Civil War reenactor goes off script, admits plan to bomb battlefield
By Jonathan Lehrfeld
militarytimes.com - Apr 20, 2023
A Virginia man recently confessed to bringing a pipe bomb to a Civil War reenactment, creating a less-than-historic retelling of how an important battle unfolded.
Gerald Leonard Drake, 63, a former Civil War reenactor, was federally charged for mailing threatening letters and planting an explosive device at the Cedar Creek Battlefield in Middletown, Virginia, during a 2017 reenactment event.
He pleaded guilty April 17 for possession of the unregistered explosive device and for stalking, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said in the release.
The 1864 Battle of Cedar Creek, a Union victory, ended Confederate resistance in the Shenandoah Valley and helped propel President Abraham Lincoln to reelection, according to the National Park Service.
Court documents show Drake belonged to a group that participated in a yearly reenactment of the battle until he was removed from the cosplaying unit in 2014. It remains unclear whether his acting chops or his propensity for dangerous explosives led to his exit from the cohort.
Drake later volunteered with the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, which hosts the event. Between September 2017 and December 2018, he sent the nonprofit and various newspapers disturbing mail while pretending to be a member of the left-leaning anti-fascist group antifa.
The ousted actor threatened violence if the event was not canceled.
“Several hundred of our supporters will attend and slash tires, block traffic, harass [p]atrons and [reenactors],” he said in one letter.
On October 14, 2017, as the annual reenactment came to an end, a pipe bomb was discovered at the battlefield. The explosive contained metal nuts, a mercury switch, a battery, ball bearings, black and red wires and powder, among other items. The very real device did not detonate but forced the conclusion of the very pretend activities.
Authorities responded to the scene to investigate and seize the explosive device, which was later rendered safe by Virginia State Police.
Court documents show Drake’s aggressive letter writing campaign continued after the incident, forcing the 2018 observance of the event to be canceled.
At sentencing, Drake faces a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
The next anniversary reenactment of the battle is scheduled for October 21 and 22, according to the nonprofit’s website.