Last year, after the killing of George Floyd, protests erupted across the country. One such protest took place in Manassas, Virginia and subsequently turned violent sparking a secret meeting among several Prince William County board members and then-chief of police for Prince Williams Barry Barnard.
The secret meeting was not open to the public which spawned a subsequent lawsuit against the board, claiming that the supervisors violated the Virginia Freedom of Information Act by attending a forum organized by the police chief and refused to allow the public to attend.
The lawsuit was supported by many members of the community, who subsequently raised nearly $25,000 for legal fees. Though the lawsuit was ended in May of this year, according to those close to the plaintiffs, the harassment for seeking government accountability did not end.
Alan Gloss was one of the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit last year, who is reportedly a target of said harassment as he has been outspoken in holding his local government accountable. In fact, the harassment was captured during a meeting in July when the board’s Chair At-large Ann Wheeler was caught on a hot mic saying, “what are you going to do about Alan Gloss?”
This statement garnered the attention of another concerned citizen, who decided to email the board and tell them that it was not okay to target citizens in this way. In the unnamed man’s email, he wrote:
“What about you going to do about Alan Gloss?” The smart answer to that is “nothing.” If anything happens to him, you will face even more investigation and scrutiny than has already been revealed.
According to the Potomac Local News, that unnamed man also criticized a number of other government policies and moves in his email.
The writer also criticized Wheeler for comments earlier this year at those who opposed a new housing development on 340 acres of land in the county’s rural area, noting they created “manufactured outrage” in their opposition to the project.
The author also called out a newly proposed equity and inclusion policy, initiated by the current Board, that would create diversity and equity teams at every county government level to ensure the new equity policy is enforced. The policy is still under review by county officials.
“The feedback deadline [for the proposed policy] had to be extended, presumably so you can get more positive feedback,” the author writes. The author also urges the Board of County Supervisors to censure Wheeler and Potomac District Supervisor Andrea Bailey “for their disdain for citizens.”
Exactly none of the words in the email were threatening or otherwise unlawful but this did not stop the board members from siccing the police on the man for his free speech. Because the email had a subject line of “Government Target” — in reference to government targeting Alan Gloss as recorded on the hot mic — board members claimed this was a threat.
This week, body camera footage of the interaction between the officer and the unnamed man was released, showing the power of government to attempt to silence or threaten their critics.
The idea of police visiting a citizen for their lawful free speech is chilling. However, the officer in the video below was cordial and explained that they have to look into all complaints of threats by anyone, including a board member.
In what could have been a violent encounter, the officer never once escalated and left the interaction with a handshake — much to the chagrin of the board members.
Despite the visit, board members still expressed concern that the unnamed emailer was a threat but police quickly shut them down.
“The writer had a voluntary conversation with the [Criminal Investigations Division] member, and it was determined that the intent of the e-mail was not to threaten or harass,” penned county police Chief Peter Newsham.