closed circuit television investigation of sewer lines.

To start with, before retiring I worked in the Commercial Property Management field. This included high-rise office buildings/complexes, retail and shopping centers. I know this business very well. At Monday’s (April 27) Council meeting, Council members justified the redundant waterline to the corridor for the following reason: possible liability litigation from Dominion Power and businesses in the corridor if the water were to be shut off for waterline repairs. If this liability issue was not written into the contract between the town/county or town/businesses, there is no liability issue. If a liability issue was written into either of these and not written in the town’s favor, this was plain stupidity and incompetence.

As I have said before at council meetings and a previous letter to the editor, there is not one shopping center in the country that has a redundant waterline. Could you imagine the cost? Having a waterline break to a shopping center, office complex, etc., is nothing new or out of the ordinary. It happens every day. Water loss and power loss is a situation that cannot be controlled. There can be no guarantee for continuous, uninterrupted water and power flow. Does Fairfax Water Authority get sued when a waterline breaks? – No.

It is inconceivable that Dominion Power, who relies on the flow of water to create the electricity they sell did not have this line installed at the same time of construction to prevent a shutdown. Dominion had the money then and has the money now for this entire project. But our Town Council wants to put some of the cost on the back of the citizens. Councilman Gillespie, at a council meeting earlier this year made this comment, “I can’t sleep at nights thinking about what it would do to the businesses in the corridor if the existing waterline breaks.”

Here is my comment, “Thank you Councilman Gillespie for thinking about Dominion Power, who has billions in yearly revenue, and the businesses in the corridor over the taxpayers of the town”.

But then again, the taxpayers have always come last with this council and past councils. Seems to be the normal for Front Royal.

The town will take out a bond to cover their share of this waterline. Council states Dominion’s future water rate increases will cover the payments on this bond, which in their eyes means the taxpayers would be paying nothing toward the bond. I say, Dominion should cover the entire cost of the waterline. Then there would be no bond to make payments on. Dominion’s water rate increases could then be used for water plant upgrades and sewer plant upgrades which are D.E.Q. required. Isn’t this part of what water rate increases are to be used for? So the taxpayers will end up paying for all of these required upgrades.

Again, thank you again Town Council for helping the gigantic power conglomerate over the lowly taxpayer.

Also another $1.657 million dollars was recommended to be cut from the General Non-Utility fund reserves to provide contingency funding to cover shortfalls in the water, sewer, solid waste and general street fund balances related to the COVID-19 economic impact.

So, we take money from here, put it over there. Take money from over there and put it back to here. Then when all of that here, there and everywhere moving of dollars is done, who still gets shafted in the end?

I’ll leave that answer to you.

On a personal note to our Interim Town Manager (Matt Tederick): Instead of having closed door meetings to discuss possible employee terminations due to COVID-19 economic losses, why not cut your overly paid salary by half or go salary free before terminating another town employee?

A leader inspires confidence in other people through examples of integrity and inspiration, not by fear. A leader is driven by the right motivation and makes a positive impact on the people around them. With these examples of a leader, you sir, are no leader.

Paul Gabbert
Front Royal, Virginia

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