The Stafford County supervisors rejected last night a proposal to build an antiterrorism training school in the rural county after hearing several residents say they viewed it as a threat to their way of life and the project's sponsor likened its opponents to "Hitler's brown shirts."
The vote by the Board of Supervisors was 5 to 1, but the supervisors were clearly torn between the tantalizing economic benefits promised from the 100-acre training school and the anger expressed by the opponents, who were vigorous and well organized.
"I'd like to remind the board members that the gap between our rhetoric and our resolve is sending mixed signals to the business community," said board Chairman Ralph Marceron.
"In this case," he said, "our resolve did not match our rhetoric."
When the permit for the project was voted down, the board's chambers exploded with cheers and applause from the standing-room-only crowd of about 250 in Stafford, about 40 miles south of Washington.
The school -- which was to include a track for teaching evasive driving, an automatic weapons firing range and a plant where armor plate would be added to cars -- was the brainchild of J. Peter Minogue, 35, of Falls Church, a security consultant.
Projections said that it would have brought the county $12,000 a year in taxes and perhaps as much as $2 million in other economic benefits in its first five years.
But its prospective neighbors spoke of noise and stray gunfire.
It "would mean that if I have a friend over on a weekend for a barbecue, I'm going to have to tolerate screaming tires, drivers doing 180-degree turns and automatic weapons fire reverberating through the valley," John Hagstron, who lives near the site, told the supervisors.
"To me, this is clearly a threat to our lives, it's not just a threat to our quiet weekend afternoons," said Barbara Gautreux, who lives a block from the site. "It's just not wanted here," she said.
Minogue defended the project, declaring: "You must take a stand. Recent world events have made the choice before you very clear . . . . This will be a research training center devoted to saving lives."
Likening the school's critics to "Hitler's brown shirts of the 1930s," he said residents had used fear, threats, intimidation and character assassination to whip up an irrational fear based on "misinformation."
"As Winston Churchill said, 'Those who sling mud generally lose ground,' " Minogue said.
He also invoked the names of Rudyard Kipling, Theodore Roosevelt and Spiro T. Agnew, but fell short of persuasion.
"I have committed myself to supporting new business in the county," said Supervisor Lindbergh Fritter, "but I also have to consider the health and safety of the people in that area."
Only Supervisor Alvin Y. Bandy voted to approve the facility.
He told his colleagues and the crowd just before the vote, "This [training center] is not all bad. This is what this nation's coming to. It's nice to say, let it be in someone else's back yard. But I want to tell you, brothers and sisters, it's coming close to us."
After the meeting he remarked that his wife had told him, " 'Don't you come home if you don't vote against.' " He added, "So now I have that problem, too."