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The headlines can’t by themselves explain what’s been driving American politics. Always remember former House Speaker Tip O’Neil’s truism that “all politics is local.” So let’s look at America’s divisions narrowly, through a lens focused on how prominent politicians in our own congressional district have been dealing with the turmoil. 

Virginia’s 5th congressional district is as rural Americana as it gets. It stretches from the outskirts of the Washington, D.C. suburbs to the foothills of the lovely Blue Ridge Mountains in Rappahannock County, and down through the scenic Shenandoah Valley, to the North Carolina border. 

Such parts of the southern United States are often referred to as the Bible Belt, where socially conservative evangelical Christians have significant political sway. The lines of the 5th district have been drawn to ensure that it would be extremely difficult for any Democrat to win election here.

Bob Good to the rescue

Which brings us to the 5th district’s newly-elected congressman, Republican Rep. Bob Good. He’s a self-described “biblical conservative” and a former athletic official at the Lynchburg-based Liberty University, the private evangelical school founded by the late Jerry Falwell Sr. 

Last summer, Good replaced the district’s former Republican congressman, Denver Riggleman, who was knocked off the ballot in a convention of party insiders engineered by angered 5th district Republican bosses. Their ire was aroused after Riggleman had officiated at the wedding of two gay men. Championing gay rights is anathema in 5th district Republican circles. 

In last November’s general election, Good routed his Democratic challenger, a mild-mannered physician named Cameron Webb who expressed concerns about the Trump’s administration’s erratic responses to the coronavirus pandemic. On the campaign trail — refusing to wear a mask — Good basically ran against the “radical left” and “socialists” who support the sort of violence perpetrated by “Islamic Jihad” terrorists. Dr. Webb must still be scratching his head. 

A new congressman’s priorities

Rep. Good’s two top declared priorities in Congress will be to fight for “religious freedoms” and for citizens’ rights to have concealed-carry permits to carry guns across state borders. He’s also a hardliner on immigration who has recently visited (and praised) a section of Trump’s wall along the Arizona-Mexican border. 

Good voted against certifying Biden’s electoral win. He has expressed admiration for a fellow Republican freshman from Georgia, the hard-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Greene has also drawn international headlines for her extreme conspiracy theories. She wants Joe Biden to be impeached, on grounds he has been “compromised” by America’s enemies and is a security risk. 

For Good, extreme rants have also come closer to home. His top district aide, Sandy Adams, had to apologize after she posted a Twitter attack on Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, likening the young progressive New Yorker to Adolf Hitler.

(Adams also was among the crowds on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, with her husband, Melvin Adams, the 5th district Republican chairman and one of the party bosses who helped elect Bob Good to Congress. To his credit, Melvin Adams told supporters in a private communication that he had tried to talk some ruffians out of perpetrating violence. He declined to respond to a query asking if he had shared what he had seen with the FBI.)

Sandy Adams posted a meme in 2015 that pictured then-President Barack Obama “along with Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin as an opponent of gun ownership,” Richmond-based political reporter Ben Paviour noted on National Public Radio last month. 

Good believes the coronavirus pandemic is “phony,” a “hoax” perpetrated by radical Democrats to shut down businesses, schools, and churches. Speaking last December before the Campbell County Militia near Lynchburg — again, maskless — Good asserted that social-distancing regulations issued by Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, were a threat to “our First Amendment rights to assemble,” not sensible precautions aimed at protecting Virginians’ health. 

Enemies of the people

Let’s really narrow the lens, focusing on two upstanding citizens from the 5th district’s Rappahannock County. Terry Dixon and Ron Frazier seem to illustrate the continuing resonance of Donald Trump’s persistent campaign to sow distrust of America’s free press as “enemies of the people.”

Dixon chairs the Rappahannock Republican committee. A deacon in a local Baptist church, he appeared at a Sunday service during last year’s election campaign with then-candidate Bob Good. Dixon also played a leading role in Good’s ouster of then-incumbent Republican congressman Denver Riggleman last year. 

Frazier, a member of the county’s board of supervisors, is the longest-serving public official in the county. Frazier seems to personify the historical grievances of many Rappahannock natives, when he refers to the U.S. Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. 

A little historical research indicates the term is often associated with 20th century segregationists who opposed civil-rights legislation. Frazier did not respond to repeated invitations to explain whether that notion fit him. Nor did he respond when asked for his feelings about the Confederate flags being waved by Jan. 6 rioters at the U.S. Capitol. 

(One thing that is guaranteed to inflame emotions in rural Virginia is to suggest to latter-day Johnny Rebs that the American civil war was an insurrection rooted in pro-slavery views. There is a statue on the county courthouse grounds dedicated to the memories of Rappahannock residents who gave their lives defending the confederacy. Their cause was “righteous,” according to the inscription. Armed men patrolled that statue last summer, should Black Lives Matter or Antifa decide to show up. They didn’t. While the lingering resentments in the American south are not as openly hateful as, say, the centuries of festering animosities in places like Armenia or Serbia, they have never gone away.)

Frazier was recently the object of some controversy in the local Rappahannock News, after it came out that on Jan. 6 he had attended Trump’s Stop the Steal rally at the Ellipse, and then the mass demonstration on the East Side of the Capitol. “We were on the ground,” Frazier stated in an account posted on social media. “Not sure about any property damage but a woman that tried to breach was shot.” 

Unsurprisingly, that raised eyebrows. Exactly what did Frazier see that day? Did he cross police lines? If so, he would have been breaking the law, said the local chairwoman of the Democratic Party who suggested the possibility of a censure. Others in the community questioned Frazier’s judgement — not for peaceably exercising his constitutional rights to protest, but for believing what Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has famously called presidential “lies.”

In his reports in the Rappahannock News, editor John McCaslin has also highlighted comments supporting Frazier from the chairwoman of the county’s board of supervisors, and also Republican committee chairman Terry Dixon. 

It’s hard to see how any reporter could have been more even-handed. McCaslin is a veteran journalist whose 40-plus career has included stints as a White House correspondent for the Washington Times, and a columnist for the Los Angeles Times syndicate. He has a reputation as a straight shooter. Toward that end, McCaslin has recently run several missives from residents who have strongly supported Ron Frazier. 

But Republican chairman Terry Dixon hasn’t been impressed. Dixon circulated a private email that vented his deep-seated beliefs. It’s revealing of the passions that are roiling American political waters.

“Dear Friend,” Dixon began. “I need your help to stop something terrible from happening next Monday at the February 1 Board of Supervisors meeting. Rappahannock County Democrats are trying to censure Supervisor Ron Frazier because he attended a Trump rally. With the help of the Rappahannock News they are lying and distorting the truth.” 

Continuing, Dixon asserted that Rappahannock County Democrats are “far-left” socialists who are “behind an effort of character assassination that echoes the propaganda efforts of Saul Alinsky, the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communist Party.” 

Dixon electronically whispered that “for years,” the Democrats “and the leftist Rappahannock News have aggressively tried to damage Ron Frazier’s reputation.” They have accused Frazier of breaking the law he claimed. “All of us are next on their smear list,” he added. “If we don’t stop them now they will get bolder and more dangerous.”

Thus fired up, a group of concerned local citizens turned up at the Feb 1 supervisors’ meeting — two meetings, actually, as there were both afternoon and evening sessions — arguing that the board should not censure Ron Frazier. 

Never let the facts get in the way of a good political argument, as they say. Here, nobody had accused Frazier of breaking the law. The board of supervisors had no intention of censuring him. Discussing Frazier’s attendance at the Stop the Steal events was not even on the agenda. Rappahannock Democrats had not questioned Frazier’s constitutional rights to peaceable assembly. 

I sent written questions to Frazier, asking if he thought he’d been fairly treated by his local newspaper. He did not respond. Nor did Dixon respond to repeated written requests for his comments.

There’s a lot more that could be said about moral leadership at the American grassroots level. Many attendees at the Rappahannock County supervisors’ Feb. 1 meetings, including Ron Frazier, were captured on video not wearing masks to protect the public health. Nor were many of those good citizens willing to practice safe social-distancing. Why the Rappahannock County board of supervisors is willing to hold public meetings that could endanger the lives of their own constituents is a matter perhaps best left to moral historians. 

— A veteran Washington investigative reporter and author who resides in Rappahannock County, Greg Rushford is editor and publisher of The Rushford Report. This is a condensed version of his commentary forwarded to the Rappahannock News for consideration.

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