The Sheriff’s Office found no significant criminal wrongdoing during its investigation of the Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County Facebook group, the group that catalyzed recall effort against several School Board members.
The group, to which six School Board members belong, became notorious when it was reported that members complied lists of parents in the county who opposed racial equity efforts. According to the Sheriff’s Office, the FBI also looked into the group, but did not pursue a criminal investigation.
The group formed in March 2020 in response to a mailer that had been sent out to families, stating that LCPS “Has recently teamed up with an extremist organization to teach your children to hate you,” and the mailers are only signed “Concerned Parents of Loudoun County.”
In the fall of 2019, the district initiated a county-wide study of racial inequity in the school system, hiring the Equity Collaborative to analyze the roles race plays in the district’s employment practices, treatment of minority students, and reflection of different cultures across the community.
Jamie Neidig-Wheaton, the group’s founder, said the ARPLC Facebook group formed as parents worked to determine who was behind the mailers.
“They clearly had lists with our names and home addresses and were sending postcards,” Neidig-Wheaton said.
The group members identified and discussed parents throughout the county who were vocal opponents to the school division’s equity work. Group members also discussed the merits of continuing distance learning throughout the pandemic, while many community members criticized the district’s handling of reopening schools.
Multiple School Board members, including Beth Barts (Leesburg) and Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian), belong to the group. Their involvement drew the attention of the public, as critics objected to elected officials discussing matters in a private group. Barts is now the central target in a recall effort led by the group Fight for Schools.
Fight for Schools identified that School Board members belong to multiple private groups, and alleged that they violated rules for School Board members “meeting” behind closed doors.
“What you see here is a pattern and practice of the LCPS of operating without transparency, without accountability, and they keep getting caught,” Ian Prior, executive director of Fight for Schools, said.
A Sheriff’s Office statement on the investigation said that complainants “believed that ARPLC’s posts were evidence of organized criminal activity intended to infringe upon First Amendment rights, and violated certain laws surrounding the crimes of stalking, harassment, and racketeering.”
In the group, some members discussed “hacking” to identify possible opponents of the equity work, although the investigation found no illegal evidence of hacking.
Barts told detectives she “went on the site and asked for advocacy to share that LCPS is not supporting critical race theory.”
While the investigation ended with no criminal charges, the reverberations among community members remain.
Neidig-Wheaton moved her family from Loudoun County to the West Coast after the threats and harassment over her involvement became unbearable.
While Neidig-Wheaton does not appear to have been involved in the threads doxing parents, she is being sued by The Virginia Project, for discussing the PAC within the Facebook group. TVP published a tweet containing Neidig-Wheaton’s home address.
“It’s destroyed my faith in people who claim to love their neighbors,” Neidig-Wheaton said of the fallout surrounding the group. “I spent months having to worry about my children’s safety, while listening to people whose home addresses were never disclosed support the people who publicly tweeted mine.”
Reaser said she also has been the recipient of hate-messages for her involvement in the group. She shared publicly one message suggesting that she be “hanged by the neck until dead by the righteously angry parents of your community.”
“I realize the public needs to know and understand that every bit of hate and anger we stoke feeds into the problem,” Reaser said of the hate messages.
Investigators informed complainants that they may pursue misdemeanor charges relating to the incident, but it is unclear from the report what those charges would be.