Last month, the Midland Mountain Community Church in Virginia had its doors open so members could watch former President Ronald Reagan speak. As Mr. Reagan began talking about freedom of the press, one member of the church’s congregation grabbed his phone. Mr. Reagan couldn’t hear him, but the audio picked up sounds of the 25th anniversary of a kidnapping attempt against the parents of a boy they believed was an anti-government communist.
The audio came from the cellphones of several group members, who had fled the Charlottesville area after members of the extremist “antifa” group terrorized other residents in the community in August 2017. After the audio made the rounds on social media, it circulated widely in conservative circles. By Thursday, Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam was being condemned for saying the event took place in his early 20s.
“I never felt that I fit in with that group. I was kind of an outcast back then,” the governor said. “What I do know is that there were some people who were intent on getting me and my wife either killed or me imprisoned.”
The year is 1979, and Graham Fairfax and his wife, Carolynn, are packing their possessions, preparing to leave Virginia for good.
Several months after Virginia established an official commission on the Ku Klux Klan in 1982, Graham – then 15 – and his friends are told they must move to Illinois. There, state officials and local police are weighing in on the takeover of a local newspaper and placing Graham and his friends on watch for a group called the Farm Worker Liberation Army.
Graham, a recent high school graduate and devout Christian, is shocked. “Why did they want us out?” he asks in a recording of the incident. “Why are they keeping us in Missouri? We’re over here. Why don’t we leave?”
Graham’s father, Ernie, a political science professor at Virginia Military Institute, recently told The Washington Post that his son’s childhood memory of being a target was “shocking, even today.”
The investigators don’t know whether Graham was bullied or simply misunderstood the group that he says was interested in him. They can’t say definitively that the group actually attempted to kidnap him. Some of their members were tracked down and died in fighting in Vietnam, but Graham doesn’t believe he was involved with the movement.
“They were saying my father was part of the underground communist party,” Graham wrote in a message to a reporter. “He wasn’t.”