Petula Dvorak: Hatred hiding in plain sight

The president of their Leesburg, Virginia, homeowners’ association, as far as his neighbors knew, was all about the mundane issues of suburbia:

“Stray cats, Ash and other trees, snakes, large trash containers, development, fees for townhomes vs. single family, pool expense, sidewalk and bus stop snow removal,” were the items listed on the agenda that the president, Matthew Gebert, 38, signed off on in the January minutes of the Greenway Farms Homeowners’ Association meeting.

His house on their cul-de-sac is lovely, already decorated for Halloween and complies with all the association’s mandates to have the bushes and hedges neatly trimmed. The house paint is within the Duron Curb Appeal-approved color palette. There are car seats, a pink tricycle and chalk drawings signaling the presence of children.

But those neighbors didn’t know about the swastika-shaped cookies Gebert allegedly served at his private parties, where he hosted some of the white nationalist movement’s key players.

Or about his lively online presence as “Coach Finstock,” who allegedly pledged his loyalty to white nationalism and said black people should be separated from whites by “an ocean at least.”

And they definitely didn’t know that he allegedly marched at the bloody white nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“He’s right here, in a neighborhood with mixed-race couples,” said one of Gebert’s neighbors, Maggie Curtin, 20, who signaled her disapproval with a sign in her front yard: “Hate Has No Home Here.”

Gebert’s extracurricular activities surfaced at the peak of community pool season last month, when the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch came out with a bombshell report about the mild-mannered neighborhood president, identifying a raft of online activity they allegedly linked to him and identifying him from a photo at the Charlottesville hate march.

“Here? That’s shocking to me, I have to say,” said a grandfather sitting on a park bench while his grandchild played at the neighborhood park that Gebert was instrumental in creating. “This is just not that kind of place.”

That’s what they all thought. And it’s among the most insidious aspects of the nation’s white supremacist movement. They live among us. They don’t have claws or horns, they usually don’t snarl. The peddlers of hatred are hidden in plain sight.

“But the ideas aren’t new,” said Cameron Hohenschutz, 20, an infantryman for the Virginia National Guard and recruiter for the local fire department. “Anti-Semitism is so 1940s. This guy just hasn’t adjusted to this world. It’s like his mindset is trapped in a time warp. This isn’t about politics; he’s talking about our community.”

Gebert didn’t only front as a model neighbor and community leader, he’s a government official who studied in Ukraine, met his wife in Russia and graduated from George Washington University. Until last month, he was a foreign affairs officer with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources, according to the SPLC. He’s been suspended from his job after the center’s report came out in August, according to Politico. The State Department didn’t return my request for an update on his status this week.

Gebert also didn’t respond. I sent requests to all his emails for comment and didn’t hear back. I went to his house and rang the bell, no one answered. But someone quickly closed the open garage door after I walked off. I left a note and never heard back.

His wife, Anna Vuckovic, is allegedly Wolfie James online, the alt-right warrior complaining about what a “cesspool” she lives in (in Leesburg, a town that’s 75 percent white, and the seat of a county that’s 67 percent white) and cooing about how sexy her alpha-male husband is when he’s up late at night spreading hatred online. She used to work for the local tourism bureau. She’s not on their homepage anymore.

Gebert resigned after the homeowners’ association held an emergency meeting about the report last month, according to their latest minutes.

One of the board members of the association “was visibly shaking” when she read it online, when she saw the profanities in his alleged posts, the screen-grabbed photos of those swastika cookies, a friend of the board member told me.

“All these people are like, ‘My kids played with their kids!’” Curtin, the 20-year-old who grew up in Leesburg, told me. “No one thought someone living here is really thinking like this.”

So the folks of Greenway Farms broke their HOA rules about lawn decorations (seasonal are OK during appropriate times, anything else needs approval) en masse, responding with a silent protest. The neighborhood sprouted nearly 150 of those “Hate Has No Home Here” signs. Leesburg resident Peter Fedders bought them and helped hand them out.

He said it turned into a community-building party, with face-painting, snacks and lots of disbelief. “Everyone had their own stories about the Geberts, how shocked they all were.”

Fedders, however, wasn’t shocked by the idea that an amicable man beloved by so many might have a dark side.

“Just look at my dad. He was abusing my mom for 17 years,” said Fedders, son of Charlotte Fedders, whose best-selling book, “Shattered Dreams,” described the violent abuse by her husband, Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement director John Fedders. It was made into a movie starring Lindsey Wagner.

“Everyone always said how sad that was, what a nice guy my dad seemed to be,” Fedders said. “So no, this doesn’t surprise me at all.”

Dvorak is a columnist for

The Washington Post.

Funerals for Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Ball, Sherman - 2 p.m., Spencer Chapel United Methodist Church.

Clay, Karen - Noon, Koontz Funeral Home, Hamlin.

Clonch, Daniel - 1 p.m., O'Dell Funeral Home, Montgomery.

Harvey, Joseph - 11 a.m., Donel C. Kinnard State Veterans Cemetery, Dunbar.

McClung, L. Bruce - Noon, Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Charleston.

Mills, Ambra - 1 p.m., Leonard Johnson Funeral Home, Marmet.

Pitsenbarger, Cindy - 7 p.m., Solid Rock Worship Center, Oak Hill.

Sowards, Teresa - 1 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Stilwell, Jason - 3 p.m., Strange Creek Cemetery, Strange Creek.

Vacheresse, Robert - 12:30 p.m., procession to leave Barlow Bonsall Funeral Home, Charleston.

Vaughan, Darlene - 10 a.m., Cross Lanes Baptist Church, Cross Lanes.