The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Reports of Facebook threats latest controversy in deeply divided Loudoun County

Dr. Daniel Smith, left, takes his place on the board after being appointed interim superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools at an emergency board meeting on Dec. 8. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
7 min

At a Virginia school board meeting late last year, a speaker during public comment said being LGBTQ was “immoral.” Soon, others who were angered by his remarks began a discussion in a chat in a private Facebook group.

Now, certain comments made in the Facebook group’s chats — and questions over whether any crossed a line and escalated into threats — are at the center of the latest controversy in Loudoun County, where the education culture war has played out in fights over school policies and curriculum.

Some of the messages from the chats surfaced in recent weeks, including ones saying a member was “ready to show up with guns” and ruin lives, and were condemned by some conservative groups and lawmakers. The Loudoun sheriff’s office said the agency is investigating alleged threats made in the Facebook group, but won’t say what specific messages or who is being investigated. And the state attorney general told WJLA, which first reported the messages, that he is monitoring the investigation.

Members of the Facebook group, called “Loudoun Love Warriors,” say it is a place to discuss community events such as blood drives and anti-hate rallies. One former member who posted in the group said his comments, including one that mentioned a gun, were intended to be figurative, not literal, and he was simply passionate about speaking out against viewpoints he sees as hateful and harmful.

For a snapshot of the culture wars, watch a school board meeting

At the December school board meeting, a speaker identified as Mark Winn said to board members that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer is “immoral and typically not accepted in a civilized community.”

“It goes against God’s design for us and it goes against the natural order of nature,” Winn said. “These behaviors should never have been promoted, taught or encouraged in the schools that you oversee.”

The meeting included a work session on recommendations from a grand jury report into the school system’s handling of two sexual assaults committed by the same student in 2021. The male assailant was wearing a skirt during the first assault, which took place in a girl’s bathroom and fueled anger against a school system policy allowing students to use the bathroom matching their gender identities. But no evidence was found that the student was transgender and bathroom access was still determined by biological sex at the time of the assault.

“Again I say to you, if any man or woman causes one of these little ones to stumble it would be better for a millstone to be put around your neck and thrown into the lake. It’s not my words, it’s God’s words. Please, please, get back to reading, writing and arithmetic and quit grooming and pimping,” Winn said.

The “millstone” reference was taken from Bible verse Matthew 18:6 that reads: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Following the remarks, a Loudoun County community organizer, whose name appears as a member in the Loudoun Love Warriors group, started a petition that gained more than 1,000 signatures to ban hate speech at school board meetings. The petition said speech like Winn’s “empowers people to commit acts of violence” against the LGBTQ community.

Members of the private group chat voiced outrage following Winn’s remarks. Some of the messages, which were reviewed by The Washington Post, escalated. Comments by one participant, Derek Summers, have been cited by conservative groups and officials as potential threats, but sheriff’s officials have not said publicly whether they are part of their investigation.

“Im soooo ready to show up with guns lol,” Summers wrote in one post.

“Lives need to be ruined beyond repair,” he wrote the next day.

Loudoun school officials review grand jury report

Screenshots show multiple messages, most of which come from a small number of group members, with a similar sentiment about “ruining lives” and getting other people fired from their jobs for hateful comments made in school board meetings or online.

“Quoting scripture in a public forum, that never has been, and never should be considered hate speech,” Winn said in an interview with WJLA. “When they threaten someone’s employment or threaten somebody’s life, or threaten their home, yeah that’s hate speech.”

A phone number for Winn was disconnected when The Post tried to reach him this month.

In an interview, Summers defended his remarks in the chat. He said his comments about guns were a reference to the Black Panther Party, which became known in the 1960s for brandishing legally owned weapons and in an effort to fight police brutality and racism. He said he was speaking figuratively out of passion against comments he thought were harmful and threatening, and many of the screenshots shared were taken out of context.

He said the group pushed back against his remarks and said he was too “aggressive” for the chat. He left the group shortly after.

“All those crazy sentences are responses to something or a reference to a previously existing conversation,” Summers said.

Summers said he’s received direct threats online since the messages surfaced but has not been contacted by police. He denied allegations by some conservative groups that he has direct connections to school board members or politicians. Summers, a contractor, also founded Citizens Committee Against Domestic Violence and has been an organizer in the community.

“It’s just politics. And I didn’t know I was playing the politics game,” he said. “I didn’t make threats and I didn’t mean them, but now their constituents are threatening me in public.”

A sheriff’s office spokesperson said a previous investigation of the Loudoun Love Warriors group and comments determined that no criminal act had occurred. She did not answer questions about when that investigation was conducted.

Loudoun County sheriff will not pursue criminal charges over anti-racist Facebook group

A similar situation occurred in 2021 when the sheriff’s office investigated a private Facebook group called “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County” (ARPLC). The agency decided not to pursue criminal charges against people associated with the group. A parallel investigation by the FBI also did not pursue criminal charges.

The investigation began when opponents of critical race theory accused a school board member involved in ARPLC and other group members of targeting an alleged “hit list” of CRT opponents and sought to infiltrate their efforts on social media.

Loudoun 4 All, a progressive parents’ group that seeks to promote racial justice and equity in the school system, who had multiple members in the Loudoun Love Warriors group chat issued a statement condemning threats of violence.

Amanda Bean, a Loudoun 4 All member who was in the group chat, said she thought the portrayal of the whole group as threatening was unfair when the comments were made by a small number of people. She left the group shortly after comments were made that she found concerning.

“They’re really trying to get people to be scared of even being in a group that’s doing good work, lest one person in a 500-person group ever makes a comment that’s inappropriate,” Bean said. “They’re then trying to hold everybody in the group accountable.”