The Sheriff Versus The Puppets

Eric Noble - Loudoun Lifer, Ricky Frye - Lone Wolf
Loudoun Lifer (L) and Lone Wolf, aka, Eric Noble and Ricky Frye. (Of other aliases … only the local news editors know for sure).

Some say elections are won and lost by soldiers in the trenches. Boots on the ground. None fits that bill better than the contest for sheriff of Loudoun County, where boots cover socks, and soldiers are puppets.

In other words: Sock puppets.

Of the gifts Loudoun County politics bestows upon local bloggers – and trust me, the cornucopia is bountiful – few surpass the sideshows and subplots of our beloved quadrennial sheriff campaigns.

This year, the incumbent Sheriff Mike Chapman faces former deputy Eric Noble in the battle for the Republican nomination, which will be decided on May 2 at the Loudoun County Republican Committee (LCRC) convention. Both are likeable, decent men. As noted in yesterday’s article, Chapman has enjoyed a successful first term in office, though periodically under surprising criticism from political opponents within the LCRC.

One of Noble’s key errors in the run up to this race was to engage in anonymous commenting on local news sites, along with his campaign “tag team” member and former Loudoun deputy, Ricky Frye. Despite being an impressive public speaker and – in my opinion – political natural, Noble has undercut some of his key campaign messages this time around. For instance, Noble has levelled the charge that Chapman’s management style is too controlling and extends too far down the chain of command, but experienced managers may well read the story that follows as evidence of Chapman’s need to do exactly that, coming in, in order to improve the agency.

This unforced error does not mean Noble should be written off politically: If he does not prevail on May 2, he seems a likely candidate for another office in the future.

But some convention voters may balk because, as Chapman has said, the expectation of honesty and integrity is higher for the Sheriff’s Office than for most jobs: “We don’t just have to abide by the law. We have to abide by General Orders.”

So, about this rookie mistake. Who among us has not been tempted to don a persona and give it voice? Fulminating or complaining from the safety of anonymity: What finer of guilty pleasures can there be? Be cautious when holding forth on matters over which you someday wish to preside, of course. Like if you plan to get into a pitched and negative political campaign, and you plan to be the one pushing the negative angle, then you might want to be really, really non-specific in your anonymous statements.

So they don’t get traced back to you.

But in any case, the Loudoun County sock puppet story needs to be brought out into the open so it can be fully acknowledged, and put to bed. It will be useful for those interested in this particular campaign, and perhaps also for anyone attempting to balance puppetry and politics going forward.

Chapman, Noble and Frye are not the only characters in this tale. But they are the only ones made of flesh and blood.

Chapman accidentally uncovered the whole bizarre mess in 2014, when he was going to recommend Noble – at the time, considered by Chapman a key senior staff member – to assist on an educational assignment. Certain emails surfaced, including correspondence between Noble and former deputy, Ricky Frye, discussing their use of aliases to post anonymous newspaper comments. Through further investigation, Chapman found evidence that this might have been going on for some time. (Some of the documents have been obtained through FOIA requests and posted at the “34 Questions” Web site).

To summarize how this odd blossom bloomed:

Noble said in an email, “I was calling Chapman a half pint retired fed.” A quick search led to this comment at Leesburg Today.

Ergo, we see that Noble is “Loudounlifer.”

Email between Eric Noble and Ricky Frye
Email between Eric Noble and Ricky Frye, obtained through FOIA

In the same exchange, Frye said he had posted a comment as “Lone Wolf” which can be found at the same story.

Next, Noble says in June 27 emails he intends to “start building more aliases” and “I might even talk Erika up some more with another alias.” Frye also discloses his observations on how the news sites release comments – “…LTM I think are reviewed manually as opposed to LT that go through a quick electronic filter” – suggesting his activity probably went on for a little while.

Together, these facts paint a picture of two guys staying busy under different handles for a period of time.

Chapman discovered, by reviewing more comments with information about the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office that only certain people would have been privy to, some other aliases Noble and Frye were likely using, such as “In The Know” and “Yosemite Sam.”

My own further cross reference of comment conversations and sock-puppetry (commenters talking to each other and/or apparently themselves) against certain sources – including Noble’s public statements around the Web, the debate transcript and his Web site content – brings up other possible aliases for Noble and Frye, including:

  • Nights-east
  • Constitution
  • Word from the Street
  • Omar Sheriff
  • and, frankly, quite a few others

Now, I can’t say with absolute certainty if these were used by Noble and Frye, and if so, for how long, but because of the stuff these puppets said and the way these puppets wrote, I have strong suspicions. If you were to check into these, I think you would, too.

(By the way, if you ever want to go puppet hunting on your own, Google Advanced Search is your friend).

As we all know, the conversation of puppets tends to follow fairly closely from the voices of the people controlling said puppets. And what we learn from the police puppets is no exception. Some samples:

On November 20, 2013, Loudoun Lifer said: The problem is that Chapman is shady with the truth … As always, no concept of a leader accepting responsibility.

On June 12, 2014, Loudoun Lifer said: Chapman’s “restructuring” included the elimination of the Narcotics Unit even as the County sees a record number of fatal drug overdoses. Leadership, accountability, basic financial responsibility….how about a lack of basic competency?

On June 25, 2014, Yosemitesam said: These types of incidents will continue to occur as long as you have a Sheriff that is out of touch and incompetent and couldn’t care less about his deputies or those they protect.

On July 3, 2014, Lonewolf said: Spend all the money in the world on bells and whistles and nothing will improve until Loudoun Voters kick Chapman and his ilk, out of Loudoun County with extreme prejudice.

Pretty good, eh? And if you act now, you’ll also receive more groovy stylings of these fabulous sock puppets – free:

In The Know! Click here. Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. And here.

Omar Sheriff! Click here. Here. Here. And here.

Nights-east! Click here. And here.

And more Yosemite! Click here. Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. And here.

How long exactly was Eric Noble making negative statements about his agency through anonymous Web comments? There are many more comments and sock puppets who might be Noble or Frye than those linked to above. Arguably, the comments that sound like Noble and Frye go back over three years. But Noble’s apology at the debate mentioned a “moment” of making comments, along the lines of the “youthful indiscretion that I deeply regret.”

Although he says he began to lose faith in Sheriff Chapman’s management “about two weeks into the administration,” Noble implies his sock puppet activity was very limited.

The day I made an announcement for sheriff – November 24, 2014 – I made a pledge that I would not read any comments in any blog, or any paper. And, by default, I wouldn’t comment on any story, in any paper … Now, in 2014, were there a couple of occasions where I commented in a paper under an alias? Absolutely … Is it my finest hour? No. I’m clear about that.

Noble notes it is a popular pastime in Loudoun, with “a history of people using the comments sections of newspaper stories to try to drive their point home… There were and are a lot of people commenting.”

And, Noble observes, the pro-Chapman people have been quick to point to him:

To this sheriff, everybody who comments in the paper is apparently me. And everybody who commented in the papers was apparently me. And I guess I’m responsible for every bad thing that’s ever happened in the agency from January 1, 2012, until now … I’m willing to admit my culpability, where I was culpable, but I’m not going to be the guy who sits here and says it was all me, because it wasn’t. And in fact I probably exercised more restraint than most people did.

But this whole sock puppet genre is shady business, and we do know that Noble himself admitted to at least intending to participate under multiple names.

One thing I learned during my puppet hunt was that many themes recur. Skimming comments since early 2012 makes for a tantalizing read, because of this repetition. These themes appear as early as the first quarter of 2012 and have continued through the first quarter of this year, so technically it is possible Noble and/or Frye were in sock puppet mode for three years – or virtually Mike Chapman’s entire term in office.

The types of themes that drive these puppets mad include:

  • Chapman dismissing 11 people
  • Any recognition of Chapman
  • References to former Sheriff Isom, especially in the context of establishing longevity at the agency
  • Deputy off-duty conduct, including alcohol
  • MADD
  • “press releases”
  • “local” law enforcement

The themes tend to appear in statements that remind us of other statements we believe are from Noble and Frye; again, going back to 2012. But that does not mean the sock puppets conversing on these issues, about which Noble has seemed quite interested, are all Noble and Frye. It seems just as likely this activity had been going on, and Noble and Frye saw what their fellow employees were doing, and then occasionally got involved themselves. Both of these men had high positions in the LCSO and neither seems particularly tech-savvy (for reasons I will go into below).

I personally see them as followers rather than instigators.

Just as a matter of interest on how this story could be blown open: If someone really wanted to write a tell-all about the police puppetry in recent years, that someone would need to have an in with the editorial or possibly technical people at the Loudoun Times-Mirror or Leesburg Today. In fact, if someone did have such a connection, they could probably reveal everything there is to know about who controlled which puppets …. in less than an hour. Because, as Noble and Frye don’t seem to be aware, the default behavior of Web applications is to capture a sender’s IP address. I don’t mean the server log files, mind you. Of course, your IP is captured in the logs. I mean: right there in the user interface where editors edit and writers submit their work.

In WordPress, for instance, it would require the computer forensics expertise of a five-year old playing Angry Birds, to acquire a list of comments submitted from any IP address. The address appears with each comment, as a hyperlink. You can actually accidentally get a list of every comment sent by any person, easily, just by clicking.

Both Loudoun news sites probably have some proprietary software running, but I think it is likely that someone at each of those companies has a pretty good idea which comments came from the same persons; or the same locations, anyway.

If you really wanted to be a clever sock puppet and never get caught, you would need to move your computer to different IP addresses for each personality. You would need to bounce from home, to Starbucks, to Panera, to McDonalds, every time you change personalities – and make darn sure you never include a real email address on any of them. FYI.

Chapman believes Noble acted in a way that’s beneath the office of sheriff: “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

When Noble points out that Chapman seemed to have people watching and participating in some of the comment discussions as well, Chapman states that was not the case:

I didn’t have anybody. People have commented on my behalf, you know, there were anonymous bloggers that have commented on my behalf. But I have never, and I will never, personally comment. It’s unconscionable that somebody in that position, a senior management position, would resort to that. To attack his administration, his boss, and the senior administration through targeted blogs like that. Especially when he had unfettered access to me, to everybody else on the management team. If there are issues, the way that you handle it at that level is by discussion, not by trying to demean and humiliate members of your administration and your sheriff in a public forum.

By getting caught sock-puppeting, Eric Noble does open the door to speculation about how much time he spent publicly tearing down the agency he wishes to lead. If he viewed anonymous commenting as a type of civic participation, as a means for conveying the truth to the public or a warning about what he perceived as dangerous problems, he – and others – might rationalize the behavior. Then, they need to decide if Noble’s explanation will suffice.

Author: FirewallNOVA Right

While my goal is simply to report the truth, the truth tends to have a rightward slant.

21 thoughts on “The Sheriff Versus The Puppets”

  1. Eric has addressed this over and over and over. Let me suggest that if this is the hook the Sheriff is hanging his hat on he has problems. Real problems.
    Having spoken with the number of current and former employees of this sheriff this chatter about emails and alias is such a side issue it is not even in the frame.

    Folks don’t believe me ask a deputy pushing a cruiser , working the jail or providing security at the courthouse. These people know who is BSing who. They know who they want as the next leader of their organization. The vast majority want Eric Noble.

    So as to not be blamed for working an Alias this post is written , sponsored by , endorsed, panned and blessed by yours truly G.Stone.

  2. On second thought, the length really does create some organizational concerns. So what I did was move a couple of important points to the front, so they don’t get missed. Thank you for the tip!

  3. Excellent article Joe–looking forward to the rest of the series.

    If you’re getting barked at for it, it must be pretty good. As I recall over the years, barking doesn’t always work well.

    Information with documentation DOES take time to read, but it’s worth it, at least to me. Well, thank God there are blogs that only provide short inflammatory opinion pieces with half a fact or two, for those who only want to know which table to aspire to sit at in the lunchroom, eh?

    As I said, looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

    1. Barbara. Are you a delegate?
      I don’t recall seeing your name on the list.
      If not , why ?
      You have tons of opinions yet can’t take the time you participate.
      Many of those opining for the current sheriff are not delegates. Both funny and sad. Your candidate is so good you could not bother to fill out a form and cast a vote.

      Your guy was so good he did not need your vote ? Being active in the process ,knowing issues in detail brings a certain level of credibility . Carping from the sidelines motivated by personal vendettas and dislike of the other teams supporters not so impressive. It is actually intellectual laziness of the first order.

  4. other commitments on the date in question, Greg.

    Standard reply on your part, though: can’t have an opinion unless a, b, c.

    Sorry, but free speech, remember?

    IMO (there’s that opinion thing again) it would be nice if a certain segment of the cool kids on committee could ever manage to be FOR something without being relentlessly and flat-out thug-ugly against the other side who is supposedly on the same team.

    Why I left committee, in fact, which according to some also gives me no right to free speech.

    I will say that the ramping-up of the thug-ugly does not project confidence. (as with the “choo choo”, and the chair’s election a couple cycles ago)

    And I will give you this: your comments on the facebook page re whoever sent out the convention material with the fake date? As I said there, I haven’t seen that done in Loudoun in a long long time. It REALLY doesn’t project confidence. I’m glad you said what you said there about whoever it was that did it.

    I hope you say it to their face, even if you happen to find out it was someone on your own team.

    Have a nice day.

  5. Important new development: Noble’s camp sent an email to Chapman’s delegates this week falsely telling them that the convention date has moved. That smacks of desperation and the lack of integrity that has been the hallmark of Noble’s candidacy.

    Noble is the king of playing dirty. Vote for him at your own risk.

    1. What an absolute load of crap. Makes no sense that a guy having great success in the race for delegates would sabatoge his own efforts.
      There is only one way to say this , Avatar you are an idiot.

      1. Stone, Martin, Delguadio, Noble, Frye: nothing but class.

        Name calling, shadow campaigns, dirty politics, straw grasping, endless lies. What a wonderful group of people.

  6. I wish I had received the email, here in blogger land that’s what we call a shovel-ready post.

    The negative aspect of this campaign has hurt Noble some, I think. I was discussing this with someone yesterday. He has a completely different demeanor in conversation than the tenor of his campaign. I mean the web site, the material Eugene delivered door-to-door (“Chapman is a liberal!!”), comparing Chapman to ISIS, comparing Chapman to Saddam Hussein, and all the stuff said in the newspaper comments. It was all going to stir up a hornet’s nest. No question, as inevitably as the morning sun.

    People who might have watched, or said “Noble seems like a good guy, let’s see how this all plays out” would feel forced to take a side and even speak up. Now as the Noble supporter I was talking to said, Noble had to go negative because his main message was we need change, so he had to spell out why. I get that. But there has been quite an edge to it, a shrillness, a public airing of dirty laundry. Leave Eugene’s and Jeanine’s hyperbole aside – and it was still going to stir attention. Certain messages from the Noble camp were going to bring a blistering response.

    When you apply for a job interview, if your last boss was really crappy, you never would say that. The interviewer would pick up on the negative energy, if not think “Oh, this is the type of person who comes to consider management as crappy.” You have to suck it up and be creative in talking about why you left, because you want the new company to think of you positively.

    Throwing a bunch of molotov cocktails through the window, then walking in and saying, Here I am, I’m a positive guy! Well, you have some flames to deal with first.

  7. Greg made a good point elsewhere that the fake info was voter suppression.

    He’s right.

    IMO (and again, bad bad me for having one and all), so is the philosophy of pre-emptive Molotov cocktails.

    It gets old.

  8. It is illogical that any efforts to confuse delegates be associated with the Noble campaign. Set aside the asinine assertions of a very few Chapman supporters and sock puppets , the efforts of the Noble campaign have been straight forward and fair.

  9. You were right Greg, whether it’s classic tricks by some classic members of the supporting team or a double DOUBLE secret squirrel false false flag perpetrated by one side on ITSELF, it’s voter suppression. (which is illogical to assume one side would do to its own voters, but nevermind that).

    And as I say again: I hope you say exactly what you originally said about it right into their face, even if they are a member of your own team.

  10. interesting. Did you know Jefferson and Madison used newspapers to anonymously attack George Washington, who was considered beyond reproach? Anyways Sheriff Chapman has done an outstanding job, half pint or not. I’m not in Loudoun any more so I have no real skin in the fight, but it would be a shame to trade a strong ethical leader for an unknown, unknown.

  11. Very true Charles, but some of the people perpetrating the hijinks (apparently not only to Chapman delegates, but to Buona’s as well) are hardly commensurate with Jefferson and Madison.

    That said, as much as I may like the Sheriff, and have no personal reason to dislike his challenger other than getting tired of some of his supporters’ behavior, I would say neither is George Washington.

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