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vocal extremists have swarmed their board meetings spewing a toxic

Spewing a toxic Why Angry Three of Shasta County’s elected supervisors have the sort of conservative credentials that would normally guarantee a long political career in this Republican stronghold, where cowboys still drive cattle through the smaller towns and Blue Lives Matter flags are stickered across the back of pickups. This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center. Supervisor Mary Rickert co-owns a beef operation. Leonard Moty is a former beat cop who became chief of police in Redding. Joe Chimenti is a former cop himself who headed the pro-development building trade council. But for an increasing number of their constituents, that’s not enough. For much of the past two years, vocal extremists have swarmed their board meetings spewing a toxic

Reddit NFL Live Streams: Official Reddit NFL Streams of conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric under the pretext of a rebellion against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pandemic edicts — rules that officials in Shasta County were mostly ignoring anyway — and a variety of other complaints. $2 for 2 months Subscribe for unlimited access to our website, app, eEdition and more CLAIM OFFER Duration 3:43 Watch how extremists shout down city, county, school boards in violent, toxic ways In California, extremists have swarmed local board meetings with a toxic mix of conspiracy theories, anti-government rhetoric and violent slurs, video shows. By David Caraccio At one point, a man in a Grim Reaper costume stood before the Shasta County board and tried to set a surgical mask on fire. Another man announced he was placing board members under citizen’s arrest. Rickert received an email that she took as a threat. “Going. Going. Gone or Dead Woman Walking,” read its subject line. “My job has really interfered with the time I could devote to removing you and your twisted garbage leadership on the BOS,” the writer said. “You are a disgrace and soon you’ll be just a bad memory.” Then came Carlos Zapata, a local restaurant owner and militia member with ties to the Proud Boys, an organization the FBI calls an extremist group linked to white nationalism. Zapata warned the board at a public meeting that the people showing up at county meetings “are not going to be peaceful much longer.” Zapata and his fellow activists created a local political movement called the “Red, White and Blueprint.” Supporters began collecting signatures to recall the three supervisors on the five-member board. The movement threw the county’s political scene into turmoil for months, although the activists eventually only received enough signatures to have a recall election in February against Moty, the former police chief. Today’s top headlines Sign up for the Daily Afternoon Bulletin and get a quick summary of the day’s news. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply. Gadflies and conspiracy theorists at town meetings are a staple of democracy, and local policy debates regularly get heated. But this recall effort, Moty said, is something else entirely. It’s filled with “threats and coercion and intimidation and lies,” he said. “It’s shocking to me to see my community do something like this,” Moty said. From Modesto to Placerville, Sacramento to Oroville to Redding, the dangerous, conspiracy theory-driven spirit behind the deadly Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots has spread across California as far-right extremists and anti-government activists mobilize to disrupt the work of local elected officials. Local government and school board meetings have turned into tedious and contentious slogs filled with hours of public comment as extremists shout and ramble on, spewing misinformation and sometimes threatening public officials. This disruption is more than just a distraction that slows work on routine business, according to government watchdogs and academics who study domestic extremism. They warn that these increasingly hostile activists pose a serious threat to seize local political power. At the same time, some activists might resort to violence in what they consider a war for the very soul of America if they think they have the backing of a credible movement behind them. That hasn’t happened yet in California, but local activists have seized on vaccine and mask mandates, business restrictions and animus for Newsom to align once-disparate groups under the umbrella of fighting for “freedom.” While the attempt to recall the governor failed, it further motivated activists to descend on these city and county councils and, increasingly, school boards. In Rocklin, law enforcement now attends school board meetings, which have become increasingly contentious and riddled with misinformation and conspiracies. “You’re gonna need a lot more police than that,” Matthew Cropley, a parent, said at one of the meetings. He claimed that separating unmasked and masked students is a form of modern segregation comparable to slavery, Native American genocide and Japanese internment camps. Central to many of these efforts: Christian church leaders, including many who have boasted about defying public health orders and made a show of doling out exemptions for people who won’t take the vaccine. In some cases, churches have spearheaded conferences riddled with prominent conspiratorial figures. Some say they are organizing to “take back” the power. California is home to more than 400 city councils, 58 boards of supervisors and hundreds of school boards — all of them holding public meetings that a few years ago were mostly ignored. Though discussions would sometimes get intense, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors once largely concerned itself with union contracts, doling out grants and approving development and road projects. Some of that targeted outrage is finding a receptive audience among elected officials. In a rebuke to California’s pandemic rules, the Oroville City Council on Nov. 2 voted to call itself a “constitutional republic,” parroting right-wing anti-government outrage from the past year. The largely symbolic resolution says that “overreaching” state or federal executive orders “will not be enforced by the City of Oroville against its citizens.” In Sacramento, Sue Frost, who chairs the County Board of Supervisors, has said she wants a county grand jury to investigate the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over how it counts coronavirus deaths. She has also promoted unproven and potentially dangerous treatments for COVID-19 and, last year helped organize a conference alongside sheriffs and lobbyists to decry the state’s pandemic response. IMG_Virus_Outbreak_Los_A_3_1_K9L5UVL6_L679065691.JPG Anti-vaccine mandate protesters and supporters of the California recall election rally outside the front doors of the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters in September after the county board of education voted Thursday to require students 12 and older to be vaccinated against the coronavirus to attend in-person classes. Damian Dovarganes AP In a country with a long tradition of impassioned political discourse, is 2021 really different from any other period of political turmoil? Many who study political movements say the country is on the edge of something that could explode into more violence and suppress public participation. Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said the conspiratorial, inexperienced and anti-democracy activists might end up filling the void after worn-out or terrified public officials step away. Levin said that is a threat to democracy and creates a real threat of violence. “They merely have to target traditionally sleepy local governance events,” Levin said. “And that is a problem. Someone is going to get seriously injured or worse.” The Department of Homeland Security warned last year, prior to the U.S. Capitol riots on Jan. 6, that violent white supremacists were the “most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland.” California anti-terrorism officials also are worried. Tom Osborne, who oversees day-to-day homeland security operations for California’s Office of Emergency Services, warned that loosely organized or individual extremists might mobilize to target local elected officials. Misinformation and conspiratorial thinking — especially about election results — might lead some to believe violence was necessary, he told lawmakers at a legislative hearing in May. Law enforcement agencies across California, he said, have noticed a “stark acceleration of domestic violent extremism, radicalization, calls for mobilization, attack plotting and attempts.” Osborne’s remarks came two months before a federal grand jury in San Francisco indicted two far-right activists, one of whom was a member of the “Three Percenters” militia group, for allegedly plotting to blow up the headquarters of the California Democratic Party in Sacramento. The FBI said in its affidavit the men were motivated by the bogus conspiracy theory that Donald Trump “actually won the presidential election” and that “they should ‘go to war’ to ensure he remained in power.” “I want to blow up a democrat building bad,” one of the men, Ian Benjamin Rogers, wrote in a text, according to the affidavit. “The democrats need to pay.” Another recall attempt, among many The town of Placerville in El Dorado County near Sacramento is known as Old Hangtown, a reference to the extrajudicial killings that were once carried out in the town square. That heritage, viewed as a symbol of a racist past, proved to be a flashpoint earlier this year when the Placerville City Council voted to erase a noose from the city’s official logo. Combined with their rage over pandemic restrictions, the stage was set for conspiratorial-minded critics to mobilize. “They’re coming after every business, every noose that’s around this town — they’re coming after everything,” Placerville resident Mandi Rodriguez said at a council meeting in April. “This virus, critical racism woke-ism, is going to destroy our country.” SAC_211018_PK_ANTIVAC_574.JPG Placerville resident and organizer Mandi Rodriguez leads protesters during a rally against vaccine mandates at El Dorado County Courthouse in Placerville on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. Paul Kitagaki Jr. [email protected] After the vote, Rodriguez, who ran unsuccessfully for Placerville City Council in 2020, organized an effort to recall four of the five members on the council. She also wrote that the county’s “human rights commission needs to be disbanded, it is clearly a one-sided commission that caters to progressive ideology and their hate for anyone else who does not share their opinions.” She found support in part through a Facebook page rife with misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19. In September, the group, called “El Dorado County Freedom Fighters,” shared a post proclaiming 9/11 was an inside job. More recently, it has encouraged supporters to take part in “No Mandates Monday,” where students and “medical freedom believers” protest outside Ponderosa High School in Shingle Springs. Others in El Dorado County who are immersed in conspiratorial thinking or affiliated with extremist groups have quietly entered public-service posts. In December 2020, Placerville garnered international attention after members of the Proud Boys showed up at a Toys for Tots fundraiser and posed with a man dressed as Santa. That man, Chris Cockrell, joined them in making hand gestures supportive of the white supremacist ideology. Residents were outraged, and one man compiled a 54-page dossier purporting to show Cockrell’s social media connections to the group. Cockrell, who served in the U.S. Army, said in a meeting that the public firestorm was meant to “defame” him and that his alleged connection to the group could not be proved. “I’m a great fit for El Dorado County,” he said at a meeting. “I welcome everybody to be in my circle of my family, my business, and my passion.” He has not publicly denounced the Proud Boys, and was ultimately appointed by the board of supervisors to the county’s Veterans Affairs Commission. Cockrell declined to comment for this story. And Keeley Link, an anti-vaccine advocate and member of the Freedom Angels, an anti-vaccine group that has increasingly espoused anti-government ideas, has for more than a year spun elaborate conspiracy theories during board meetings and rallies. She said the vaccines were a ploy to enrich drug companies and doctors. She has criticized county officials in public meetings and sent them scores of emails in recent months. “As a community, we declare the end to the pandemic and will be peacefully not complying with the unwarranted and unjust restrictions,” Link wrote in a Jan. 5 email to the Board of Supervisors. In April, Link was appointed by the board of supervisors to the county’s Commission on Aging, an advisory group that makes policy recommendations on behalf of older residents in the county. Link did not return The Bee’s requests for comment. Ultimately, the recall effort spearheaded by Rodriquez collected only about 600 signatures, far short of the required 1,671 to qualify for the ballot. “We are encouraged by the new interest and involvement in local politics that this process has produced,” the recall group wrote in a statement. Rodriguez blamed the Caldor Fire that chewed through much of the county at the peak of signature collection efforts. But she’s not ready to give up. Asked if she’d take another run for city council, Rodriguez demurred but didn’t discount it. If anything, Rodriguez said, she’d be more interested in a spot on the board of supervisors. “I’ll be honing my skills until then,” she said. “That’s not the end of Mandi Rodriguez.” A couple weeks later, Rodriguez shouted into a bullhorn as hundreds of people lined the downtown Placerville streets to decry vaccine mandates. “Unmasked, unmuzzled, unvaccinated, unafraid,” read one sign. “No manditory (sic) jab” said another. Approximately a dozen people, mostly young men, wearing sweatshirts for the “Hangtown Proud Boys” roamed the crowd. A group of them taped a white sheet over a city welcome sign on Main Street: “THIS IS THE GOVERNMENT THE FOUNDERS WARNED US ABOUT.”


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