Gerald Leonard Drake, a Winchester, Virginia man and former Civil War reenactor, pleaded guilty yesterday to mailing threatening letters and planting a pipe bomb at the Cedar Creek Battlefield in Middletown, Virginia during a Civil War reenactment event in 2017. In the mailings sent to victims and two newspapers, Drake purported to be a member of Antifa and threatened harm, including referencing the Unite the Right riots in Charlottesville.
Drake, 63, pleaded guilty yesterday to possession of an unregistered explosive device and stalking.
“Our highest priority at the Department of Justice is to keep our nation safe. This defendant sought to intimidate and harm innocent people, and further, he tried to sow discontent by falsely claiming that the attempted bombing was politically motivated,” United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said today. “I am deeply grateful to the first responders for their work to quickly neutralize the bomb, as well as the special agents of the FBI and the federal prosecutors who – for years – tirelessly worked this case to identify Mr. Drake and bring him to justice.”
“The mission of the FBI is to protect the American people. Those who seek to instill fear and cause harm will be investigated and held accountable for their actions. Mr. Drake’s plea is representative of the FBI, state and local law enforcement’s cooperative efforts to keep our communities safe. We implore anyone who may have information about similar crimes or potential threats to contact law enforcement immediately,” said Stanley M. Meador, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Richmond Division.
According to court documents, Drake belonged to a reenactment unit that participated in the annual reenactment at Cedar Creek Battlefield until he was removed from his unit in 2014. In later years, Drake volunteered with the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation (CCBF), which is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of history related to the Cedar Creek Battlefield and which hosts an annual reenactment attended by merchants, reenactors, and visitors.
On September 23, 2017, a letter was received at the CCBF visitor center addressed to “Cedar Creek Battlefield people.” The envelope and its letter both bore a printed Antifa symbol depicting a black flag overlayed atop a red flag inside of a circle. The letter claimed the reenactment event “clearly celebrates the war to keep African-Americans in chains,” and warned the reenactment organizers that if the event was not cancelled, the trouble Antifa would inflict on Cedar Creek Battlefield would make the riots that took place in Charlottesville in August look like “a Sunday picnic.”
On October 14, 2017, the CCBF hosted the planned 153rd anniversary and reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek. During the afternoon hours, as the reenactment of the battle was coming to an end, an unexploded pipe bomb was discovered in one of the merchant tents. The pipe bomb contained metal nuts, a mercury switch, a battery, ball bearings, black and red wires, powder, and other items.
Deputies from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene to investigate and seize the explosive device, which was later rendered safe by Virginia State Police. Due to its discovery, however, all remaining reenactment activities were cancelled, and individuals were evacuated from the area.
Following this incident, Drake continued writing letters purporting to be sent by Antifa, including letters to the CCBF, its board members, an individual associated with Civil War reenactments, and news publications. During this same time frame, Drake continued to volunteer with the CCBF.
Drake admitted that he manufactured the pipe bomb using a metal pipe nipple, metal nuts, a 9-volt battery, black and red wires, and a mercury switch. The bomb contained powder, Pryodez, and BBs. Drake admitted to placing the bomb at Cedar Creek Battlefield to instill fear and cause harm to those attending the reenactment.
In addition, Drake admitted today to being the author of the threatening letters sent to members of the CCBF and various news agencies between September 2017 and December 2018. Those letters included threats of violence and sexual assault against members of the CCBF and their family.
At sentencing, Drake faces a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Virginia State Police, Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, and the Middletown Police Department participated in the investigation.
United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh for the Western District of Virginia and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Katie Burroughs Medearis, Melanie Smith, and Cagle Juhan are prosecuting the case.