By Derek Tyson
The Welch News Editor
WELCH, W.Va. – An emergency meeting was held Thursday afternoon by the County Commission for all county agencies and law enforcement to discuss potential threats leading up to Inauguration Day next Thursday.
County administrator Jennifer Wimmer reached out to Sheriff James Muncy, Jr. with questions regarding rumors of martial law and potential threats in McDowell County, prompting the meeting to be held to discuss these issues.
“My Facebook feed has been full of rumors of martial law, insurrection, threats, I’m sure you’ve seen some of it as well,” said Sheriff Muncy. “Jennifer asked me what to do so I reached out to the State Police to make sure we were on the same page.”
In the case of martial law being declared, federal troops would be the authoritative force, with local police officers becoming subordinate to their orders.
“There’s a lot of bad information going around about martial law,” said Circuit Judge Edward Kornish. “It is not easy to declare martial law. The likelihood of martial law being declared is less than 5% with the checks and balances.”
Kornish said in cases of civil unrest, the first step would be at the State level, with Governors mobilizing the National Guard.
“There is a law that says you cannot use the military to enforce peace,” said Kornish. “Soldiers are trained to kill, not react to citizens the way a police officers would.”
Kornish referenced the floods that had impacted the area, where National Guard members were deployed to protect homes from looting.
“It takes many more steps to get to martial law, and like they said, the federal troops come in and everyone is subordinate to them. Having been in the military, as an officer, you take an oath to defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic,” said Kornish. “You’re also trained not to follow illegal orders.”
In the case of martial law being declared, Kornish explained that even if an order was given to round up firearms from citizens, that’s not necessarily a lawful order.
“Most military and police officers would have second thoughts about doing that,” said Kornish. “I just want to reassure people that we’re not in imminent danger of having martial law declared. Things would have to get a whole lot worse for that be a viable option.”
County Commission President Cecil Patterson had also called on the Sheriff to investigate any possible infrastructure targets throughout the area.
“I called the FBI, WVIX (WV State Police Intelligence), the Fusion Center (combined intelligence between the State of West Virginia and US Government), and there are no known terrorist threats in our area,” said Muncy.
Chief Deputy Mark Shelton had also participated in a conference call with the FBI Director and thousands of agencies, who reiterated that there are no known threats in the local area of operations.
“That being said, this meeting will be a good way to get together and prepare for any threats in the future,” said Muncy. “There are no known threats to the courthouse or annexes, but we should be prepared for any sovereign citizens, any extremist citizen movements in our county or irate citizens.”
Muncy listed off a number of possible situations, such as domestic situations involving angry spouses, active shooters, angry citizens over higher tax rates, probate issues, divorce and many others.
Judge Kornish spoke about an incident in his office the prior week involving a sovereign citizen that refused to have their temperature taken, wear a mask or record their name for COVID-19 contact tracing protocols.
“They said this was all a conspiracy and after what happened in D.C., you all better be careful,” said Kornish. “I just think having a plan is an excellent idea.”
Kornish also felt there was a chance of demonstrators showing up at the Courthouse on Inauguration Day next Thursday while possibly being armed.
The Sheriff’s Office and State Police offered assistance to the County offices to prepare for the coming week and instructed everyone to not only make a plan but to put it into practice.
Additional security for the Courthouse and other county-controlled buildings was also brought up in the discussion.
“There have been grants before specifically for Courthouse security and I’m sure there will be more of those available soon,” said Commissioner Patterson.
“Back when I was Sheriff, we had tried to hire retired law enforcement officers to act as security upon approval from Circuit Judges,” said Commissioner Michael Brooks. “I think at that time, Judge Murensky was not interested in allowing civilians to guard the court. We need someone there, presence alone can deter a lot of things.”
“I’m with anything you can do, regardless of who’s doing it,” said Judge Kornish.
“Locking the door won’t cut it. You see how that worked at the Capitol building. Ifsomeone breaches the door, what do you do next? You need to have a plan and look at the worst case scenario.”
The Sheriff’s Office and State Police both reiterated to county officials that any suspicious signs should be reported immediately.
“It may not seem like a big deal to some of us, but if anyone feels like there is a threat, if it concerns you, please let someone know,” said Commissioner Brooks.