Patriots for Delaware meet at Range Time

I’m sure there are critics who would believe it was appropriate for a conservative-leaning group to meet at the extreme edge of the state, and indeed if you walked across Bethel Road from Range Time you would find yourself in the wilds of Maryland. But the local (and relatively new) indoor gun range was the locale for a tent meeting for the Patriots for Delaware on Tuesday night.

The space owned by Range Time afforded it plenty of room to set up the tent and a few tables, and park a batch of cars aside from its own parking lot. The owners of the firing range have become enthusiastic backers of the Patriots for Delaware.

I said a few weeks back that if the Patriots for Delaware found themselves out Laurel way I may have to stop by and see what the fuss was about. Gumboro is close enough, plus I wanted to check out the building anyway. (Alas, I never made it inside.)

One thing I found out is that this group is very creative. I should have taken a couple steps closer to this sign table, but this was meant to be sort of an overall test shot because of the long shadows. Turns out it makes my point.

(Notice they had quite a bit already in the donation box, too.)

It’s hard to read at this level of detail, but here is what some of these signs say:
“Patriots for Delaware: United in Liberty” (Pretty evergreen.)
“Defund Police? Disarm Citizens? Empower Criminals? No thank you! Vote NO on SB3 & SB6!” (These are “gun control” bills before the Delaware General Assembly.)
“Office Space Available: Contact your Representatives and Senators for Details.” (This refers to the virtual meetings the General Assembly has held since last March.)

They have a lot of good ones besides those for supporting small business, reforming education, and so forth.

One thing I was remiss in capturing was the presence of a couple vendors there as well as a hot dog stand. So there was dinner available if you didn’t mind hot dogs, chips, and a pop.

Here’s another sign that, if the print weren’t so small and the photographer was thinking about it, would give you an idea of where the Patriots for Delaware stand. This was my shot to check lighting in the tent, and unfortunately that was about as good as I was going to get.

It’s definitely unfortunate I didn’t get a closeup of the sign; then again it’s the same objective as you see on their website.

Truly, what they had to say was more important than whether I took good photos or not – after all, there were probably 75 to 100 people who took time out of a Tuesday night to attend.

This was an initial shot of the crowd. They took the back flaps off the tent so the people outside could see better. By the way, the gentleman in the blue seated next to the pole is Sussex County Council member John Rieley, whose district we were in (it’s also mine.) He spoke briefly during the Q & A portion at the end, or else I wouldn’t have known him.

After an opening prayer which beseeched His help for “a nation in need,” we we introduced to the group’s concept by its co-leaders, Glenn Watson, Jr. and Bill Hopkins. This is made necessary because each meeting has such a high proportion of new faces, in part because they move around the state.

The group was “brought about with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in mind,” said Hopkins, who added that the government was not doing its job of guaranteeing it. “If we don’t do something, we’ll have nothing,” Bill continued, noting as well that “we have to forget about this party thing.” Patriots for Delaware was out to attract members from all the parties who agreed on their core concepts.

When it was Glenn’s turn he added that earlier that Tuesday the group was active at the Legislative Hall rally, where they called on our General Assembly to resume public meetings instead of the Zoom meetings that are held inside the hall, with the public locked out. Reopening the legislature was just one of its current priorities, but it also went along with a list of bills they were working to favor or oppose – mostly the latter. (We received a handout of their legislative agenda.)

An interesting sidebar was learning that State Sen. Dave Lawson has been doing the Zoom meetings from his legislative office, with Tuesday’s meeting having the added feature of sign bearers in his background calling on the state to return to “Leg Hall.”

The Patriots for Delaware approach was that of working from the bottom up, which made the slew of school board elections ongoing around the state a key point of interest. The group was in the process of sending out detailed questionnaires to candidates around the state with an eye on endorsing ones they saw fit. There were about three candidates already so endorsed, although none locally.

But there was more to the school boards than just elections. As a rule, their meetings are lightly attended by the public (perhaps by design) but members were working to ferret out waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars. “We need people to make this happen,” said Glenn, so the group was looking for volunteers to attend school board meetings. Something I learned from the chair of their education committee is that the big roadblock to fully opening up schools is the limit in bus capacity.

It should be noted that the first third to half of the meeting was going through committee reports from several of their seven committee chairs. There were actually four other scheduled speakers: the well-received and popular 2020 GOP gubernatorial candidate Julianne Murray, Mike Jones of the U.S. Concealed Carry Association (naturally, since the event was being held at a firing range), Jim Startzman of the Delaware State Sportsmen Association (ditto), and Larry Mayo of the Institute on the Constitution.

Murray, who announced last week she was filing suit in federal court to get the Delaware General Assembly back to meeting in person with public access, noted that while she was glancing behind her to the 2020 election and questions about it, she was more focused on 2022 – an election where we will need hundreds of volunteer poll watchers.

In the meantime, she urged those assembled to beseech the Republicans in the Delaware House to stop HB75, which would allow the DGA to set election terms (basically, codifying a repeat of 2020.) “We’ve got to be smart going into 2022,” she said, “and HB75 is huge.”

Before heading out to tend to a family matter, Murray hinted that her next campaign may not be a second try for governor in 2024, but running against incumbent Attorney General Kathy Jennings next year.

Jones introduced those attending to the USCCA, which provides legal representation to its members in the case of a self-defense incident, while Startzman detailed that his group would be gearing up for lawsuits against the gun grabbing legislation being considered in the General Assembly. For that, they need members and donations.

Mayo revealed that his latest class of IotC graduates would matriculate this week and a new 12-week course would begin next week in Milford. (It’s also available online and on DVD. I guess you don’t get the fancy graduation ceremony.)

Lastly, we had the Q and A portion, which featured an interesting revelation from the aforementioned Councilman Rieley.

Recently Sussex County settled a lawsuit where the plaintiffs contended the county was shortchanging schools because they had not reassessed property since 1974. Rather than fight it, the county agreed to do a three-year assessment at a cost of $10 million.

Of course, people worry about their taxes increasing, but Rieley told those assembled that the goal was revenue neutrality as rates would be reduced. The “maximum” one’s taxes could increase was 10 percent, although he noted some in the western portion of the county may see a decrease. (The increase would likely fall on those in the rapidly-developing eastern half of the county.) Additionally, he promised, “we are not going to be raising taxes anytime soon.” (Then again, for the most part Sussex County simply serves as a pass-through for the state, so they can be blamed.)

I gotta admit, I was a little rusty on the note-taking part of the meeting, but it was an interesting hour and a half that went by quickly. (I couldn’t sleep anyway – it got a bit nippy in that tent once the sun went down.) The next meeting (set for next Tuesday, April 27) isn’t too far down the pike from me in Greenwood, so if my calendar is clear I may head that way. If you are a Delaware resident “barely left of militia” like I am, or even somewhat closer to the center, this is an interesting grassroots group to follow.

The replacement?

For many years I have been on the e-mail list for a group called the 9/12 Delaware Patriots. From time to time their events and announcements have graced my pages – beginning way back with this notice in 2012, ironically on 12/12/12. According to their social media page, the group began the 9/12 Delaware Patriots page back in August, 2009 – a time when the overall TEA Party movement was at its organizational peak.

Yet over the last year or so it seems like the group has run out of steam, with a little bit of help (or call it bad luck.) For several years, the 9/12 Delaware Patriots would hold two monthly meetings, generally with the same speakers for each: one in Sussex County and the other intended for Kent and New Castle counties. But that was before the pandemic hit and eliminated the prospect for monthly public gatherings at the local restaurants which they generally used.

Back in the Zoom meeting days of last spring, I sat in on one of their monthly meetings only to find fewer than a dozen denizens. It was a bummer because I was looking forward to seeing what they were about as we had just become Delaware residents, three years or so after our original intention. And it’s strange: their social media page remains a hotbed of activity despite the dearth of meetings.

Over the last few months, though, their position seems to have been supplanted by a new group called Patriots for Delaware (P4D.) The upstarts are now boasting a social media membership into five figures, dwarfing the reach of the 9/12 group that remains in the 1,600 range. (Since both are private pages, though, this may be intentional on the part of 9/12.) P4D also claimed that a recent meeting drew 150 attendees, which is a phenomenal turnout for a political event not featuring a candidate. (As a comparison, even in the heady days of the TEA Party a decade ago, meetings of our local Salisbury area Americans for Prosperity or Maryland Society of Patriots groups seldom drew more than about 50, and averaged 25 or so.)

Meanwhile, the last event I heard about that was sponsored by the 9/12 group was the bus trip they took to the Capitol rally on January 6. Since then, it’s been almost three months out of the public eye so I decided to ask them if they had gone on hiatus.

My request for information was answered by their president Karen Gritton, who advised me that, indeed, the group was at something of a crossroads.

Gritton told me that she had gone to a P4D meeting, saying, “they seem to be very similar to the 9/12 and very well attended at present.” Unfortunately, she also confided that she could not continue as 9/12’s president and no one on the board was in a position to take over for Gritton. Their next steps would be considered at an upcoming board meeting. “We may be at a turning point where we will restructure,” she conceded.

Having been in that sort of position a couple times myself, I can feel for Gritton’s plight. So what interested me was why the leadership of P4D didn’t just come in to the existing group, and their co-founder Glenn Watson, Jr. let me know:

9/12 is a group that mostly focuses on 2A issues, whereas our vision was much more broad.  At Patriots for Delaware we strive to focus on all Constitutional Values, and attempt to do so in a way that attracts moderates from both side of the aisle.  Being a “Patriot” is not limited to those that affiliate with the political right.  We felt that having a well organized group was very important and starting from the ground up allowed us to do that.  We clearly took inspiration from 9/12 but ultimately, our missions are not identical, so it made sense to start our own organization.  We wish 9/12 great success and hope to work with them on issues where we share common ground.

e-mail from Glenn Watson, Jr., March 30, 2021.

I don’t think the 9/12 group was overly focused on the Second Amendment myself, but that’s just me. Among patriots the gun issue tends to be among those they are most passionate about, and ironically there is a sharp focus on the P4D page on 2A issues right now as the Delaware General Assembly debates more useless gun legislation.

Anyway, one other interesting facet of P4D is the organizational chart they’re already come up with, one which features several committees on various topics (member outreach, political action, finance, critical thinking, press/visual arts, and education) and creates a seven-member board of directors who breaks the tie if the two co-founders disagree on a course of action. It’s a rather mature setup for a group that’s less than a year old.

But I want to come back to something Watson said that caught my eye: “Being a ‘Patriot’ is not limited to those that affiliate with the political right.”

Back in the day, probably about the time when I was still sharing a bedroom with a bunk bed and crib for me and my two brothers in the little two-bedroom house that was the starter home for my parents, politics stopped at the water’s edge and everybody loved America. Certainly Republicans and Democrats disagreed on the direction and role of government, but the rank-and-file of both sides pretty much shared the same values insofar as the idea of America being the shining city on the hill that was later publicized by Ronald Reagan (who famously was a Democrat until the party left him.)

The split over Vietnam, where the youth of America became antiwar protestors and dodged the draft, seemed to be the schism that set us on the course to where we are today. Those on the Left who sympathized with the Jane Fondas of the world also began dabbling in a number of other political venues which separated us out: abortion, gay rights, unchecked immigration, and the attitude that America was no better than any other nation regardless of philosophy and how they treated their people. To them, the banana republic with the tinhorn dictator was just as worthy as we were on the world stage.

Of course, I was way too young at the time to really understand at the time what the college kids were upset about. I barely remember Walter Cronkite telling us “that’s the way it is” after my mom and dad watched him and the local 6:00 news. And I’m probably the last generation who went to public school yet was still told of America’s greatness, warts and all. Watergate didn’t bother me because I had no idea what was going on – I was more interested in the ballgame my Little League team would be playing that week.

So I would tend to disagree with their assessment to some extent because few on the political Left subscribe to the notion that America is something to be patriotic about, but that’s just me.

If I were a betting man, I would suspect that the 9/12 Delaware Patriots have run their course – not because it was a bad organization, but it lost members who would become its leaders as they slowly drifted away over the last few years. One thing I’ve noticed about TEA Party groups: we’re not getting any younger. Perhaps this is something that Patriots for Delaware can address while they are the new, hip thing and create a subgroup called Young Patriots for Delaware. (Even better would be a third group: College Patriots for Delaware.)

Say what you will about the party structure, but it works: I wasn’t a College Republican, but I was a Young Republican for several years in the mid- to late 1990s, culminating with being president of the Toledo YRs in 2000. (And I speak from experience: after I left, the group went on a hiatus for a year or two until new young people revitalized it.) But those College Republicans oftentimes become Young Republicans, and the YRs move up to be the leadership and candidates of the party once (or many times before) they age out. The same should hold true of other political groups, and right now we need young conservative Patriot leaders to counter the indoctrination our youth is being disserved.

That’s also why education should become our new pet issue. I’m not sure which committee gets that idea, but it definitely should go in the Patriot hopper.

If the Patriots for Delaware comes Laurel way, I may just stop in and see what the fuss is about. And if the 9/12 Patriots somehow revitalize their group, hopefully it will be when the state opens up so I can enjoy the experience.