HARRISONBURG, Va. (WRIC) — On Sept. 23, 2017, the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation received a letter in the mail.
Printed on the outside of the envelope and at the top of the letter was a symbol typically associated with antifa.
But although the letter writer took pains to convince the battlefield foundation that they were being targeted by violent leftists, federal authorities now say they believe the true perpetrator was a disgruntled reenactor.
When the typewritten letter first arrived in September 2017, organizers of an annual reenactment of the battle of Cedar Creek took it seriously — after all, it was just over a month since a far-right rally in Charlottesville turned violent, leaving a woman dead.
The organizers increased security but decided to go on with the reenactment despite the threat of violence.
The first day of the event passed without incident, but on the second day, Oct. 14, 2017, a pipe bomb was discovered in a merchant tent. The device — a jury-rigged bomb made with a 9-volt battery, BBs and gunpowder — was safely disposed of, but the rest of the event was canceled as law enforcement swept the grounds for other threats.
Just a few weeks later, on Nov. 6, another letter was sent, this time to the Gettysburg Times, a local paper in Pennsylvania. It was stamped with identical markings as the first letter and appeared to have been sent from the same region, Northern Virginia.
Contained within, another explicit threat of violence, containing the same claim that a vast “antifa” conspiracy was planning a bombing campaign in Gettysburg.
But no bomb ever appeared, and the most notable feature of that year’s Gettysburg Remembrance Parade was a heavy fall of rain.
The next year, another letter was again sent to the CCBF and local paper the Winchester Star, threatening a campaign of violence in much the same terms as had been threatened previously.
This time, the letter had an immediate effect. The president of the CCBF resigned and the year’s festivities were canceled. The resignation was publicized in the Winchester Star, but it did not stop the threats.
In three more letters sent to individuals in Virginia and Pennsylvania over the next six months, the writer continued to threaten local officials, volunteers, event organizers and their families.
A Poor Player
While the writer took pains to convince the victims that they were being stalked by a band of leftists hell-bent on preventing two specific Civil War re-enactments in rural Virginia and Pennsylvania, prosecutors say the true culprit was Gerald Drake, an embittered reenactor.
“This indictment and arrest mark the culmination of a nearly five-year investigation into the perpetrator of the attempted bombing,” U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said.
Drake, who is also an actor with minor credits, was a member of a reenactment unit that participated in the annual events at Cedar Creek, according to the indictment. But in 2014, prosecutors say, he was removed from his unit due to “internal conflicts,” and has not participated since.
He did, however, serve as a volunteer at the Cedar Creek Battlefield in 2017 and 2018. The indictment doesn’t specify how investigators established Drake as the sender of the threats.
“In the aftermath of the riots in Charlottesville, and at a time when people sought to heal, this defendant instead sought to sow political discontent and mayhem,” Kavanaugh said.
Drake now faces 15 counts, ranging from manufacture and possession of explosive devices to stalking and mailing a bomb threat.