Ex-serviceman Robert (Rob) Medley
Critics say ‘No evidence’ Jihadists scouted him, military offices
By Roger McCredie- Local citizens have rallied to supply both moral and financial support for a Henderson County veteran who for five weeks volunteered to stand sentry outside an armed forces recruiting complex in Asheville.
Ex-serviceman Robert (Rob) Medley joined compatriots in several other cities across the U.S. in the wake of the murder of five active duty servicemen at a recruiting station and a reserve installation in Chattanooga in July. The shootings were committed by a man identified as Muhammed Youssef Abdulazeez, who was in turn killed by police. Abdulazeez has yet to be positively identified as a member of any terrorist organization but according to the FBI his computer showed he had been searching for “religious justification for the use of violence.”
In the aftermath of the murders it was revealed that military personnel who staff recruitment offices are not allowed to be armed, or to keep weapons on their premises; hence the veterans, singly and in groups, moved to act as protectors.
Medley did his guard-mounting stint with the blessing of military personnel whose offices are inside the multi-service recruiting complex in Regent Park on Asheville’s Patton Avenue, but he finally had to cease his vigil when his out-of-pocket expenses, including a $215,00 ticket that resulted from having his license plate stolen, proved too much for him.
Besides the ticket, Medley had his car sabotaged – on one occasion his truck’s battery cables were cut and on another his brake lines were severed. Someone also painted the word “PIG” in large black letters on his house and sprayed mysterious symbols in his driveway. The cost of repairing the damage and paying the ticket, on top of the ordinary expense of a 20-mile commute twice a day, was what actually forced Medley finally to abandon his post.
That was when local consultant Timothy Elkin started a Facebook Gofundme contribution drive to help reimburse Medley for the $1,300 or so his guarding the recruiting office had cost him. Within days, Elkin says, enough money had been raised to offset his expenses, and money was still coming in.
Medley says he does not intend to use any of the surplus funds; instead, he wants to set up a nonprofit organization; instead he wants to use any overage as seed money for a nonprofit organization to help financially burdened families of active duty servicemen.
Spotters, sabotage and hecklers
Medley told the Tribune last week that shortly after he began standing guard, a series of incidents occurred while he was on duty that indicated to both him and the military personnel he was guarding could well have been surveillance by Jihadists.
First, he said, a “middle eastern looking gentleman” approached him, saying he was “taking classes” in the building. When Medley replied that there were no classrooms nearby, the man retreated to a car and began taking pictures of both Medley and the surrounding area. Then the man drove away.
Then, once a week for the next three weeks, Medley said, various “high end, late model vehicles” with tinted glass, cruised the parking lot and surrounding streets slowly. “It was always on a Thursday,” Medley said. He said one on occasion an SUV driven by another “middle eastern looking gentleman” blocked the entrance to the recruiting center parking lot while the driver leaned out and took several pictures.
Medley also said that on two separate occasions he noticed “a distinct flash” – a reflection of sunlight on a glass surface – “up in the woods behind the buildings. “That sort of reflection is very characteristic of the flash from a rifle scope, or from binoculars or a “spotting scope,” he said. Both times that happened, Medley said, he immediately notified the recruiters, who in turn took their own vehicles and went up to the wooded ridge, communicating by phone with Medley back at the office. “We were working together,” he said. “By the time they would get up there, of course, there would be nothing to see.”
Medley said he had promptly notified both the Asheville Police Department and the Buncombe County Sherriff’s Department of the incidents. He said that reports in each case were filed and that cruisers from both law enforcements agencies “came over at least three times a day” to check with him and see if there had been further activity. Medley had been able to capture the license tag of one vehicle in a cell phone photo; he said APD ran the plate and said it was registered to a Raleigh resident who was suspected of involvement with “a militant mosque” there.
Meanwhile Medley was experiencing very real sabotage at his home in Henderson County.
One morning a few days after he began his sentry duty, he found the hood of his truck had been tampered with. Opening it, he found his battery cables had been cut. Beside the truck on the driveway was spray painted an unusual symbol. “Three circles arranged in a ‘V’,” he said. “I’m not familiar with that symbol but it obviously meant something. I tried Googling it and mentioned it when I reported the incident, but so far it’s not been identified.”
Medley had repairs made and continued his duty. A few mornings later he backed out of his driveway only to find his brakes didn’t work. The lines had been cut. “The only way I could stop the vehicle was to drive it into a ditch beside the road,” he said.
About the same time, the word “PIG” was painted in block letters on the side of his house. Medley found this particularly disturbing because “my yard is fenced and gated. Whoever did it went to some trouble to get over the fence, and they were mighty quiet about it considering my son and I were home during the night,” he said. Medley’s own theory is that at some point he was followed home by spotters, who cased his neighborhood. “There was a certain amount of skill involved that makes me think these were pros, not just people mad at me for what I was doing.”
There were, it turns out, a number of those.
From the very beginning of his guard stint, Medley said, he was taunted and abused by passers-by in Regent Park, especially parents of children enrolled at Regent Park Early Development, a daycare center which shares the parking lot with the recruiting station. One parent even went into the Marine recruiting office screaming obscenities and demanding that Medley be forcibly removed on grounds that he was a danger to the public.
Asheville City Council candidate Rich Lee, a financial consultant at Edward Joes Investments, across the driveway from the recruiting center “came over and asked me what I was doing, then asked if he could make a picture of me,” Medley said. “I had no idea who he was but I said sure. Turns out he posted it on Facebook and said something like he’d rather take his chances with the terrorists than to have me around.”
Lee did in fact post Medley’s picture on the Facebook page Asheville Politics, where it was promptly savaged by a number of members who echoed Lee’s sentiments. The post was only up a short time before Lee deleted it, saying his comments had been “misinterpreted” and that people were “piling on” Medley. Medley said Lee later apologized to him for any misinterpretation of his remarks, but Medley, who had seen screenshots of the posts, called Lee a coward and accused him of “hiding behind a keyboard” instead of voicing his concerns to Medley directly.
Media coverage of Medley’s volunteerism was mixed in tone. WLOS-TV did three stories on him, the first of which, narrated by Ashlea Surles, was generally upbeat, but Medley said he was told that WLOS’ network affiliate, ABC, had “gone ballistic” at the sympathetic treatment and the station did two more stories, each progressively more critical.
Asheville Citizen-Times columnist John Boyle acknowledged the concerns of daycare center parents and others who were alarmed by a quasi-military armed presence nearby, but concluded that Medley’s service was “noble.”
The Tribune coverage was mostly greeted with enthusiasm, but some questioned the article’s headline on grounds that there was no proof that either the mysterious activity at the recruiting center or the vandalism to Medley’s home and vehicle was the work of Jihadists. Some even wondered aloud whether Medley had fabricated his narrative to elicit sympathy.
Alan Rosenthal, avid Asheville political observer, private investigator and real estate agent, was particularly critical of what he called a “bizarre lack of critical thinking and facts” in the Tribune’s reportage, which, he said, made the article’s headline misleading. The Tribune pointed out that it had attached a disclaimer to the article explaining that reports on the activity were now in the hands of military intelligence and confirmation of details could only be obtained once cleared with the Department of Defense. Rosenthal was not satisfied.
“You’re dealing now with documentation that can’t be dispersed to the public until the say-so is given. That’s the military,” Medley said. I can assure you it’s all very real. You can check with the recruiters – we got to be good friends – but I imagine their hands are going to be tied.
A call from the Tribune to the local Army recruiting office was promptly referred to the public information department at Fort Jackson, S.C. the officer given as a contact was not available.