The subject of the controversy, both sides agree, is an unlikely one: An organization wants to operate a small summer camp in a remote area of Loudoun County.
But because the group that made the proposal is closely affiliated with right-wing political figure Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., the camp for the last six months has been the target of the fear and resentment many residents have expressed over LaRouche's growing presence in the county.
The Loudoun Board of Zoning Appeals is expected to rule tonight on the proposal by Campaigner Publications Inc., which publishes pro-LaRouche political journals and pamphlets. In October, after hearings that drew hundreds of residents, the Loudoun County Planning Commission, an advisory body, voted 7 to 0 to reject the group's request for a special exception permit.
Camp opponents have charged that LaRouche, a perennial presidential candidate who has long been associated with radical rightist politics, may use the facility as a paramilitary camp or a youth indoctrination center.
Campaigner Publications officials have labeled the allegations absurd, saying the camp would be a recreational and educational facility for children of the group's employes. They said that opposition to the camp stems from political bias against LaRouche.
The camp proposal, critics say, has presented them with their only opportunity to oppose LaRouche before an official county body since he moved two years ago to an estate near Leesburg, which is guarded by sentries armed with machine guns.
At the same time, harsh attacks have been issued in Campaigner Publications materials against Loudoun residents who have opposed the summer camp, attacks that some county officials said are designed to intimidate opponents.
LaRouche opponents, including Loudoun Supervisor Frank Raflo, said they are fearful LaRouche now has new avenues to spread his message in the county. Late last year, Campaigner Publications began publishing its own local newspaper, the Loudoun County News. Last month, an editor of one of Campaigner's magazines was given approval by the Federal Communications Commission to purchase WTRI, a Brunswick, Md., radio station whose signal carries widely in Loudoun.
The dispute is becoming much broader than how the camp will be used. Opponents have insisted that the zoning board view it as one part of a larger threat to the county caused by activities of LaRouche's organization, and that it be rejected on those grounds.
Raflo said yesterday that LaRouche associates have sought to intimidate camp critics through published attacks and harassing phone calls.
Some residents were criticized in an article written under LaRouche's byline last fall in the Executive Intelligence Review. " . . . All of these persons and their confederates are part of a highly organized nest of Soviet fellow-travellers in the county, and all have allied themselves knowingly with persons and organizations which are part of the international drug-lobby."
Pauline C. Girvin, a Leesburg lawyer who was mentioned in the article, said the attacks are a primary reason she recently decided to move from the county.
Said Raflo: "You can't run someone out of the county because you don't like them. But when someone starts to intimidate and threaten the people of Loudoun County, and makes it so residents are afraid to speak out, then it has gone too far . . . .[The camp] issue is one manifestation of the problem."