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 …
Last call to share library feedback and win!
Samuels Public Library’s community survey will close on December 31st. The survey opened on September 1st and has drawn in nearly 300 responses so far. The Library hopes to receive 400 responses.
“We are very excited about the number of responses we’ve received so far,” says Executive Director Michelle Ross, “Our community has wonderful ideas about new library services and we hope to gather even more of those ideas before the survey closes.”
Each person who completes a survey may be entered into a drawing for a Kindle Fire HD 10 Tablet. Limit one entry per person. Every Warren County citizen is invited to share their feedback to enhance our community’s Library.
Print copies of the survey can be found at each Samuels Library public service desk. The survey can also be completed online.
Results from the survey will be shared on the Library website, www.samuelslibrary.net.
About Samuels Public Library
Samuels Public Library brings people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community. A 501(c)(3) organization, the library annually serves 200,000 visitors, checks out nearly 400,000 books, electronic and digital services, and provides essential computer access, wireless service and public meeting spaces for the community. To learn more, visit www.samuelslibrary.net or call (540) 635-3153.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Canada Goose
Clean up your fishing line!
This Canada Goose was found and rescued in Sherando Park in Stephens City, VA. The finder came across this bird struggling in the water while entangled in fishing line. Luckily, the goose was untangled and transported to the Center for care.
We see many cases each year of animals (mostly waterbirds) entangled in fishing line. Please help our wildlife and make every effort to retrieve lost hooks/sinkers/line while fishing, and even if you aren’t the person who left it, remove line and other dangerous debris that you find while out enjoying nature.
This goose did not suffer any fractures, but has muscle damage that will take at least a few days to resolve if all goes well.
The struggle and near drowning experience puts this goose at extreme risk of exertional myopathy (muscle damage caused by extreme stress and struggling that creates physiological imbalances and can result in death). We are doing everything possible to monitor for signs of this condition and address changes quickly.
We are glad to be able to help this bird, but many aren’t so lucky. The best prevention is to clean up the dangerous trash we put out in nature. Please dispose of hooks and line properly!
This goose is our 3,237 patient in 2021!
Our patients can’t pay for their care and we don’t receive state or Federal funding for what we do. We rely on your donations to help wild animals and return them to their wild homes. Please consider donating to BRWC today.
Children honor memory of local librarian
The children collected some of their favorite books and donated them to the library. The books will be used as prizes for the children’s reading club. They are hopeful that the books will help cultivate the love of reading, just as Kathy did through her work. Kathy Jacob worked with many teachers, staff, and children from Mountain Laurel, whenever they visited the library.
‘Tis the Season for Kindness
A local singer/songwriter has a message for the world in his debut release starting with the opening lyrics, “Put the kind back in humankind”. “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” was written by local musician and businessman Shae Parker and recorded in Memphis, TN earlier this year. Parker, who has been playing music semi-professionally for the past three decades is no stranger to helping convey messages. The sign maker and owner of Hanna Sign Company also spent years as a radio broadcaster and as a Front Royal Town Councilman and Vice Mayor.
“I’ve always written songs”, says Parker. “In retrospect, I’ve always helped to convey messages. Whether it was a commercial on the radio, a sign for someone’s business, or as a public servant I’ve always tried to help others convey their message.”
Like many during the pandemic, Parker says he did some soul searching and decided he needed to put his own message out in song. After combing through years of writings and narrowing down a list of about two dozen, he formulated a plan to record as many songs as possible. Shae says he reached out to a childhood friend and fellow former disc jockey, Till Palmer who is the Chief Engineer at Ecko Records in Memphis for help.
“Initially the plan was to take the band with me (River Driven Band), but schedules didn’t align and I realized I either needed to reschedule or refocus on a solo project”, said Parker. “A big part of my pandemic soul searching revolved around doing this before I turned 50, so I headed to Memphis for a solo project”.
Fourteen songs were recorded in Memphis over three days according to Parker, with twelve of those planned for release. Most of the overdubs were handled by Shae before leaving, but he says over the coming months the remaining overdubs will be completed by him and his bandmates from the River Driven Band before being sent back to Palmer for mastering. The other two tracks, “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” and “SHE LOVES ME, BUT” were independently released in November by Parker on most digital streaming platforms.
“SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” has a message that I felt all humans needed to hear”, explains Parker. “It’s about kindness and how easy it is to just be kind, that’s why I had to put it out first”.
Shae says that independently releasing his music has its own challenges. He says it has been a learning curve from researching and finding a digital distributor to upload the songs to Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube Music among others, to registering songwriting credits with BMI and SESAC.
“There is a reason it’s called the Music Business”, quips Parker. “What is an ISRC number or a DDP? Things like that I didn’t have a clue about as a performer, but Till being in the industry gave me a lot of insight of what needed to be done to make this a reality.”
While Parker maintains the music is the best thing to come out of the experience, he is quick to point out the joy of working with a lifelong friend and using a vintage Gibson Les Paul Junior on some tracks that were bought new by Palmer’s grandfather, Ralph Palmer in 1956. He also finds irony in his and Palmer’s past on radio given that a fellow DJ, Rick Dee’s recorded his number one hit “DISCO DUCK” in the same studio in the 1970s. Parker also recounts that his nickname at 4H camp growing up (where he and Palmer first met) was Duckie. Irony indeed, however despite a good beat you can dance to any other similarities in the compositions end there as Parker’s message of kindness prevails.
The Daily Planet/Shoe Productions studio was built by STAX Records founder Jim Stewart and Bobby Manuel (Booker T & the MG’s) shortly after the shuttering of STAX in 1975. In 1995 John Ward bought the studio and changed the name to Ecko Studios/Records, an American Blues and Soul Blues label that has released albums by Rufus Thomas, Ollie Nightingale, Bill Coday, Barbara Carr, and others.
Shae Parker’s first two releases “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” and “SHE LOVES ME, BUT” are available on all streaming platforms or wherever you listen to music. Links to the songs and information on booking can be found on his website at www.SongsByShae.com.
Triple your impact this Giving Tuesday
Today is Giving Tuesday!
What is Giving Tuesday? It’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, and was created to encourage people, after spending money on physical items for the holidays, to give back to charities and their local communities.
It’s an important day to support Blue Ridge Wildlife Center because your donation could be matched twice!
- Starting at 8am, donations made through Facebook will be matched with an $8 million dollar match pledged by the social media platform itself until the matching funds are exhausted.
- Your donation will ALSO be matched by our generous Board of Directors up to $15,000! (You can donate through our website, by check, or through Facebook to qualify for this match.)
That gives your donation the opportunity to be TRIPLED, going further than any other time!
We receive no state nor Federal funding for what we do. We rely on your donations to save wild animals and return them to the wild. Donations enable us to afford the foods and specialty formulas we feed out to our 3,200+ patients each year. They allow us to build and maintain our enclosures to house these patients and keep the lights on and water running. They pay for the surgical supplies, medications, and anesthetics needed for the 150+ surgeries we perform each year. They pay for the antibiotics and pain medications needed by the >60% of our patients that are suffering from some sort of human-caused traumatic injury.
We need YOUR help to maximize matching funds and to care for the ever-increasing number of patients we’re seeing each year. Please give generously on Giving Tuesday to let your donation go further!
Thank you for supporting our native wildlife!
Accused Brinklow murderer gets 30-years-9-months on plea agreement and probation violation charges
Following emotional testimony from Jennifer Brinklow, the mother of 20-year-old Tristen Brinklow on the devastating impact on her life of her son’s 2019 murder, and a perhaps surprisingly emotional series of apologies from his accused killer for his role in that murder, the Commonwealth and defense counsels debated at which end of sentencing guidelines 38-year-old Richard Matthew Crouch should be incarcerated on Second Degree Murder and related and unrelated charges he submitted guilty pleas to as part of a plea agreement.
By plea agreement already accepted by Warren County Circuit Court Judge William Sharp, the sentencing range was between 8-years-and-7-months and 28 years-and-9-months. The other involved suspect, George Good, received a 10-year prison sentence with 25 years suspended on August 13, on a similar plea agreement involving two charges of helping Crouch dispose of Brinklow’s body and a variety of unrelated charges. Good was 29 at the time of his sentencing three months ago.
After hearing about an hour and a half of testimony, questions, and arguments Judge Sharp adjourned to chambers at noon, Monday, November 29th to consider his sentencing decision. After 17 minutes Judge Sharp returned to deliver his ruling. That ruling was the high-end 28-years-and-9-months according to sentencing parameters of the plea agreement, after imposing two, 5-year sentences on concealing and defiling (allowing to decompose) a dead body; and 30 years on the Second Degree Murder charge. Crouch will also get credit for time served, about two years. It was said that currently it is estimated that inmates will serve about 85% of their sentence with good behavior time taken off. Crouch also had four, 5-year sentences related to an earlier attack on an ex-girlfriend and his drug possession with intent to distribute charges imposed with all 20 years suspended. He will be on supervised probation for five years after his release.
While getting credit for his time served, two years was later tacked on to the 28-year-9-month sentence, on a probation violation charge argued outside the plea agreement. Arguing that aspect of the cases, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Nick Manthos countered defense co-counsel Eric Wiseley’s call to waive the two additional years of active incarceration after his client received nearly three times the sentence George Good did for their respective roles in Brinklow’s murder.
Manthos, as Commonwealth Attorney John Bell had earlier, noted that while Crouch held to his story that it was Good who actually beat Brinklow to death, the physical evidence matched Good’s story that it was Crouch who attacked and strangled Brinklow to death in a methamphetamine-induced paranoid delusional state. Crouch did admit to being up for at least five days straight, perhaps as many as 10 days, doing an extraordinary amount of methamphetamine – he estimated at 3.5 grams (an 8-ball) to twice that amount per day – while trying to finance being on the run from police from an incident several days earlier in which he non-fatally had strangled an ex-girlfriend.
The Commonwealth noted that in his earlier attack on the ex-girlfriend, Crouch had not only choked her but cut off a large portion of her hair. When Good led authorities to Brinklow’s decomposed body, a bone in the neck was discovered broken at autopsy indicative of strangulation, and a large portion of Brinklow’s hair was discovered cut off. Those aspects of the earlier Crouch attack on the ex-girlfriend were not known to Good, the prosecution told the court.
The fact that all the crimes he enter guilty pleas to, including the assault on his ex, the methamphetamine use, and dealing, as well as Brinklow’s murder, occurred while Crouch was on probation led Judge Sharp to side with the prosecution on the necessity of imposing the two probation violation years hanging over Crouch – “There has to be a consequence, otherwise probation means nothing,” Judge Sharp said in rendering his decision on that second part of the day’s hearing on Crouch’s fate behind bars.
While admitting to the drug use and paranoid state leading him to believe that he was going to be robbed of his meth stash worth several thousand dollars, Crouch insisted that Brinklow coming at him with a knife and Good’s response of pulling him off Crouch and beating him to death was not a part of his drug-induced delusions. However, it seemed Crouch and his attorney in the plea sentencing, Howard Manheimer, may have been the only two in court buying into that scenario. It appeared seven relatives and friends accompanied Jennifer Brinklow to court Monday.
Several times asked by the court if he had anything to say before decisions were rendered, Crouch in a low, emotional voice expressed remorse, saying, “I am so sorry, I am so sorry with all my heart.” Crouch told the court and Brinklow’s mother that he had become involved in a jailhouse ministry conducted at RSW and related drug abuse counseling to try and steer inmates away from drug addiction upon their release.
He also looked at Tristen’s mother testifying from the witness box directly in front of him as she recounted the multiple impacts, including being told she now suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Shock Disorder) in the wake of her son’s murder. “I didn’t know a person could live without a heart and soul,” Mrs. Brinklow told the courtroom of her life since December 13, 2019, when she was informed it was her missing son’s body discovered in an abandoned freezer near the river. The murder occurred in September 2019.
She said tears came often, stimulated by “a smell, food, a cloud – ANYTHING. I never had anxiety, now there are places I can’t go without breaking down … It’s beyond obvious those two did not know Trey – a few minutes with him and he’d give you anything he had … Four days after he turned 20 you took his life – he was just a kid.”
Following the rendering of his plea agreement sentence of 28-years-9-months, Judge Sharp told Crouch he hoped he made the best out of the portion of his life that will now be spent in prison; that he was truly remorseful for letting a dangerous, illegal drug get a grip on his life that led to this point; and that he would continue to work to counsel others away from a similar fate, and turn his life in a positive direction.
“I wish you luck,” the judge told Crouch.
“Thank you,” Crouch replied.