Civil War Reenactor Indicted for Planting Pipe Bomb at Cedar Creek Battlefield
HARRISONBURG, Va. – A federal grand jury in Charlottesville has indicted Gerald Leonard Drake, 63, from Winchester, Va., for mailing threatening letters, stalking, and planting a pipe bomb at the Cedar Creek Battlefield in Middletown, Virginia during a Civil War reenactment event in 2017. In the mailings sent to victims and two newspapers, Drake purported to be a member of Antifa and threatened harm, including referencing the Unite the Right riots in Charlottesville.
The indictment, which was unsealed following Drake’s arrest today, charges him with fifteen criminal offenses including: mailing threatening communications, malicious use of explosives, possession of an unregistered destructive device, unlawful manufacture of a destructive device, use of explosives to commit a federal felony, and stalking.
“This indictment and arrest mark the culmination of a nearly five-year investigation into the perpetrator of the attempted bombing,” United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said today. “Over that time, career federal prosecutors and federal agents steadfastly investigated and uncovered the identity of the individual who sought to terrorize innocent civilians in the Western District of Virginia. 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. From the local police who secured the scene, to the state police that diffused the bomb, and through to the federal agents who investigated the true identity of the perpetrator, this was truly a quintessential example of law enforcement partnership.”
“The FBI is grateful no one was injured by this explosive device, and no physical harm came to the individuals being threatened. In our mission to protect the American people, law enforcement will continue to take threats to individuals and public places seriously and will hold those responsible accountable for their actions. If you suspect a similar crime is about to occur or have information about one that has, please contact the FBI immediately at 804-261-1044 or via tips.FBI.gov,” said Stanley M. Meador, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division.
As detailed in the indictment, Drake belonged to a reenactment unit that participated in the annual reenactment at Cedar Creek Battlefield until he was removed from his unit in 2014. In later years, Drake volunteered with the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation (CCBF), which is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of history related to the Cedar Creek Battlefield and which hosts an annual reenactment attended by merchants, reenactors, and visitors.
On September 23, 2017, a letter was received at the CCBF visitor center addressed to “Cedar Creek Battlefield people.” The envelope and its letter both bore a printed Antifa symbol depicting a black flag overlayed atop a red flag inside of a circle. The letter claimed the reenactment event “clearly celebrates the war to keep African-Americans in chains,” and warned the reenactment organizers that if the event was not cancelled, the trouble they would inflict on Cedar Creek Battlefield would make the riots that took place in Charlottesville in August look like “a Sunday picnic.”
In response to the letter, the CCBF posted a warning on its website that security had been increased and apologized for the inconvenience.
On October 14, 2017, the CCBF hosted the planned 153rd anniversary and reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek. During the afternoon hours, as the battle was coming to an end, an unexploded pipe bomb was discovered in one of the merchant tents. The pipe bomb contained metal nuts, a mercury switch, a battery, ball bearings, black and red wires, powder, and other items.
Deputies from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene to investigate and seize the explosive device, which was later rendered safe by Virginia State Police. Due to its discovery, however, all remaining reenactment activities were cancelled, and individuals were evacuated from the area.
Following this incident, Drake continued writing letters purporting to be sent by Antifa, including letters to the CCBF, its board members, an individual associated with Civil War reenactments, and news publications. During this same time frame, Drake continued to volunteer with the CCBF.
On November 6, 2017, a letter was received by The Gettysburg Times at its offices in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Once again, the letter and envelope both bore Antifa motifs and warned that if the Gettysburg Remembrance Day Parade allowed confederate flags or confederate men and women to be in the parade, “we will disrupt the whole weekend.” The letter also stated that “we have a new person to make our bombs for us since the Cedar Creek one was a dud,” and “[w]e will also run over people with a couple of trucks and might have a shooter on the rooftop [or elsewhere] along the parade route.” However, the Gettysburg Remembrance Day Parade of 2017 occurred without incident despite these threats.
In 2018, one year after Drake planted the pipe bomb at Cedar Creek Battlefield, he sent another letter to the then-President of the CCBF as well as The Winchester Star, a local newspaper in Winchester, Virginia. In this letter, Drake warned organizers to “cancel this event or you will regret it!” and discussed the various ways in which a “suspicious package” could be smuggled into the event.
On July 3, 2018, the annual Cedar Creek Battlefield reenactment was cancelled due to security concerns. In addition, the president of the CCBF resigned due to tensions caused by Drake’s threats.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Virginia State Police, Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, and the Middletown Police Department participated in the investigation.
United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh for the Western District of Virginia and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Katie Burroughs Medearis, Melanie Smith, and Cagle Juhan are prosecuting the case.
An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.