Over the past two years, a rise in political extremism has transformed sleepy government meetings into cauldrons of chaos. Conspiracy theorists and groups affiliated with white supremacists have local governments and school districts in the crosshairs. They have a chance to make political inroads. And where they fail, experts feel there is real potential for violence.
The Sacramento Bee’s Jason Pohl, Ryan Sabalow, and Lydia Gerike have written a detailed account of the madness local governments and school boards have been subjected to in parts of California. You can read it here.
In Shasta County, a man in a grim reaper outfit tried to set a surgical mask on fire before the Board of Supervisors. Another announced he was making a citizen’s arrest of board members. Shasta supervisors have received death threats.
“It’s shocking to me to see my community do something like this,” Supervisor Leonard Moty told the Sacramento Bee. Moty, a Republican, is facing a recall election. Activists don’t think he’s done enough to push back against pandemic restrictions. In fact, many of them deny the existence of a pandemic at all, believing COVID-19 to be part of a conspiracy.
In Rocklin, law enforcement officers now stand by at school board meetings where debates over ethnic studies and pandemic restrictions have devolved into shouting matches. In Modesto and elsewhere, the Proud Boys — an extremist group with ties to white supremacists — have shown up to city council meetings, flashing racist hand gestures inside city chambers.
As California County News has detailed previously, San Diego County leaders have seen threats and racist attacks, while school children from Beverly Hills to Huntington Beach have been harassed by protesters over masks and vaccines. Across the state, at least seven public health officers have left their posts. At least one of them required a security detail to ensure her safety.
City Council members and public health officers have been harassed at their homes by activists on both sides of the political divide. In Sacramento, far Left protesters have gone after the mayor and the city manager. Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s home was vandalized this year by demonstrators protesting the deaths of homeless people in the city. Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez’s car was also vandalized by homeless advocates. Los Angeles restricted protests around residences shortly thereafter.
Increasingly, the calls are coming from inside the house. When fringe groups aren’t trying to recruit candidates for local office, they’re finding allies already serving in positions of power. The Oroville City Council just declared itself a ‘constitutional republic’ free of state and federal coronavirus mandates. Sacramento County Board of Supervisors Chair Sue Frost wants a county grand jury to investigate the CDC over coronavirus death counts and has peddled unproven treatments for COVID-19. In El Dorado County, a man with alleged ties to the Proud Boys was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to the county’s Veterans Affairs Commission. An anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist was appointed to the El Dorado County Commission on Aging. Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, it was recently revealed, was once a dues-paying member of the Oath Keepers militia. A retired teacher who has posted Q-Anon propaganda on social media won a seat on the San Luis Coastal Unified School District’s board last year. In a farewell address, a former San Juan Capistrano city councilwoman revealed herself to be a Q-Anon believer. “God bless Q,” she declared. The list goes on.
The political ramifications are one thing. The potential for violence is another. Experts say the events of Jan. 6 should have served as a wakeup call. Extremist groups are mobilized. Even in the absence of some organized plot, Shawn Schwaller, a Chico State lecturer who has studied extremist movements, worries about a lone wolf attack.
“I worry it could inspire like a no-name person, you know, to rise up and just kind of go postal and could do something really bad.”
That fear – and the overall harassment – has made it increasingly difficult for decent people to serve their communities. If they leave, there’s always the potential that an extremist fills their seat, perpetuating the cycle of fanaticism and chaos.