Tag Archive | Acorn Arson

Acorn Arson Update

Yesterday Nick Secret was sentenced by a jury to 23 years in prison for setting Acorn Community on fire back in October of 2013.  This is the minimum recommended sentence by the state of Virginia for 9 counts of attempted murder in the first degree (2 years each) and 5 years for felony arson.  It is possible judge Sander (who sentenced me to 5 days in jail for trespassing at the North Anna nuclear plant information center in 2010) to reduce this sentence, but he likely will not.

The most expensive lawyer in town could not keep him from jail.

The most expensive lawyer in town could not keep him from jail.

i don’t believe that jail works to rehabilitate prisoners (most just get better criminal training), it is a minimally effective deterrent, and for most of the people at Acorn this does not look like justice.

Fortunately, the defense attorney did not try to put Acorn on trial.  Though we were warned by both the police and the commonwealth attorney that they likely would.  The reason this strategy might have worked in Nick Secret’s favor was that if the defense attorney could make Acorn look like a bad place, that we were harboring dangerous people (like Nick), has a bizarre culture and behavior then he might win sympathy from the jury for a lesser penalty.

He did foolishly try to make us look bad by trying to point out the peculiar names used in the community.  But he did not do his research thoroughly enough.

Defense Attorney: “What do you call Jacqueline?”

Member under Oath: “Jac”

DA: “and what do you call Virginia?”

M: We call her “Ginger”

DA “and what do you call Jason?”

M: “Jason”

Had he selected more carefully he would have gotten members who we call after Tolkien characters, ancient celestial gods and rainbows.  And just because you have an odd name, does not make it right for someone to burn your house down, while you are sleeping in it.


The most fun part of the trial for me personally was when the jury and i were temporarily removed from the court room and i was in the hall by myself with an elderly police officer.  He had retired from police work and moved down to Louisa and then decided to take it up again.  When i came into the hall with just him he said “I know you”

i was surprised and said “Really?”

“Yes” he replied.  “i was working security at the North Anna nuclear power plant when the head of the reactor was talking with the head of the Vermont Yankee reactor.  They were both complaining about you getting arrested at their plants.”

I was hugely flattered, for i did not think they were even paying attention.  It is worth pointing out that we have successfully shut down Vermont Yankee.


Several people have asked me how i feel about the verdict.  My feelings are mixed.  I don’t think this punishment will do much other than trash Nick Secret’s life and if i could reduce or eliminate it i would.  And it is still unclear Nick is well connected to the pain and suffering his actions caused.  I am glad it is over (there will be an appeal, but it likely wont be approved).  I am glad it was not damaging to Acorn.

Office Goat and Virtual Volunteer

Goat inspects straw bale wall in new seed office

Goat inspects straw bale wall in new seed office.

goat flees photographer into seed building room ready for blow cellulose insulation

Goat flees photographer into seed building room ready for blow cellulose insulation.

Some offices have plants in them, a few have parakeets, yesterday we had an office goat.


So you want to help and you are far away, but you have a phone and a bit of time and are not afraid to talk with strangers?  We discovered just the way you might plug in.

We are building a giant straw bale wall in the new seed office and we are late in the year.  We have a couple lovely huge billboard tarps which are left over from the tree house project.  At some point in the near future we need to cover the exterior wall and heat the inside of the building to get moisture out of the bales and dry the various mud layers which go on the outside of the walls.  For this more billboard tarps would be perfect.

Years ago, we did the search for these by calling folks who sold billboard space and asked them where the billboards went when they died.  Then we called the billboard graveyard and figure out a way to rescue them before they were melted down.  This year our attempts to repeat this search approach have failed.

would you be our virtual worker?

Would you be our virtual worker?

Why billboard tarps?  They are made of a heavier gauge plastic than regular tarps, they are much larger than “purchase at the hardware store” regular tarps.  And last time we got them, if we were willing to pick them up, we could get them for $25 each, which is a real bargain.

So if you felt like you wanted to help Acorn advance the new seed office and get ahead on our efforts to recover from the arson, you could make a bunch of phone calls and rediscover a cooperative billboard tarp graveyard – ideally somewhere in Virginia that we could go rescue these precious treasures before they are destroyed.

If you have questions you can call me at 541-505-0803 or email at paxus at twinoaks dot org.  i would love to hear from you.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Chatting with the Arsonist’s Twin

Some parts of this are a bit surreal.

I got a call from Jackson today, who is Nero the arsonist’s identical twin.   He wanted to hear my version of what happened.  He had read my posts on his brother’s action and was concerned.  And he was in touch with his brother’s lawyer, who had another agenda.

As we talked, it was clear that he had done his research.  He had established that since his arrest, Nero had confessed to the crime of setting Heartwood on fire, not just to us here at Acorn (which he did before the police showed up), but to the police who held him for questioning.

I relayed to him the disturbing story that when Nero was told that no one was hurt by his set fire, he replied:

“It does not matter, they are all holograms.”


burning your future

Based on the confession Nero was charged, currently with one count of attempted murder and one count of 3rd degree arson.  He is being held without bond, because he is considered a flight risk.

Jackson was not, at first, apologetic of his brother’s actions.  i think either he wanted to hold open the possibility that his brother was innocent, or the lawyer told him to admit nothing, perhaps both.   At this time Jackson would not respond to my questions about whether Nero had been hospitalized for mental health problems before or if there were meds he was supposed to be taking that he did not. As our conversation went on, it became clear that Nero’s lawyer wanted my blog post on the arson taken down.    i was amused to hear that they thought it might affect jurors’ thinking. i have more readers in the Philippines than i do in Louisa County.

my heroes wear gas masks this week

my heroes wear gas masks this week

I was unwilling to pull the posts down, but i did change the name of the person who confessed to the arson.  And i went through and toggled off all the comments which mentioned his name.  It felt like something.  When i called Jackson back he was appreciative of this gesture.

I did assure Jackson, which is my genuine belief, that the membership at Acorn does not hate his brother.  Instead we see him as someone who had a mental health breakdown, was not responsible for his actions and did a tragic and awful thing.  There is certainly anger, sadness and fear from this situation directed towards Nero.  But we have not gone to hate, or at least i have not seen it.  It is a world awash in hate, and it does almost no good anywhere. We need not add to it.

When Jackson did apologize, i told him (predictably for those who know me) that we were not interested in an apology, but rather we would like help in the significant construction efforts going on at Acorn right now.    Which he said he would consider and potentially organize.  But it instantly became clear that bringing Nero’s identical twin to help with the cleanup was not going to work at all for people who were feeling traumatized by the fire.  

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Acorn arson: update, photos, and how you can help

(When disasters happen at the commune we all have our roles.  My job is using my fast outside world internet and firm grasp of spelling and grammar to help keep people informed.  Any mistakes in this post are still probably Pax’s fault though -Angie)

This is not the suggested method for making fire roasted red peppers

This is not the suggested method for making fire roasted tomatoes or peppers

In times of crisis the communes shine; after deaths, after earthquakes, and now after arson.  For all the disagreements we have on regular days, when the s**t hits the fan we come together.  Here’s a rundown of where we are 48 hours after the blaze, how you can help, and some photographs of the damage. (If you’d like to just see the photos without any commentary, go to the Google folder here.)

Dump Truck 2

I was our new microwave 😦

Damage and repairs:  While there are no structural issues there’s still been significant damage to Heartwood.  The walk-in survived the blaze. The kitchen, dish room and pantry were essentially gutted by the fire, we’ve lost use of a bunch of bedrooms which need significant cleanup, and many community goods and personal items are covered in soot. Currently meals are being made and served in the farmhouse’s kitchen but it is REALLY too small to be comfortable- repairs on Heartwood are going well but more help is always needed.

3x5 board

The 3×5 board

How you can help (financially):  Acorn isn’t looking for donations right now.  The costs of repairs looks like it will be relatively small, around $5000. In the coming days Acorn will be putting together a list of things that have been destroyed that we’d love to find replacements for, so if you’re planning on donating a bunch of stuff to Goodwill tomorrow hold off for a few days.  (If you can’t restrain yourself from giving physical stuff immediately Angie suggests going with the commune classics: coffee, good chocolate, juice, chips, and fruit.)

Hard at work

Jared Acorn taking a break

How you can help (physically): The thing which Acorn needs most now is people who are willing/able to help with cleaning and/or painting.  Many people aren’t able to return to Heartwood to work/live until the smoke damage has repaired.  Repairing smoke damage is a long process, involving dry brushing the damaged areas, then wet washing several times, followed by several coats of primer and paint.  If you’re able to come and help please do, and bring friends. That said, remember that sleeping and eating space at Acorn is at a premium and try to work with local friends to get yourself housed and fed.  If you’d like to help please contact Pax at Paxus.Calta@gmail.com

Stripping the kitchen before gutting

Stripping the kitchen before gutting

How you can help (mentally and emotionally):  People are exhausted physically and mentally, having someone you lived and worked with try to burn down your home has had a pretty high impact.  Acorn has delayed all membership decisions by a week and is focusing on short term repairs right now.  If you’re a person who sends good vibes or that kind of thing please do so, and more opportunities to provide help and support will be coming soon.

Philip X, who generously lent his RV to Acorn during the repair effort.

Philip X, who generously lent his RV to Acorn during the repair effort.

Appreciations:  Oakers, ex-members, and friends of community have been incredibly generous with their time and resources.  We’re especially appreciative of Philip X, who has lent Acorn his RV to help deal with the space crunch.

Here’s some photos of the damage and the recovery.  They are roughly in order- photos of the damage come before photos of the repair/recovery efforts.

Dish Room

Dish Room

Dishes in the dishroom

Dishes in the dishroom

The less damaged side of Heartwood

The less damaged side of Heartwood

Be Nourished

Be Nourished

Seeds office survived with minor damage

Seeds office survived with minor damage

Porch door, smoke and fire damage

The porch door with smoke and fire damage, the kitchen visible beyond

The Snack Kitchen

The Snack Kitchen

The dish room

The dish room

More trash