An organization affiliaed with right-wing presidential candidate Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. has asked Loudoun County officials for permission to establish a children's summer camp on a 64-acre farm the group owns.
A number of nearby residents said they are upset about the proposal, that they fear the property could be used as a base for a paramilitary or indoctrination center for young people, and could lower property values.
"Most of us think there's a hidden agenda," said lawyer Polly Girvin, who lives a mile from the farm and is organizing opposition forces for planning commission hearings tonight and Sept. 25. "There could be children coming in from out of state for indoctrination camps," she said.
Linda DeHoyos, a LaRouche associate involved with the application, said fears that the camp would be used for paramilitary training or indoctrination are "just wrong." The camp would continue an informal program that operated there the last two summers in which children played string instruments, performed Shakespearean plays and conducted scientific experiments, DeHoyos said.
Noting that she had two stepsons at the camp, she said: "I'm interested in having brainwashed zombies as children? I'm not."
This is only the most recent clash between the LaRouche group and Loudoun residents. In the last year the LaRouche group's headquarters -- including several hundred associates -- has moved from Manhattan to Leesburg, creating puzzlement and concern among many residents and officials.
The fears in part reflect numerous published and broadcast reports that LaRouche has a powerful sway over his associates and that some have carried guns to protect him. LaRouche, who ran for president in 1984 as an independent, has said he is under constant threat of assassination.
The LaRouche organization filed an application with the county saying it wants a private summer camp -- with softball, arts and crafts, swimming and boating -- for up to 25 children of the group's employes. The application notes "no contact sports" would be allowed and said the camp would be closed to outsiders.
About half the campers, aged 8 to 17, would spend the night in tents, and the camp would have up to 12 counselors, the application said.
The campsite is a farm off Virginia Rte. 671 in the county's Neersville area, a few miles from Harpers Ferry. It was purchased by a LaRouche-affiliated organization called Publication Equities Inc. in July 1984 for $400,000. The land, with cattle-grazing pastures and woods, contains a three-story, six-bedroom log house, built in the 1750s.
Publication Equities rents the farm to another LaRouche-affiliated group, Campaigner Publications Inc., of which DeHoyos is the president.
"I'd surmise from the calls and conversations I've had that folks are very much concerned what the real purpose of the application is, what kind of camp it would be," said John Sleeter, chairman of the Loudoun Planning Commission.
County planning staff members have recommended approval of the application, called a "special exception" request, provided the group improves the driveway entrance and fire safety, said county zoning administrator Tim Krawczel.
Krawczel said it might be difficult to monitor the camp's use, since the county has few zoning officers. But he said if he finds the place used for something other than what might be approved, "I'll go shut them down."
Girvin said an occurrence in June spread concern about officials' enforcement abilities. Several dozen young people, attending a conference sponsored by a LaRouche group at a Leesburg firehouse, entered stores and took clothes valued at several thousand dollars, town police said.
Officers followed some of the offenders into the fire station and confiscated many stolen items there, Police Chief James Kidwell said. No arrests were made.
"It really left a bad taste to people in town who don't know anything about him," Kidwell said.