They say politics makes strange bedfellows – and it couldn’t get much stranger than pro- and anti-Trump contingents presenting a united front right here in Front Royal, Virginia. But that could be the outcome if the Town of Front Royal pursues an initiative brought forward by some downtown, East Main Street business interests to try and move political demonstrators out of the Town Gazebo Village Commons area at the intersection of East Main and Chester Streets.
It is there on both sides of Chester Street that dueling political perspectives regarding the persona and agenda of the 45th president of the United States have been expressed for one hour, once a week over the past 18 months.
The rationale on removal from the center of Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District cited by town officials in communication with local Business Forum representatives is that the demonstrations are scaring potential customers away. See Related Story
A council majority and the mayor appeared reluctant to tackle the issue without more substantive evidence of that alleged disruption of local business or tourism. Town Attorney Doug Napier suggested caution in any attempt to alter the nature or space of the demonstrations due to First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly regarding political opinions written into the U.S. Constitution.
However, while expressing unfamiliarity with the dueling demonstrations Vice-Mayor Eugene Tewalt volunteered to approach leadership of the two sides about the possibility of relocating to a less obtrusive spot than the town’s public square and nearby public property under the town clock. A public space between South Commerce Avenue and Happy Creek south of the Pavemint restaurant was mentioned as a possible destination.
From an initial polling it appears the vice mayor’s initiative was met with less than an enthusiastic reaction from both sides of the political street.
“Sure, we’d do it with them – they’re not going to push us out of here,” original pro-Trump demonstrator Ralph Waller told Royal Examiner around noon on September 5, when informed of the business forum initiative brought to council the previous evening. “Them” are the anti-Trump contingent across Chester Street from both pro-Trump demonstrations AND his Main Street Pawn Shop in front of which he initiated those demonstrations some 17 months ago.
Waller’s business is essentially at ground zero of the dueling demonstrations, and he does not believe those demonstrations are deterring anyone from doing business downtown. Told a jewelry shop owner across East Main Street was the closest business represented in support of the business forum initiative, Waller observed, “This is a tough time for the jewelry business everywhere. Our jewelry sales are down but I don’t think it has anything to do with one hour, once a week out here,” he said gesturing toward the door to his shop from behind the counter.
Waller’s expression of potential legal unity with those of a different political perspective was not the only one we encountered that day.
“I’ll be proud to stand next to the Democrats for our right to be out here,” teenaged Trump supporter Joel Simmons told Royal Examiner later that afternoon as Republicans gathered at party headquarters near the Chester Street political divide for an appearance by Virginia Congressional candidate Corey Stewart between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. on September 5. In fact, during a brief media interview Stewart expressed support of the dueling downtown Front Royal political demonstrations.
‘Turf war’ revisited
That late-afternoon September 5 Republican gathering coincided with the first Wednesday in which the pro-Trump contingent had permitted the gazebo area for their demonstration. That permitting is for six weeks, the maximum length of time a space may be permitted by the town government. Consequently, as we spoke to Ralph Waller around noon on September 5, the space in front of his shop was empty while Len Sherp’s anti-Trump Vigil for Democracy was back to its earlier fall-winter noon to 1 p.m. timeframe, perhaps six weeks earlier than anticipated.
Warren County Republican Committee Chairman Steve Kurtz verified to Royal Examiner that he had initiated the permitting location change for the pro-Trump side some six weeks after initially being removed by town police from the gazebo during the July 25 pro- and anti-Trump demonstrations. See Related Story
“I went in and asked about its availability and was told it was available as of September 5. I said they’ve been there what, a year and a half – that’s long enough,” Kurtz said as he prepared for the first Wednesday afternoon occupation of the gazebo area by Republicans on September 5 for the Corey Stewart visit.
Asked if the pro-Trump contingent had maintained permitting for both sides of the street, Kurtz said, “No, I wouldn’t do that to them” – indicating he just wanted the demonstration “high ground” for the pro-Trump side for a change.
Asked if he wanted to comment for this story, Kurtz declined, saying he believed that those Republicans cited in the article – Ralph Waller, Joel Simmons and Dean Peterson had done a good job in representing the local committee’s stance.
Faced with a 4-1/2 hour gap between the two demonstrations (Kurtz’s gazebo area permit is from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.) when we talked to him on September 5, Waller laughingly bemoaned that gap – “Now we don’t have anyone to yell at” – though in ensuing weeks the initial pro-Trump contingent of Ralph Waller and his nephew Michael have reappeared at the noon hour with another supporter or two to keep the dueling perspectives in the same time slot.
Both Waller and Vigil for Democracy organizer Len Sherp have noted that for gatherings of less than 50 people, no permit is required other than as a securing of a location. One of those we encountered with the Wallers on the traditionally Trump and pawn shop side of Chester Street at subsequent noon-hour pro-Trump gatherings was Page County Republican Committee member Dean Peterson. Peterson has been helping the Warren County Republican Committee with its pre-Congressional mid-term campaign headquarters and has consequently become a familiar face on the pro-Trump side of the street.
Divided we demonstrate …
Peterson, like Ralph Waller and even Simmons on occasion, have been among those hurling pro-Trump, anti-Democratic Party vocal challenges across Chester Street toward the anti-Trump Vigil for Democracy demonstrators. We asked his opinion of any potential business-driven municipal initiative to move the political demonstrations from the town center.
“Well, that’s just wrong to start with – the gazebo is the center of town and we’ve always used this for the community, that’s what it’s for. And even if someone has something that we disagree with, I will still support their right to protest, just as I would want them to support my right to do the same,” Peterson said, adding he believed that to be “a mutual attitude” across what has become Front Royal’s weekly political divide.
Identifying that opposing, anti-Trump side as “socialists” philosophically, Peterson added, “I can’t stand socialism – people call me the most anti-socialist person they’ve ever met. Yet, I will still stand for their right to protest, even if I disagree with them.”
United We Stand
Vigil for Democracy organizer Len Sherp was away on an extended Labor Day holiday when the downtown Business Forum initiative was brought before council on September 4. Back for the September 12 Vigil for Democracy, the second of this season at the noon to 1 p.m. time slot, we approached him about that initiative.
“If people say this is affecting their business, I respond I am doing business – I am doing the people’s business,” Sherp began. “Our freedom of speech and our freedom of assembly are not meant to be pushed off to a corner. The very nature of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is that it should be available to the public. This is our town square – the gazebo is the town square. It was set aside as the public space. So, as I said I believe we are doing the public’s business, as I believe the other side is doing their version of the public’s business.
“So, I would be unlikely under any circumstance to voluntarily move from an area that is actually designated the public commons. As I’ve often said, this is an open forum. And if our forum has to change to an immediate question on defending free speech and freedom of assembly, I would welcome all allies,” Sherp concluded of a potential alliance with the pro-Trump contingent on both sides’ Constitutional right to express their political opinion and be heard in that expression.
Sherp began his Vigil for Democracy at the Town Gazebo space on March 8, 2017 to express opposition to Donald Trump and his agenda, which to Sherp seems to be in large part self-promotion and the self-enrichment of his, his family and friends’ business interests. Sherp often appears at his vigils supporting a one-word “emoluments” sign – emoluments being the section of the U.S. Constitution prohibiting self-profit from the office of the presidency.
Waller, Simmons, Peterson and their allies from the local political right have often reflected the national defense of President Trump – essentially that negative information about Trump or his past business dealings; Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Trump; possible knowledge of or collusion with that foreign agenda by Trump, his campaign team and even cabinet appointees is “fake news” disseminated by sour grapes Democrats and/or the “Deep State” that has corrupted the federal apparatus to the point that its intelligence and law enforcement agencies that are often the source of negative information about Trump can’t be trusted.
Sherp and his allies from the political “left” have reflected what is sometimes called “the loyal opposition” to those in power – at this point the Republican Party’s control of all three branches of government – the executive, legislative and judicial.
Sherp notes that the loyalty in “loyal opposition” is to America as a nation and the Constitutional system of legal accountability, checks and balances upon which the nation has been built; rather than to power itself or a cult of personality built around any individual elevated to the presidency – even one elected by a nearly negative three-million vote margin.
On March 8, 2017, at his first Vigil for Democracy Sherp said of its impetus, “The government still works for us – ‘of the people, for the people’ – and just because one Party has achieved a majority doesn’t mean they shouldn’t show the same reverence for the democratic principals and values of honesty, openness and fairness which have made us a beacon for two centuries. This administration, in eight weeks, has shown that it doesn’t understand the rule of law; does not respect the separation of powers; and has a Republican Congress that for some reason refuses to stand up and be adult.”
And you didn’t think you’d ever see these two disparate sides threatening to join hands in mutual cause – their Constitutional right to be heard in opposition to each other.
I’m not sure that’s a fight the Front Royal Town Council wants to take on – but I could be wrong …
Monday afternoon fire burns one acre, destroys vacant home
On Monday, March 30, 2020, at approximately 2:00 pm, the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services received a report of a residential structure fire in the area of the 200 block of Summit Drive in Front Royal.
Units arrived on the scene to discover a single story, single-wide house trailer with an addition with significant fire conditions throughout the home and approximately one acre of wooded area on fire. The home appeared to be vacant at the time of the fire and firefighters worked to extinguish the wildland fire and the structure fire from the exterior of the home for safety concerns.
As a result of the significant nature of the structure fire and wildland fire, firefighters received assistance from the Virginia Department of Forestry. Firefighters utilized the Town of Front Royal Hydrant System to supply water to the fire incident which caused the closure of John Marshal Highway for several hours, the Front Royal Police Department assisted with traffic control. It took firefighters approximately one hour to bring the fire under control. Units remained on the scene for several hours ensuring the fire was completely extinguished and assisting the Office of the Fire Marshal and Virginia Department of Forestry.
The cause of the fire was determined by the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office to be a result of an electrical malfunction that caused a groundcover fire that spread to the abandon home. The fire caused an estimated $50,000.00 in property damage which rendered the house a total loss. The Fire Marshal’s Office received assistance from the Town of Front Royal Police Department Criminal Investigations Division, Loudoun County Fire Marshal’s Office and the Town of Front Royal Electric Department.
Units on the call:
- Engines 1, 4, 6, and 2
- Brush 6 and 2
- Chief 100
- Fire Marshal 1
Humane Society’s plea for adopters and fosters in response to COVID-19
To all animal lovers, the Humane Society of Warren County has a few announcements:
- Hours are changing: HSWC will be closed on Sundays until further notice.
- We are operating by appointment only!
- This Friday and Saturday, 4/3/2020 and 4/4/2020, we will extend our hours for adoption appointments. We will schedule appointments from 10am-6pm.
- You must have an approved application for an appointment and they can be found on our website.
- Adoption fees will be waived through Saturday, 4/4/2020. Please share far and wide!
WE NEED YOUR HELP!
Now more than ever, we need adopters and foster homes. We are preparing for the worst at this point, as we are entering kitten season and we don’t want to be inundated with more animals than we can handle. HSWC currently has 111 animals in our care and anticipate those numbers rising in the coming months.
Several staff members have already chosen to self-quarantine, and we have had to cut hours for staff members; layoffs are merely days away. Much of the work — cleaning, feeding and walking — is falling on a skeleton crew. Meanwhile, adoption events and fundraisers — the life blood of our organization — have been cancelled.
A new pet offers a way to help ease the isolation that comes with orders to shelter in place. Animals provide company and comfort during times of uncertainty. Being forced to stay home is not only optimal for house training, but it gives humans and their new animals plenty of time to bond.
We absolutely do not want to resort to euthanasia as a source of population control, which many shelters are facing the harsh reality of this being a possibility.
If you are not in a position to foster or adopt, please consider making a donation – whether it be companion animal food for our pet food pantry or monetary. We want to keep our pantry stocked and available for members of the community who are financially strapped due to the virus. Before this all started, HSWC was already helping nearly 50 families with pet food.
If you are interested in adopting or fostering, please fill out an adoption/foster application on our website and call us at 540-635-4734.
AG Herring takes further steps to crackdown on price gouging
~ Herring has sent warning letters to 42 businesses about which Virginians have complained ~
RICHMOND (March 31, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has taken further actions to crack down on price gouging in Virginia by sending warning letters to certain businesses about which Virginians have complained. The letters inform the businesses that they are the subject of a price-gouging complaint, ask for documentation pertaining to the complaint, and advise the businesses to immediately stop any illegal price gouging practices. So far, Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section has sent 42 letters to businesses in response to complaints made by Virginians.
“It is unfortunate that businesses will take advantage of a situation like a public health crisis to try and make more money off of necessary goods like hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, face masks, or water,” said Attorney General Herring. “My office and I take price gouging complaints very seriously and I hope that these letters will send a strong message to businesses across Virginia that price gouging will not be tolerated here.”
The letters explain that the Office of the Attorney General has the authority to investigate possible violations of Virginia’s Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act and to bring enforcement actions to enjoin violations, seek restitution for affected consumers, and recover civil penalties, attorney’s fees, and expenses. The letters seek certain documentation from the businesses regarding their pricing practices before and after Governor Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency on March 12, 2020. Importantly, the letters warn the businesses that the failure to cease and desist from engaging in any unlawful price gouging may be considered evidence of a willful violation for purposes of an award of civil penalties under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.
Governor Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency triggered Virginia’s Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act, which prohibits a supplier from charging “unconscionable prices” for “necessary goods and services” during the thirty-day period following a declared state of emergency. Items and services covered by these protections include but are not limited to water, ice, food, cleaning products, hand sanitizers, medicines, personal protective gear and more. The basic test for determining if a price is unconscionable is whether the post-disaster price grossly exceeds the price charged for the same or similar goods or services during the ten days immediately prior to the disaster.
Additionally, last week Attorney General Herring joined 32 attorneys general in urging Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Walmart, and Craigslist to more rigorously monitor price gouging practices by online sellers who are using their services.
Suspected violations of Virginia’s Anti-Price Gouging Act should be reported to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for investigation, as violations are enforceable by the Office of the Attorney General through the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.
Consumers can contact Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for information or file a complaint:
Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – March 30, 2020
Governor Northam issues statewide stay at home order
Governor Ralph Northam today, March 30, 2020, issued a statewide Stay at Home order to protect the health and safety of Virginians and mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. The executive order takes effect immediately and will remain in place until June 10, 2020, unless amended or rescinded by a further executive order.
The order directs all Virginians to stay home except in extremely limited circumstances. Individuals may leave their residence for allowable travel, including to seek medical attention, work, care for family or household members, obtain goods and services like groceries, prescriptions, and others as outlined in Executive Order Fifty-Three, and engage in outdoor activity with strict social distancing requirements.
The executive order also directs all Virginia institutions of higher education to stop in-person classes and instruction. Private campgrounds must close for short-term stays, and beaches will be closed statewide except for fishing and exercise.
“We are in a public health crisis, and we need everyone to take this seriously and act responsibly,” said Governor Northam. “Our message to Virginians is clear: stay home. We know this virus spreads primarily through human-to-human contact, and that’s why it’s so important that people follow this order and practice social distancing. I’m deeply grateful to everyone for their cooperation during this unprecedented and difficult time.”
Last week, Governor Northam issued Executive Order Fifty-Three closing certain non-essential businesses, prohibiting public gatherings of more than 10 people, and directing all K-12 schools to remain closed for the rest of the academic year. A Frequently Asked Questions guide about Executive Order Fifty-Three can be found here.
For the latest information about the COVID-19 outbreak, visit virginia.gov/coronavirus or CDC.gov/coronavirus.
Valley Health offers new services to streamline care
Valley Health has implemented three services this week to streamline access to safe and timely COVID-19-related outpatient care: a COVID-19 Respiratory Care Phone Line, telehealth visits with providers, and a new Respiratory Care Clinic.
“The vast majority of patients who contract COVID-19 won’t require inpatient care in a hospital setting,” says Jeffrey Feit, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Valley Physician Enterprise. “We felt strongly that we needed a way to care for the community that provides a full spectrum of care for patients with respiratory complaints and reduces the chances of well patients and patients with chronic illnesses becoming sick when going to a regular office visit.”
COVID-19 Respiratory Care Phone Line
Valley Health has developed a new service for people who have a fever, cough, or other respiratory symptoms and need evaluation. Community members may call our dedicated phone line at 540-536-0380, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., and be guided to their primary care provider or a Valley Health Family Medicine/Urgent Care office for a telehealth visit.
Telehealth at Valley Health Urgent Care Centers and Medical Practices
Following recent changes by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to allow the broad use of telehealth visits by providers and health systems, several Valley Health Family Medicine, Urgent Care, and Specialty offices successfully piloted a new platform this week that enables patients to be seen by providers from the comfort of their homes.
“We are committed to caring for patients with respiratory illness in the safest way possible, and also want to offer other patients an expedient way to be evaluated,” says Jacob Meza, Senior Director of Valley Regional Enterprises, a division of Valley Health. “By Monday, all Valley Health Urgent Care centers and most Valley Health medical practices will have telehealth in place.”
After making an appointment, the office determines if telehealth is a good option instead of, or in addition to, a face-to-face office visit. If so, the patient receives a link which, when clicked, puts them “in” the exam room, ready to see their provider.
The new platform does not require the user to download any new software and may be accessed with any iPhone, Android phone, tablet or computer with a web camera, using Chrome, Safari or Firefox. Additionally, all telehealth visits have waived copays at the time of the visit to remove as many barriers as possible to help people receive the right care in the safest manner.
Visit www.valleyhealthlink.com/telehealth for a list of participating practices.
Respiratory Care Clinic
Patients who need an in-person provider visit now have a “next step” opportunity for care at a new outpatient Respiratory Care Clinic located adjacent to the COVID-19 test collection site at Rutherford Crossing in Winchester. Opened Thursday, March 26, the clinic is a resource for patients who need chest x-rays and other physical exams following a telehealth visit. A referral is required from a patient’s primary care physician. Watch for additional locations in other Valley Health communities.
Other updates related to COVID-19:
Request to Employers – Valley Health’s hospital Emergency Departments, Urgent Care Centers, and physician practices have reported a growing number of patients requesting a note to return to work. We are unable to accommodate that request. Consistent with guidelines from the CDC and state agencies, we ask area employers to waive the required healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work. Our emergency departments and doctor’s offices are not in a position to provide this documentation in a timely way.
Supply Donations –Many businesses and individuals have offered to share their time and talents by making home-sewn masks. We are heartened and encouraged by this show of support and concern for the safety of our patients and staff. Donated masks will help us preserve our supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). In order to ensure the highest possible level of protection, we have step-by-step instructions for making masks with elastic and masks without elastic on our website.
Blood Donors Needed – Many are asking what they can do to help. We urge all residents who are able to roll up their sleeves and help maintain our supply of blood products. The Red Cross donor center in Winchester has daily collection times. In West Virginia, bloodmobiles are scheduled in Keyser on March 31, Berkeley Springs on April 2, Ranson on April 3, and Bunker Hill on April 4. For more information, visit redcrossblood.org and enter your zip code or call 1.800.RED.CROSS.