The Loudoun County Planning Commission met in a tense, emotionally charged session last night as a score of citizens vehemently protested a proposal by a group connected with rightwing political figure Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. to establish a summer camp in the county.
The commission voted unanimously to refer the matter to a committee of the whole, a move that will delay final action on the controversial proposal -- submitted by Campaigner Publications, a group associated with LaRouche -- for several weeks, officials said.
"I don't see any hurry about this," said commission member John F. Sleeter, citing several technical concerns with the application for the camp.
But most of the rhetoric at last night's meeting, which was attended by about 300 citizens in the presence of several sheriff's deputies with dogs to assure order, had little to do with zoning questions. It focused on fears of Loudoun residents about LaRouche's operations, many of which he began moving to the county two years ago.
Some citizens and officials have said that the camp might be used as a paramilitary base or a youth indoctrination center.
"Given the history of acts of violence, crime and intimidation committed by individuals affiliated with Mr. LaRouche's organization, we are concerned with the safety, peace and security of our homes and families," said Polly Girvin, a Loudoun resident who lives close to the proposed camp near Neersville.
Dean S. Worcester, an attorney for Campaigner Publications, denied these allegations, maintaining that the site would be used solely as a camp during the summer months.
"Their opposition has nothing to do with the camp or the children. It is politically motivated; this is a very simple land use request," he said.
The long-brewing controversy over LaRouche's presence in Loudoun, marked by rumors and allegations, first boiled over at a Planning Commission meeting two weeks ago. A photographer who identified himself as a representative of Campaigner Publications took pictures of residents who spoke in opposition to the camp -- an action that many perceived as a harassing technique.
That photographer was not seen taking pictures at last night's meeting, which attracted an overflow crowd of opponents, although cameras from several news organizations were present.
Nevertheless, some speakers said they were intimidated. One woman, who identified herself as R. Nichols, wore sunglasses and a wig as she addressed the commission.
"I came in disguise because I was told that although I would not be physically hurt, I could expect to be harassed if I spoke . . . . I am scared," she said.
"Whenever people are afraid to speak, that is a fundamental threat to liberty," said Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Frank Raflo (D-Leesburg).
Raflo said he recently organized a group of high county officials to discuss the LaRouche controversy. "This issue has created such a degree of intensity that I wanted to see what the government had to say about it," he said. "It was an exchange of ideas."
Aside from the official Campaigner Publications representatives, there were a handful in the audience who said they supported the camp.
Gary Cogle of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., said he leases farmland from Campaigner Publications on the spot where the camp would be located. "I've never had any problems with them . . . . I've never seen any guns."
Later, while addressing the commission, Cogle turned to the audience and said, "If your life seems to be threatened, you had better have God on your side."
LaRouche was a presidential candidate in 1984 and has long been associated with radical rightist politics.
The controversy, which marks the first time Loudoun residents have been able to vent their anxiety over LaRouche before a government body, is likely to continue for some time. The Planning Commission does not have to make a recommendation on the proposal for 60 days, and then the matter must be ruled on by the County Board of Zoning Appeals.