“Mr. and Mrs. Cox have been targeted over the past few months by repeated acts of criminal and unlawful conduct, including having their home vandalized on two occasions,” Elizabeth Locke, attorney for the Cox family, said in a statement. “These coordinated tactics have crossed the line of civility and human decency.”
An attorney for Patricia Hill, the alleged vandal, did not immediately provide a comment regarding the fake-blood incidents. The other protesters say they have been careful not to cross legal lines and knew nothing of the vandalism. They are all part of a growing movement that insists gun-control advocacy should be more aggressive — and more personal.
Amanda Gailey, from Nebraska, and Catherine Koebel, from southwestern Virginia, met through gun-control-activist circles and connected over agreement that the movement has been too timid. Calling themselves “The Great American Gun Melt,” they want to pull gun-control politics to the left with more radical action.
So does Betsy Riot, the anonymous group that said it created the anti-Cox website.
“We know we’re out there; we know we’re a left flank,” said a woman who identified herself as a co-founder but would not provide her name. “But this movement has needed a left flank for decades.”
Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor who has studied the fight over gun rights, said such confrontational protests are familiar in abortion and animal rights activism but rare in this realm.
“It is a sign of how gun-control activists are looking for any new avenues, with Congress deadlocked,” he said. “Gun-control activists are really pushing the envelope, trying any way they can.”
These groups buck the general trend in the gun-control movement, Winkler said, which has been one of conciliation and increasingly modest demands over the past 50 years.
Meanwhile, the NRA has become more forceful, opposing any new gun regulations and blasting dissenters with vitriol. These more radical activists say Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action since 2002, deserve to be singled out for that intransigence.
“I don’t think the Cox family is getting enough social pressure,” said Gailey, a professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. “People need to stop treating these predatory, sick people like they’re just a neighbor.”
She thinks protests at NRA headquarters could be easily ignored by the Coxes. “It doesn’t seem to have gotten under their skin the way this has,” Gailey said.
Still, Gailey and Koebel, a biologist, say they did nothing illegal or threatening in the roughly four hours they spent protesting in Old Town Alexandria on Thursday, first at the store and then at the Cox family home. The design store is in an alley, and the protesters said they remained about a hundred feet away on the main street. At the Cox home, they remained on the sidewalk. Gailey said she did not invite any other activists because she wanted to make sure the protest was calm and legal.
Patricia Hill crossed that line, according to police, by spraying the red substance on the Cox’s house in October and January.
Hill, who is also a professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, was arrested after the January incident and faces a misdemeanor charge of property destruction. She declined to comment because of the pending case and referred calls to her attorney.
Gailey and Koebel say police confirmed they were breaking no laws when they handed out fliers calling on residents to boycott Courtney Cox’s business and held signs outside her family’s home.
Koebel filed a police complaint against Courtney Cox, who she says came outside the store and told them to leave. When Koebel tried to record the encounter, she said Cox knocked the phone out of her hand, scratching her in the process.
“You people are insane,” a woman Koebel identified as Cox says in the video she ultimately recorded.
The response from passersby was largely positive, the activists said, and they are planning to return with a larger group. They argue Chris Cox should be personally confronted over a pro-gun culture they see in the rural areas where they live.
“The rules are, you might oppose someone’s politics, but you do that at the statehouse,” Koebel said. “But when I go to my statehouse, I have to face armed men in order to testify.”
Koebel added that an armed gun rights advocate once showed up at her door and demanded to come inside. She filed for a restraining order.
Her protests are by definition less threatening, she argues, because she opposes guns.
“If I made him uncomfortable at his house, too bad; he deserves it,” Koebel said in an interview. “I felt unsafe in my home because of his product.”
Still, Winkler said this kind of action might not go over well with the broader public.
“I think the problem with these type of protests is that they disturb us by their implicit threat of violence,” he said. “When political activists with aggressive signs and messages protest outside your home, there’s always a feeling of insecurity. It’s inherently intimidating.”
Gailey and Koebel say their intent was not to intimidate but to shame.
“It is aggressive,” Gailey acknowledged. “I wouldn’t do that unless we were protesting someone who I believe is a truly indefensible human being.”