Time to read: 5 mins
By: Robert Burns
Last year in early December a story broke about a self-described “90’s music bar and drafthouse” called Gourmeltz, being raided by law enforcement and the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority. This raid of the Fredericksburg based establishment came after the owner, political candidate, and Army veteran Matthew Strickland, refused to shut down his business during the pandemic and followed a protracted legal battle with the Virginia ABC.
Strickland gained the ire of Virginia health officials and regulators after he refrained from enforcing Virginia’s Covid-19 guidelines on his customers and staff. Following the blatant show of defiance, his health permit and liquor license were quickly pulled. Strickland was able to get his health permit back after the intervention of the court but the Virginia ABC was not so forthcoming, dragging their feet well after the pandemic.
Not letting this setback dissuade him, Strickland continued to run his business and serve customers. “I knew that the only way we’d come out of this is by the community standing together and fighting back against this tyrannical government, so I continued to sell alcohol,” Strickland said. Unsurprisingly, the Virginia ABC was set on making an example of the noncompliant restaraunteur.
In December of 2022 state and local law enforcement arrived and raided Gourmeltz, seizing alcohol and related documents. The owner quickly took out his phone and livestreamed the raid. The video of the raid promptly made its rounds in the news. Seeing the video for myself a few days after it had happened, there was one thing that really bothered me about the whole situation.
What struck me about this video was how the presiding officers carried on their business in silence, not making eye-contact, and without a lack of concern or empathy. I was particularly bothered by the unwavering cooperation of local law enforcement, considering their likely familiarity with the restaurant, being as Fredericksburg is a relatively ‘small’ town and smaller towns have a higer degree of familiarity.
The reason this stood out to me, on top of the complacency of the officers, is because ideally in a smaller community like Fredericksburg, you might expect some more leniency and hesitancy in enforcing the full extent of the law by local law enforcement. Basically more warnings and consideration for individual residents.
Both of my parents grew up in small towns. I have heard countless stories about how what stood in between getting a ticket and just being let off with a warning is that you had classes with the responding deputy the next day. In other cases because you had been drinking beer and fishing with two-thirds of the three person sheriff’s department the day before.
Law enforcement took great care in how they policed the community. They wouldn’t throw the book at you when they felt they didn’t have to because they knew they might have to deal with the consequences of doing so further down the road.
Small towns tend to be very orderly and as such, there tended to be an expectation of benevolence on the part of law enforcement out of respect for those in the community and the close relationship the local police department has with residents. Stiff enforcement wasn’t needed to deter lawlessness. Residents had an unspoken contract with law enforcement.
You lose this with big cities. In big cities you have an army of essentially nameless and faceless officers diligently keeping strict order. Part of this is out of the necessity, but the consequence is that bigger city police departments are not accountable to the will of the people but to the board of commissioners, city county, or mayor.
This is why you saw more stories of people resisting lockdowns in the suburbs and in small towns than in cities. There was a famous story about a suburban gym owner who refused to close shop. The then sheriff was very understanding and more leniant towards the gym owner at the onset, the town council was not.
The town council, being incensed with his insubordination, terminated the sheriff and replaced him with a heavy-handed lackie who quickly took the gym owner into custody and shut down the gym through duress. The initial sheriff was very involved in the community and well-respected, his replacement wasn’t and so didn’t have to concern himself with consequences.
I think it is better for everybody if there is a clearly understood social contract between law enforcement and residents like you see in a small town. When you don’t have that contract, that is how you can have a situation where local law enforcement can shut down a local restaurant with not a single ounce of remorse about trampling on the rights and liberties of somebody they might be familiar with.
In general, I think people have become reluctant to enforce this social contract. The left takes social pressure has traditionally be conflated with the activism of the 1960s, bad-intentioned race grifters, and now militant leftist groups like BLM and Antifa. The right I think sees then that exercising the same influence puts them on the same level as these activists and shy away from doing so.
We need to shake this thought. There is nothing wrong with standing against law and order, particularly when it is unjust. The left has no moral framework, which is why their activism quickly devloves into bad intentions. The left’s methodology will always see their activism efforts devolve into a mob.
Some also just think that government, especially after the pandemic, has become too big and entrenched to effectively do anything about, that activism will have little to no impact. It is easy to be a defeatist and perceive a futility in going up against the established order. Most of that time though that order is predicated on a docile public, a public that is content to leave things the way they are.
Our institutions have gotten out of control solely because we don’t hold them to account. There is still social pressure that can be applied. That power never goes away, it only dissipates when it isn’t exercised. You saw this power demonstrated for the first time in many years in school districts when parents had enough of the perverse ideological indoctrination.
Recognizing the power parents have over them, some of those school districts tried to intimidate parents or tried to cover their tracks because they didn’t want to be held to account. That same latent power on display in the school system is what has traditionally dictated the more gentle touch to policing in small towns. Law enforcement were restrained because they feared the repercussions of not being restrained.
Now they act with a certain level of impunity because they fear the pressure from above rather than below. The lockdowns were a clear demonstration of this and an exercise in authority, specifically measured tyranny. Many business owners found this out the hard way and tyranny will not be enforced by the elected tyrant or by a mid-level pencil pusher, but by those immediately around you.
The left understands all of this, it is time the right remembers this too. All politics is local and power resides in the community. Whether that power manifests itself in parents in Fairfax, in truckers in Ottawa, or in farmers in small towns across the Netherlands. Social pressure is what keeps the government and institutions accountable and conservatives would be wise to recognize this going forward into whatever government abuse or overreach that is surely scheduled next.