Larry Pierson, deputy chief of the Swannanoa Fire Department, says that no one at the department was informed that a recent fundraiser held by the Buncombe County Republican Party was political in nature or that it would directly benefit that party’s get-out-the-vote efforts.
“What was proposed to Chief [Anthony] Penland was that this would be a ‘rappelling-a-thon’ to help cure cancer,” he tells Xpress. There was never any mention of any political objective, political fundraising, or any other political intent.”
The event was held on the ninth anniversary of the September 11 tragedy. In a promotional YouTube video advertising the event, BCGOP Chairman Chad Nesbitt said that they were holding the fundraiser “in order to defend ourselves from socialistic terrorism” and that the Republican party would need to have a high GOP turnout of voters who “believe in God and America.” The money raised at the event, asserted Nesbitt, would go to “advertising in the media and our guerilla marketing campaign to get the voters energized to vote.” Neither Chief Penland or Deputy Chief Pierson were aware of the promotional video.
“We would hope that anyone intending to use our facility would provide us with their clear intent,” continued Pierson. In order to address such concerns moving forward, Chief Penland is now requiring that organizations state their intentions in writing so “so there’s no confusion.”
Pierson told Xpress that many groups often use the 90-foot tower at the Bee Tree training facility — for which they do not charge a fee — including the Erwin High School Army JROTC, which participated in the event that day. “I don’t even think the ROTC program were told it was a political event.”
Xpress also spoke with Capt.Gene Hare, who’s in charge of the JROTC program at Erwin. He said that his group’s participation was limited to setting up the equipment: “They told us when we first started that they needed help on the rappelling part of it,” Hare tells Xpress. “We set the tower up, and provided them with a colorguard and then we left.” Erwin’s JROTC provided the colorguard when then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton visited Asheville on April 24, 2008.
— Michael Muller, staff reporter