Militia members at Lynchburg protest may have broken the law, legal expert says

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LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Letters sent to County and City governments in our area are challenging the legality of local militias.

They were sent by Mary McCord, the Director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law. McCord says she also successfully went after militias who participated in the deadly “Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville three years ago.

Most of the protest was peaceful throughout the day on May 31 were peaceful, but as night fell and armed men arrived at Fifth and Federal, they took positions on the roof and behind the glass windows, as WFXR reported throughout the night.

McCord says Lynchburg residents reached out to her, saying the militia played a role in the property damage that happened that night.

“They were present,” said McCord, “they were heavily armed and felt like it had escalated the tensions to have that heavily armed militia presence in what had started out as a peaceful protest.”

McCord sent letters to officials in Lynchburg and Bedford and Campbell Counties explaining the law and encouraging public awareness.

“To the extent that organizations attempted to exercise law enforcement authority by saying they were here to protect and defend private property, they lack authority to do that. That arguably would violate the statute that prohibits that unauthorized exercise of law enforcement.”

She pointed to resolutions passed in Bedford and Campbell Counties recognizing the militias.

“That in their own minds might have given them some sort of stamp of approval in the county.”

Bedford County Administrator Robert Hiss said the resolution is in accordance with Virginia law.

“It clearly talks about calling the militias for lawful purposes by the governor,” he said. “There could be misinformation out there. I’m not sure.”

Campbell County Attorney Tripp Isenhower made similar points.

Newly elected Lynchburg Mayor MaryJane Dolan received the letter last month as Vice Mayor and says she would “possibly” like to see charges pursued.

“I think the militia, unless it’s ordered by the government, it’s not legal, so I think that’s a point that she was making in her letter.”

McCord hopes that a better understanding of the law will prevent similar escalations in the future.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Mark Herring sent the following statement:

Large groups of unaccountable, heavily armed individuals purporting to serve as security or law enforcement can lead to confusion, dangerous situations, or even tragedies. Last summer, Attorney General Herring issued an advisory opinion that basically says that if a private militia shows up dressed alike in military garb, heavily armed, and starts to tell people that they are there to “keep the peace” or perform police functions they could be committing a crime. Additionally, this year AG Herring’s legislation finally passed that will restrict the kind of paramilitary activity by white supremacist militias and similar groups like what we saw in Charlottesville in 2017.

Charlotte Gomer, Press Secretary, Office of the Attorney General

We reached out to Commonwealth’s Attorney Bethany Harrison and the Lynchburg Police Department as well as contacts with the Campbell and Bedford County militias. They did not respond to our request for comment.

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