Trevor Southerland, the parent of a student in Hanover County was shocked to see that a local school shared a photo on social media with the leader of a group that participated in the January 6 insurrection in Washington D.C.
The Hanover Patriots say they are a “unifying organization whose mission is to preserve the safety, security and way of life for citizens and businesses within Hanover County, VA.” They continue to say that they are able to ”accomplish this through partnership between community and law enforcement.”
Some of their actions include patrolling neighborhoods and monitoring events that take place in Hanover County. These are not trained law enforcement officers – the self-described leader, Chad Porter, is a realtor.
Members of the group posted photos on Facebook after the January 6 insurrection in a charter bus that they used to travel to and from Washington D.C.
One of the group’s administrator deleted the original photo from the public page.
However, another member reposted it the next day with a strong message for the people who they called bullies. “This troll stated that this picture was removed because it proved we [were] a racist group,” they wrote. “So not to insult this troll’s intelligence or lack there of but if supporting our president along with over 70 million others makes you a racist well then my definition of a racist is way off.”
Now a month later, the Oak Knoll Middle School (OKMS) Instagram account shared a photo with one of their teachers receiving a gift card from the Hanover Patriots, naming Porter specifically.
For context, Porter posted a photo on Jan. 6 of the insurrectionists storming the Capitol with the caption, “They have taken the wall!”
After seeing the photo on the OKMS Facebook and Instagram accounts, Southerland reached out to the Chair of the Hanover school board, John F. Axselle over email. “I am hoping that the Oak Knoll Middle School Facebook and Instagram pages have been hacked — if not, I am very disturbed to see that the Instagram page of Oak Knoll Middle School is promoting a white supremacist terrorist organization that supported treason and insurrection in the January 6th attacks on Washington D.C.,” Southerland wrote in an email. “Can someone please confirm for me if these pages have been hacked? If they haven’t been hacked, can I please ask what actions are being taken to ensure proper use of school property (in this case, the social media accounts) by whatever staff members have access, including restricting access, training and other measures?”
Axselle responded by expressing disappointment in the request from Southerland. “It saddens me greatly when what is meant as a moment of support for one of our hard-working and dedicated teachers is attempted to be turned into something ugly and negative for political reasons,” Axselle wrote in response. “We are not going to change anything from this announcement of a positive endorsement of this teacher’s effort.”
Axselle continued to lecture Southerland and blame him for causing a political divide. “This shameful attitude of hate has to stop if we are going to work together for the good of our children,” he wrote. “Think of what you are teaching your children. Hate these people because we disagree with each other and while you are at it call them names. History does repeat itself. It wasn’t right in the past and it isn’t right now.”
After first pushing back against the suggestion of deleting or changing the post, the captions on the post were eventually changed to remove “Hanover Patriots” from the caption, and now referring to Porter as a parent of students at the school.
Axselle has not responded to requests for comment and it is unclear why the captions were changed after he initially declined to make the changes.
In a final email to Axselle on Monday, prior to the caption being altered, Southerland expressed his disappointment with Axselle’s responses to him. “You are an embarrassment to Hanover County and unfit for the role you are serving in,” he wrote. “You should resign.”
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