Civil War reenactor from Virginia accused of planting pipe bomb at battlefield

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A Virginia man is accused of planting a pipe bomb at a battlefield while he was a Civil War re-enactor in 2017, prosecutors said.

Gerald Leonard Drake, 63, of Winchester, pleaded not guilty to 15 indictments, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia.

The charges included 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.

Winchester resident Leonard Drake, a former Civil War reenactor, has been arrested for allegedly planting a pipe bomb at Cedar Creek Battlefield near Middletown during an October 2017 reenactment.

— The Winchester Star (@WinStarVa) October 7, 2022

The indictment, which was made Sept. 14, accuses Drake of planting a pipe bomb at Cedar Creek Battlefield near Middletown, Virginia, during the Oct. 14, 2017, re-enactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek, The Winchester Star reported.

The indictment also charges Drake with writing letters threatening violence at subsequent Cedar Creek re-enactments, in addition to the annual Remembrance Day Parade in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, according to The Associated Press.

As the re-enactment for the Cedar Creek battle was drawing to a close in 2017, an unexploded pipe bomb was discovered in one of the merchant tents, prosecutors said. The pipe bomb contained metal nuts, a mercury switch, a battery, ball bearings, black and red wires, powder, and other items.

At a news conference Thursday in Harrisonburg announcing the charges, U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh said Drake falsely claimed connections to Antifa in his letters to not only hide his actual identity, but also to create additional political angst, the AP reported.

“From the very beginning and over a two-year period, Mr. Drake attempted to strike fear into his victims with his words and his actions,” Kavanaugh told reporters. “He used explosives and threats to coerce and to intimidate other groups and people to get them to do what he wanted them to do. That is the definition of terrorism.”

Kavanaugh said Drake planted the homemade bomb and mailed eight threatening letters in 2017 and 2018 because he was angry that he was removed from his Civil War re-enactment unit in 2014, the Star reported.

After his expulsion, Drake volunteered with the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation,a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of history related to the Cedar Creek battlefield, prosecutors said. The organization hosts an annual re-enactment attended by merchants, re-enactors, and visitors.

According to prosecutors, Drake allegedly sent a letter to the foundation on Sept. 23, 2017, and threatened violence if its upcoming re-enactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek was not canceled.

“If you choose to continue with this farce of history that clearly celebrates the war to keep African-Americans in chains, then we have no choice but to come and protest,” the letter stated, according to the Star. “Several hundred of our supporters will attend and slash tires, block traffic, harass patrons and reenactors. We will make Charlottesville look like a Sunday picnic!”

Kavanaugh said the letter attempted to spark fear among foundation officials by referring to the Unite the Right riots that occurred on Aug. 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, the newspaper reported.

“It is not alleged that Mr. Drake is a member of, or affiliated in any way with, any collective of individuals that go by the name Antifa,” Kavanaugh told reporters. “Instead, it is alleged that his letters claimed an affiliation with Antifa to create panic and fear, to sow political discontent in the aftermath of the Charlottesville riots, as well as to cover his tracks and try and confuse federal law enforcement.”

On Nov. 6, 2017, a letter was received by The Gettysburg Times at its offices in Gettysburg, prosecutors said. The letter and envelope both bore Antifa symbols and threatened violence if the parade went on as scheduled.

However, the Gettysburg Remembrance Day Parade of 2017 occurred without incident.

Drake allegedly sent another letter to the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation and the Star on June 29, 2018, threatening violence and urging organizers to cancel the event. The 2018 re-enactment was canceled and Joe D’Arezzo, the foundation’s president, resigned his post, according to the newspaper.

The event was canceled a week later, the Star reported.

Kavanaugh said it took nearly five years for the FBI to charge Drake because it had to “build their case piece by piece.”

Public defender Don Pender, who was appointed to represent Drake at arraignment in Charlottesville, did not return an email seeking comment,

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