An armed protester posted up outside Virginia Delegate Mark Levine‘s Old Town home last Saturday. Brandon Howard, a GOP official in Hopewell, Virginia, and a seasoned gun activist, opposed an assault weapons ban that Levine brought before Virginia’s legislature. Outside Levine’s home, Howard carried weapons and a sign instructing Levine to withdraw his legislation. The legislation passed the house was defeated in the state Senate the next day, but before that Howard broadcast Levine’s address on Facebook and said his message to anyone who supported the bill was “We know where you live.” Washingtonian spoke with Levine about what it felt like to live on what appears to be a new frontier in Virginia politics.
Washingtonian: Did you know this gentleman was planning to appear outside your house?
Mark Levine: Yes. He posted on Facebook an invitation for people to come protest the tyrant, which was me. And he encouraged people to come armed to my house and he gave my residence publicly. Interestingly, he apparently let a whole bunch of gun groups know about this, and a person in one of those groups contacted me to say, Hey, yo, I actually disagree with your your gun bill, Delegate Levine, but I really don’t think armed people should come to your home. So I contacted the police and told them what was expected. I was quite pleased that apparently only three people showed up, and then, according to his statement, one of them saw the police and turned around so it ended up just being two.
And you were home when this happened, correct? Did you just like, look out the window and notice that he was there?
I was kind of waiting for him. I don’t know where he was going to be. I was hoping he’d be not outside my window. I took a few pictures but I was careful not to stay near the window. His weapon, a 12-gauge shotgun, is a very powerful weapon. And he had the extended magazine, which is what made that shotgun into an assault weapon under my bill.
Were you home alone?
Have you received any threats like this before?
Nothing like this. I did get a bunch of death threats from this bill from all across the country. Most of them were not specific, though. More like, we’re gonna hang you and we’re gonna get you and you better watch your back and tick tock and boog, which is sort of the new neo-Nazi term for the upcoming race war they’re trying to foment, they said that a lot. But this guy was specifically saying he’s coming to my house, giving my address several times, and at a specific time in place and encouraging others to do so as well. Now it looks like he didn’t encourage anyone. But you know, he and five other people came to Old Town before, parading around our farmers market. It’s this just wonderful thing we’ve had every Sunday for 200-plus years that he and his five goons ruined. I’m told they didn’t even buy anything. So his whole goal was to disrupt legitimate businesses and people going about their peaceful, pleasant Sunday morning.
As I’ve said many times, guns are appropriate for self defense and appropriate for hunting. They’re appropriate for target shooting. He wasn’t defending himself. It wasn’t self defense. He wasn’t there for hunting. He wasn’t there for target shooting. He was there specifically to intimidate or to terrorize.
At the end of his video manifesto he imagines a scenario where you or someone else comes to take his gun and he says to kiss your wife, your husband, your kids goodbye.
It wasn’t just directed at me as I took it. It was a threat. primarily to me, I mean, I’m the number one person he wants to harm. But really it was for anyone who voted for a bill he didn’t like. And what he’s basically saying is elected officials, even though you’re chosen by the majority of the people, I don’t like democracy, I believe that you should obey the will of the gun.
Have you had any contact with this guy before this?
No. When he was out there I did [through the Alexandria police] ask him to come to my office. He declined that. I also suggested he could come [to Levine’s office] and protest. He could come, he could have signs, he could call me names. He declined that as well. He thought was very important to come to my home instead. A number of Republican delegates came to me afterward; they were so angry at what he did. They said they would come with guns to defend me. If he was outside their homes, one said, they’d shoot above his head. I just don’t think someone threatens someone and then goes to your house with a loaded shotgun and has a peaceful motive. So that’s why I am pressing charges. And as I said, if Virginia law is sufficient to prosecute, then let’s prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law. And if Virginia law is not sufficient to prosecute, I’m gonna work damn hard to pass a bill to make sure that it is.
I have not met a single elected official who thinks this guy was in the right. Not a single one. Republicans, Democrats, all of us agree that you don’t bring a loaded gun to someone’s residence and threaten them if they don’t do what you want on a bill. And like I said, I think it’s probably illegal already. But if it’s not, I think I’ll get an almost unanimous, maybe a completely unanimous vote of Virginia’s General Assembly, to say that threatening an elected official, saying I’m going to appear at your house with a gun unless you do what I want on a bill, that that should be a criminal offense that would get you locked up.
Would you do you have any interest in meeting him after this?[Laughs] Not with a gun at my throat, no. I mean, look, I have no desire to meet with this guy. But particularly now because I offered him a meeting and he declined. I won’t disclose conversations I have with Republican delegates, but let’s just say, my understanding is he’s not well liked by lots of people.
I could see not wanting to talk about this incident publicly, because it might amplify and encourage this kind of thing. But then I saw you spoke about it on the House floor.
I felt like, if I didn’t talk about it, it was more likely to go on. And one of the things that I guess my parents taught me early on, is that when you’re bullied, you confront the bully. If I run and hide, because I don’t want any publicity, then suddenly I’m a prisoner in my own home, and I decided, Nope, I’m not gonna do that, I’m going to press charges. If you want to change my mind, contact me, call me, email me, protest me, or run against me. You don’t do it at the point of the gun.
I want to ask you about the legality of this. He’s allowed to carry those guns in Virginia. You’re saying the point is whether he’s got the right to carry weapons outside your house with a sign that instructs you to withdraw your bill?
That’s right, withdraw the bill. Or I’m going to keep coming home with a loaded gun. And if you try to pass a law and enforce that law, then I’m going to kill your husband, your wives, your children. I mean, that’s a pretty clear threat to me.
This interview was lightly edited and condensed.