ASHBURN, Va. (7News) — The Loudoun County Sheriff's Office launched an investigation Wednesday into “potential threats” made in a Facebook group against parents and residents who spoke out at school board meetings. 7News was the first to report on the Facebook group known as the "Loudoun Love Warriors."
"The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) has opened an investigation into potential threats made within the 'Loudoun Love Warriors' Facebook group, following a citizen complaint today," the sheriff's department said in a statement. "A previous investigation of the group and comments made about Mark Winn, a resident of Leesburg, Va., determined that no criminal act had occurred.
The social media group includes people who appear to be associated with Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj, County Supervisor Juli Briskman, School Board Chair Ian Serotkin, school board member Brenda Sheridan, school board member Atoosa Reaser, school board member Erika Ogedegbe, school board candidate Anne Donohue, sheriff candidate Craig Buckley, and Chair Phyllis Randall. None of these elected officials personally made any threats.
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Now, one of Virginia’s top elected leaders is calling out Loudoun County officials who appear to be associated with members of the Facebook group. Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears is asking Loudoun County elected officials to disavow the violent threats made in the group.
“My reaction to the what are they calling themselves ‘the Love Warriors Group’ --- there's nothing but hate in that group,” Earle-Sears told 7News. “From what I'm understanding, if the reports are true, and I don't react to it as lieutenant governor, I react to it as a normal, sane human being, when you hear what this group is trying to do, they're trying to destroy lives. They're going to make sure you definitely have loss of employment, you will possibly lose your life because they're talking about [disassemble] you, and they're also possibly going to shoot you. Now remember, this is the kind of group that says they're against guns, except I guess when they're the ones with the guns. So, folks, we've got to get a grip. We're destroying America from the inside. This is what our enemies do to us. This is not we what we do to ourselves.”
Earle-Sears is calling on elected officials to speak up.
“I would say to the elected officials -- the Commonwealth's Attorney Buta Biberaj, I would say to Phyllis Randall, the Chairman, I would say to Atoosa Reaser -- I would say to all of them, there's a whole group of you, you need to come out today, find a microphone and ensure that everybody knows that you disavow this kind of activity,” said Earle-Sears.
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“I would say that here we have parents, once again, who are wanting to have their elected officials represent them and listen to them,” Earle-Sears added. “And it's not happening. In fact, they're being hunted down by their very own staffers. So come on out. Make a difference. Say that you don't support this, say that this is not what the Democratic Party represents, please.”
Loudoun County Supervisor Candidate Puja Khanna, who is running in the Dulles district, appears to have been a member of the “Loudoun Love Warriors” group when the threats happened, and it also appears school board member Ogedegbe was a member of the group before the threats took place inside the group chat.
“I unsubscribed from the group after the election and as such don't have any knowledge of any current conversations,” Ogedegbe told 7News in an email after 7News requested an interview with Ogedegbe.
According to documents from a whistleblower, one of Biberaj’s staffers allegedly said in the group that they wanted to contact Winn’s employer and ruin his livelihood, after Winn spoke at a school board meeting in December 2022.
“It shocked me,” Winn said when he learned of the specific messages in a 7News interview. This was all while Winn's wife was battling Stage 4 cancer.
Winn said he never imagined being threatened for his school board speech in which he quoted a verse from the Bible.
But Winn wasn't the only target of the group.
“So, this speech that this gentleman gave incited a lot of emotions,” Heather Gottlieb told 7News in an interview. Gottlieb is a member of the "Loudoun Love Warriors" Facebook group.
“I think there were definitely some things said in that chat that probably shouldn’t have been said. I don’t think that they, you know, that anything was ever going to be acted upon,” said Gottlieb.
“I’m actually one of the people who has sent emails to people’s employers,” added Gottlieb.
After her email to Scott Mineo’s employer, he was let go.
Gottlieb is defending what she did.
“We are standing up for those in our community that are bullied, students, teachers. I mean we’ve been doing this for a couple of years,” said Gottlieb.
“If someone contacted your employer and made allegations and got you fired. Are you OK with that?” 7News Reporter Nick Minock asked Gottlieb.
“If somebody wanted to show my employer what I post online that would be fine,” said Gottlieb.
“You think the consequences should be someone gets fired from their job?” Minock asked Gottlieb.
“Sometimes yeah,” said Gottlieb.
Mineo spoke to 7News Tuesday.
“They went after my job,” said Scott Mineo, a Loudoun County parent. “That happened in early February. They referred me to the FBI, IRS, and DHS all because they don’t like my opinion.”
“They're probably going to sit back and celebrate the fact that I'm unemployed,” said Mineo. “I'm having a hard time finding a job. And who knows what's next with the IRS and the FBI? I don't know. But they've done more than just put me out of a job. It's impacting my family, my kids.”
Gottlieb said the Loudoun Love Warriors Facebook group originated with “grassroots” activists, who protested the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
“And that’s how people ended up in the chat,” said Gottlieb. “That chat kind of turned into doing more political activism. People joined that chat. People love to chat. So we kind of just turned it into this political activism chat where we talked about the different things we could do, different events that were coming up. And we talked about the school board. We talked about [the] board of supervisors, so lots of political things going on in there.”
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Every Loudoun County elected official and candidate who appears to have associations with members of this Facebook group refused to answer questions on camera from 7News on Tuesday and Wednesday. However, some issued statements after the story ran Tuesday.
“Violent threats are never acceptable and at times can be criminal. I personally condemn all violent language and my office will be investigating whether a crime was committed. Due to the possibility of a criminal investigation, I can not comment further at this time," Biberaj said in a statement to 7News.
In a statement to 7News, Randall stated, “No threats of violence are ever appropriate in any way, in any place, at any time, from anyone. I strongly condemn any use of violent language in any capacity. Those that use violent language are not welcome in the Loudoun Democratic Party.”
Buckley released this statement to 7News stating that he condemns violence:
“As a career law enforcement official, I’ve seen how violent speech can spur violent actions. Violent threats in any form will not be tolerated, especially those intended to inhibit First Amendment free speech rights of those we might not agree with. I condemn all speech that threatens violence," said Buckley.
“Although I have no knowledge of the incidents to which you are referring, I fully condemn any and all threats of violence, harassment, and intimidation,” Reaser told 7News in an email after 7News requested an interview with Reaser.
After 7News requested an interview with Briskman, she told 7News in an email that “I will not be commenting for your story.”
"I am not familiar with the Facebook group you cite - "Loudoun Love Warriors." As a long-term resident and the Commonwealth's Attorney for Loudoun County, I hope for meaningful dialogue and less rhetoric in social media. One's First Amendment rights are vital to democracy and our core principles of freedom and justice in America," Biberaj said in a statement to 7News after the story aired. "I have sworn to uphold the United States Constitution and will do so with every fibre of my being. However, if anyone makes threats which cross into being unlawful, I have faith that our local law enforcement is equipped to investigate the matters. If their investigation results in findings of violations of criminal law, then the legal process will be initiated and take its course."
“As a School Board member, I and my colleagues have been the subject of countless death threats and other violent acts. Any violent language or threats used anywhere in any capacity is abhorrent and is against the principles of our democracy. I do not condone any such behavior or anyone I associate with making or tolerating such threats," Serotkin said.
"A news story yesterday reported allegations of threats made against Loudoun County residents in a Facebook group chat. Before yesterday, I was not aware the group existed and I have never been a member. I condemn in the strongest possible terms violence or threats of violence from any source and on any medium. I intend to keep my campaign focused on building community and consensus to make decisions in the best interests of LCPS students," At-Large Loudoun County School Board Candidate Anne Donohue told 7News in a statement on May 10.
7News has reached out to Facebook about whether they were aware of the threats made in the "Loudoun Love Warriors" group and if their conduct is a violation of Facebook's policies. We will update this story when we get a response.
7News will continue to update this story with responses from officials and what they plan to do about this situation.