Federal and local authorities are investigating a severed gas line at the Albemarle County home of U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello's brother, discovered a day after Tea Party activists posted the address online, mistakenly believing it belonged to the freshman congressman.
Two members of the conservative Tea Party groups in Lynchburg and Danville posted the address on the Internet on Monday so opponents could "drop by" and "express their thanks" for Perriello's vote in favor of health care reform.
The family of Perriello's older brother, Bo, smelled gas Tuesday evening and found that someone had slashed the line connecting a propane tank to a gas-power grill on the home's screened-in porch, according to sources in the congressman's office.
The family also received a letter in the mail Tuesday that a spokeswoman for Perriello described as "threatening."
"It was not an explicit threat, but it was a threatening letter," said Jessica Barba, Perriello's press secretary, after having spoken to the Perriello family. "It was along the lines of 'You'll have to answer for this on judgment day.'"
The severed gas line incident is being viewed as an attempted threat to a member of Congress, congressional sources said.
The local FBI field office and the Albemarle County fire marshal are investigating the incident. Police have stepped up patrols in the area as well.
Albemarle County spokeswoman Lee Catlin confirmed Wednesday that county authorities are investigating an incident at Bo Perriello's home in cooperation with the FBI, but she said she cannot comment on the specifics because it is an ongoing investigation.
"The Fire Marshal's Office is conducting the investigation in cooperation with the FBI," Catlin said. "While officials are not willing to characterize the exact nature of the incident because of the ongoing investigation, it did not involve an immediate threat to occupants of the residence. Officials are taking the incident very seriously and conducting a vigorous investigation. Additional details will be released as the investigation continues."
M.A. Myers, a spokesman with the FBI's Richmond field office, confirmed that the agency is "aware" of the severing of the gas line at Bo Perriello's house.
"At this point, all I can really confirm is that we are aware of that situation," he said.
Danville Tea Party leader Nigel Coleman was one of the two activists who posted Bo Perriello's address online Monday.
"This is Rep. Thomas Stuart Price Perriello's home address," Coleman wrote Monday. "... I ain't holding back anymore!!"
According to the Danville Register & Bee, when Coleman learned that the address actually belonged to the congressman's brother, he responded on a blog: "Do you mean I posted his brother's address on my Facebook? Oh well, collateral damage."
Coleman told The Daily Progress on Wednesday that he is "shocked" and "almost speechless" at the possibility that someone would sever a propane line at Perriello's brother's house.
"I obviously condemn these actions," he said. "I would hope that people aren't thinking about doing anything crazy. We just wanted people to get close to the congressman and have their voices heard. Violence is not going to answer anything. I'm a little shocked and amazed."
Coleman added that he is not certain that the incident is related to the posting of the home's address. "Of course, we don't know this is a related event," he said.
Coleman's organization planned last fall to burn Perriello and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in effigy, but scrapped the idea after it made national news and critics accused the Danville group of advocating violence against its political opponents.
Lynchburg Tea Party activist Mark Troxel claimed responsibility for posting the address first on a blog Monday. "Just in case any of his friends and neighbors want to drop by and say hi and express their thanks regarding his vote for health care," he wrote. "I personally believe it's so important for representatives to remain fully grounded and to remember exactly what it is their constituents are saying and how they are telling them to vote. Nothing quite does that like a good face-to-face chat. It has a much more personal touch to it."
The Jefferson Area Tea Party on Wednesday sought to distance itself from the "vandalism of Perriello's brother's residence."
"We sincerely hope that the perpetrator of this repulsive act is apprehended quickly and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," the group said in a written statement. "Pending the results of the FBI investigation, we ask the public not to jump to conclusions as to whether or not the perpetrator is a tea party participant."
Congressman Perriello released a statement about the matter Wednesday afternoon that called for leaders of both parties to denounce any violence motivated by political differences.
"My number one priority right now is ensuring the safety of my brother's family, and I am grateful to law enforcement for their excellent work," Perriello said. "While it is too early to say anything definitive regarding political motivations behind this act, it's never too early for political leaders to condemn threats of violence, particularly as threats to other members of Congress and their children escalate. And so I ask every member of House and Senate leadership to state unequivocally tonight that it is never OK to harm or threaten elected officials and their families with anything more than political retribution.
"Here in America," he added, "we settle our political differences at the ballot box."
Perriello, a Democrat, is facing re-election in November in what is expected to be one of the hardest-fought congressional campaigns in the country. Seven Republicans are running in a June 8 primary to win the GOP nomination against Perriello.
Each of the seven Republican candidates attended a debate Saturday that was co-sponsored by the Danville Tea Party.
One of the GOP candidates, Albemarle County Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd, said the severed gas line at Perriello's brother's house "clearly crossed the line and cannot be tolerated in any way."
"If the individual responsible for this willful act believes for a second they are helping us stop the health care debacle, they are sadly mistaken," Boyd said in a statement. "We will continue to fight to stop this government takeover through all political and legal means, but a physical threat to an elected official or their family is completely unacceptable."