Shooting for the Truth About Magrini and the Militia

Illustration by Phil Fountain.

Words I thought I’d never write: I kind of feel sorry for Shasta County’s militia. Not all of them, but specifically, peace-loving militia folks who showed up at the June 2 George Floyd protest in Redding; now dazed and confused about why their version of what happened the night of the raucous protest differs so widely from Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini’s story.

I say I feel sorry for the militia because since that protest, Redding Police Chief Bill Schueller and Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini have both distanced themselves from the very militia who proudly claimed that their services were welcomed at the protest.

I say I feel sorry for the militia because I put myself in their boots: They’d heard all the news about protests in other cities that left communities destroyed. They believed the stories about the truckloads of bricks, rocks and Antifa heading our way, not to mention the busloads of troublemakers who would converge upon our city to cause chaos and destruction. OK, so those threats never materialized, the point is, our good militia folks were ready to pitch in as citizen volunteers and help out our law enforcement.

The militia group gathered for a photo-op break as the protesters headed toward Shasta Street on Tues., June 2. Here’s the caption a Cottonwood militia person provided for her version of the photo on Facebook: “Over 200 (many legally armed/concealed carry-licensed) citizens in Redding stood their ground last night to ward off agitators in Redding.” Photo by Joe Domke

Schueller said in a statement that it was “ridiculous” to suggest RPD would ask militia to help out at a protest. And Thursday night Sheriff Magrini issued his statement in which he “set the record straight” about a number of things, including the Tuesday protest.

“I did not invite any “militia” groups or any other groups to come to town and participate. The day of the protest, our office was contacted by two different groups. The first group, the Cottonwood Community Watch, sent me a message stating they were going to be in town attending the protest. Another group, the Northern California Militia, came to the Sheriff’s Main Office. They told a records clerk they were in town for the protest. I repeat, I did not solicit or request any groups or organizations to come to town to appear at any event.”

Classic Magrini straw-man statement. Nobody said the sheriff invited a militia group to the protest. However, in his statement (published hours before he was to appear on Carl Bott’s radio show to discuss the militia issue) he disputes something that was never alleged. What has been alleged, by multiple members of multiple groups, is that Magrini was in contact with and directing militia operations during the protest.

This is the same straw-man defense strategy Magrini employed with the Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo controversy. We saw the KRCR news report that aired the night before the rodeo, in which Magrini says that he spoke with the rodeo organizer who assured Magrini that there would be hand-washing stations, no food served and folks would receive CDC flyers at the gate, so yeah, he was allowing the rodeo. This was despite the fact that Shasta County public health folks said the rodeo was a forbidden activity because of the COVID-19 restrictions. We now know that Magrini is a selective law-enforcement officer, meaning, he selects which laws to enforce and what rules to ignore.

Here’s Sheriff Magrini’s Thursday statement:

As your Sheriff, I am passionate about my job and I love my community. There have been a lot of comments and innuendos as to where I stand on issues. Not taking sides or not commenting on certain topics is being used to infer how I feel or how I interpret issues. So let’s set the record straight.

It began with the Cottonwood Rodeo. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I and the other Law Enforcement leaders in Shasta County mutually decided to communicate with business owners in an attempt to gain compliance through education. We had great success with most of these personal contacts. Unfortunately, it did not work with the rodeo. But, because I did not issue a citation or send the few deputies available to “corral” over a thousand attendees, people have suggested that I endorsed this event; as if I sponsored, attended or participated in the rodeo.

Next was the protest at the Board of Supervisor chambers. I received a phone call from the speaker the day before the Board meeting asking if she could address the Board. This was my first contact with her. She was told of the current closure due to COVID restrictions. However, on the meeting day she insisted on speaking with a “bullhorn” from outside the chambers. My attempt to maintain the peace by “smiling”, being polite to the group, and asking if the speaker was done was somehow twisted into my endorsing and condoning the group’s stance or opinions. As a law enforcement officer, my role is to keep the peace and to remain neutral.

I also want make clear my concerns with the actions of the Minneapolis police officers. This incident and the events that have since unfolded, we can all agree, were and are disturbing. As peace officers we take an oath to protect life and property. I condemn any kind of excessive force or unethical treatment of our citizens. Furthermore, I do not tolerate any social injustice. As your Sheriff, I expect all department personnel to treat every member of our community with dignity and respect.

As it relates to the recent comments regarding the protest in Redding, I did not invite any “militia” groups or any other groups to come to town and participate. The day of the protest, our office was contacted by two different groups. The first group, the Cottonwood Community Watch, sent me a message stating they were going to be in town attending the protest. Another group, the Northern California Militia, came to the Sheriff’s Main Office. They told a records clerk they were in town for the protest. I repeat, I did not solicit or request any groups or organizations to come to town to appear at any event.

I am confident in the skills and abilities of the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office. They are well trained and well equipped to handle any circumstance. They receive training on how to effectively communicate and de-escalation situations. We have a great relationship with the community we serve.

I will end with this quote from Audre Lorde, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” Please continue to be tolerant, be safe and be respectful of each other.

In Magrini’s statement, he addressed the subject of the rodeo, too, and introduced yet another straw-man argument:

” … But, because I did not issue a citation or send the few deputies available to ‘corral’ over a thousand attendees, people have suggested that I endorsed this event, as if I sponsored, attended or participated in the rodeo … ”

Notice the pattern. Nobody in their right mind would suggest – or did suggest – that Magrini take his “few deputies” and crash the rodeo and start writing citations, especially not in that proud rural little community of Cottonwood where CCW’s are about as plentiful as pickups, gardens and the American flag. And I don’t recall anyone who suggested Magrini sponsored, attended or participated in the rodeo, either. (I’m on the fence about whether he effectively endorsed it, because he pretty much did endorse it when he said in the TV interview that he wasn’t stopping it; that the rodeo was good to go.)

Did I criticize him for giving the green light to the rodeo the day before, when he had a chance to stop it? You bet.

I only mention the rodeo story to illustrate Magrini’s consistent communication style that requires we carefully dissect the straw man to reach the heart of the matter, because that’s the only way to decipher the truth.

I listened to Carl Bott’s KCNR Friday-morning talk show where Magrini was a guest, especially invited to discuss the militia issue. Clearly, Magrini was comfortable with Bott, who’s a friendly and direct interviewer. Bott asked Magrini about the rumors that Magrini had invited any militia to the protest as backup to help the sheriff, which allowed Magrini to chuckle, then stick to his script and say, no, he did not invite (emphasis mine) anyone to come to town to participate in the protest.

It kind of reminded me of Clinton saying he did not have sex with that woman.

Again, the rumors weren’t about whether Magrini invited militia or outside groups to the protest. The issue is how Magrini behaved and participated with those groups Tuesday evening, because that’s what many guys are claiming.

As an aside, during Bott’s show, a caller asked Magrini a question about the protest, to which Magrini replied that he wouldn’t know, because he wasn’t there. Consider that all the stories from the groups who say they were in contact with Magrini say they spoke with him on the phone. This lends credence to their versions, because who’d guess that the Sheriff would not be on site during one of the biggest protests in Redding’s history, leaving him to command via phone.

Even so, with each passing day since the protest, Facebook posts are quietly, quickly disappearing that previously openly bragged about how Magrini was in communication with the militia during the protest, and how proud they were to be helping law enforcement that night.

During his radio show, Bott asked Magrini if it was true that as Sheriff, he could deputize people, such as the Asphalt Cowboys during the Carr Fire to provide food. Magrini said sure, there are all kinds of volunteer positions that help out his department, like search and rescue, trackers, neighborhood watch, etc.

Magrini said there’s nothing wrong with embracing that extra help, as those folks often have specific skill sets. But Magrini insisted that no way would he embrace any vigilante group, or do a call for arms.

Again. Who said Magrini was calling upon vigilantes, and who said Magrini had issued a call for arms? Crickets. Nobody, that’s who.

I lost count at four times during Bott’s interview when Magrini said he welcomed citizens to be eyes and ears for law enforcement, that all he’d ask for is they’d be peaceful.

Here’s the thing about some militia groups. It’s not their eyes and ears that worry me about some of these groups. It’s the weaponized individuals who bring to a peaceful protest knives, guns and baseball bats  – all of which were seen by various people at the June 2 protest.

As ANC reported on June 3,  several militia members at the protest said that not only were they there to help out, but some were in contact with Sheriff Magrini by phone during the protest.

Two militia members declined to give their names, but who said they’d brought weapons. Here’s an excerpt:

 … “We shoot only in self defense,” the other man said. “And only against a weapon. That’s our orders from the CO.”

The two men said that the Sheriff had called them a half hour earlier and had asked them to “get down here now to keep the peace,” one man said. He added that the Sheriff was becoming “very concerned” about the safety of his guys.

“Woody Clendenen, our CO, got a call,” one of the men said. “The Sheriff told us where to go, to come right down here.” At that, the other militia member nudged his friend. “Too much man, too much,” he said, and the two wouldn’t speak any more after that.

In the days after the protest, first Redding Police Chief Bill Schueller, and then Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini, stated emphatically that they did not invite the militia, or any other groups to help law enforcement. Yes, they acknowledged that they had been contacted by some militia groups who said they intended to attend the protest. However, according to Schueller and Magrini, that’s not to say they welcomed the militia.

Here in Shasta County, it’s anyone’s guess how many militia groups there are, but they’re legal under our state Constitution, which allows two militias: First, the “active militia” (the Naval Militia, the National Guard and the State Military Reserve). Second, the “unorganized militia”.

Shasta County’s militias, like the one in Cottonwood, fall into the “unorganized militia” category, and under state law, they can be called upon to assist with everything from riots to various emergencies.

I reached out for comment about the part Magrini played in the protest to Dan Scoville of the California State Militia. He wrote this reply:

“We did not speak with LE we came down there on our own free will. We are the CSM. We protect the Constitution and the rights of the people, in this case the 1st Amendment . We will protect the rights of all people to assemble and to speak freely. We were only there to protect those rights and to make sure that outsiders did not come in and vandalize our town or harm anyone. I may not agree with some of the things they are saying but we will defend those rights.

We contacted RPD, and Sheriff Dept to let them know we would be there thats it. We were not invited.”

Despite Scoville’s statement, Facebook has been alive with numerous references and videos by militia, friends of militia and other non-protesters who agreed with the men quoted in the story. These posts contain recurring, specific details, such as claims that the sheriff was speaking on the phone during the protest with Cottonwood Militia Commanding Officer Woody Clenenden, also known as the barber for Les Baugh, District 5 Supervisor who participated in the now infamous haircut stunt.

One Facebook video (which I’m working on uploading) was shot by a non-protester who stood across the street from protesters in front of Redding City Hall on Cypress Avenue on the evening of June 2. On the video she is heard making negative references about the protesters as she’s speaking with her colleagues. At one point, when some protesters cross Cypress Avenue to reach Redding City Hall, she mocks how they’re walking peacefully, “even carrying a peace sign”  – which is when a man off-camera nearby sings, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” – a famous American slave hymn – which causes the group to laugh.

Nearly to the end of that video, the woman doing the filming has some kind of a communication radio, there’s conversation between the man and woman about going to Kohl’s, where there are some Black Lives Matter protesters, and then the militia should move on to the courthouse.

First woman: “Sheriff wants them at the courthouse.”

Second woman: “Sheriff wants what?”

First woman: “Cal State”.

Within a few seconds the voice on the radio says, “Sheriff’s order,” followed by radio chatter and static.

(Note: I uploaded the wrong video. I’m working on getting the correct one. The quotes are from the correct video.)

There’s another Facebook Live video (that’s no longer available), that showed a female non-protester – maybe it’s the same woman as in the video above – in her van, in which she says they’re heading over to the courthouse, because the Sheriff wants them there.

All Non-Protesters Are Not  Militia

At the June 2 protest, there were some extremely tense, heated moments when some militia members pushed or taunted the protesters, yelling things like, “All lives matter!” or “White lives matter!” Some of the protesters yelled back, but mostly, the protesters’ leaders kept the peace by shouting to the protesters things like, “Don’t take the bait!”

On Oregon Street, one street over from Court Street, there was a staging area of sorts, where many of the non-protesters had gathered.

Non-protesters gather on Oregon Street, one street east of Court Street.

Some of the non-protesters wore camo, boots, padded vests, and brought weapons. Yet others wore T-shirts and jeans; shorts and tennis shoes.

It’s unknown how many non-protester groups attended the June 2 protest, and how many continue to show up for the ongoing George Floyd protests, but some that may have been represented on June 2 included the Redding Patriots,  the Northern California State Militia and the Cottonwood Community Watch.

Some clumps of non-protesters stood along the sidelines and scowled, mouths set, arms folded as they watched the protesters file by. Some yelled at the protesters.

Yet other non-protesters looked neutral but watchful. Two stocky non-protesters in baseball caps said I should be careful, that things were getting rowdy.

“That’s why we’re here,” one said, “To keep everyone safe.”

Since the protest, I’ve learned that there was at least one non-protester non-militia group at the June 2 protest, a newly formed group called Stake in NorCal.  Its members are predominantly young and conservative, with some religious overtones, demonstrated by prayers before heading out to keep the peace and pass out water at a protest.

Stake in NorCal members pose for a photo the night of a recent protest. The yellow shirts are new, a way to differentiate themselves from other groups. Photo source: Facebook

Their Facebook page bluntly describes the group’s membership parameters:

“We don’t need a bunch of hot heads, tough guys, racists, snowflakes or douchebags in this group. This group is private for a reason, so if they are welcome at your table, then bring them in. Left wing, you will be the minority in this group if you choose to be here. I encourage all with a stake in NorCal to be here, but pushing the left-wing agenda will be checked at the door, so tread lightly.”

According to Jesse Lane, one of  the Stake in NorCal founders, the day before the protest he contacted RPD and the Sheriff’s office to let law enforcement know that his new group would attend the protest as peace-keepers the next day.

The feeling of elation and satisfaction Lane felt in believing his group played a part in a peaceful outcome to a peaceful protest didn’t last long. Shortly after the protest he and his group learned that RPD and the Sheriff were claiming their group and others weren’t welcome at the protest. Those messages contradicted their first-hand experience at the protest.

According to Lane, he had direct contact with Magrini during the protest via cell phone. He says he has the times logged on the phone that prove he’s telling the truth.

The day after Magrini’s formal statement Lane was so upset that he went to the Sheriff’s Department and asked to speak to Magrini, who wasn’t in. During the videotaped podcast in which Lane shared his story on the G14 podcast shared with another company, The Bounce House podcast, the topic of Magrini and the statement was continued by The Bounce House  interviewer.  He asked Lane’s partner, Ian Smart, who described himself as a non-PC guy, for his assessment of the situation where Magrini had written the statement in which he distanced himself from the groups.

“Bullshit,” Smart said.

In the video/podcast, Lane admitted how angry he’d felt about what Magrini had written in the statement, which prompted Lane to log onto the Stake in NorCal page for a Facebook Live rant that spelled out exactly how he felt. (That video is no longer available on Facebook.)

All that was covered in Part 1 of Richard Potillor’s G14 podcast/video, in which Lane is open about his feelings of frustration.

The video took a break for Part 2 before Lane could finish telling the story. When Part 2 resumed, Richard Potillor did not continue his co-host’s questioning about Magrini and the militia. Rather, he spoke at length about forgiveness.

Magrini’s name wasn’t mentioned again in the interview.

G14 Podcast featuring Stake in NorCal members

If it turns out those guys are not telling the truth, then I say they should all quit their day jobs and become professional actors.

But militia members who’ve lost faith in Magrini have company. Some Black Lives Matter protesters and civil rights advocates have mined and scrutinized Magrini’s Facebook posts, some going back several years, before Magrini became Sheriff. They’ve discovered and shared posts that call into question whether Magrini truly does believe that black lives do matter, and whether he’s racist. Some of the Magrini Facebook posts in question include:

Meanwhile, last week a militia member who attended the protest provided confidential information to A News Cafe.com on the condition of anonymity, for fear of retaliation:

“I know that there are members of my group that say there is proof that Sheriff Eric wanted us there, but I heard him on Carl’s show today.  I feel like we were hung out to dry. He got heat and had to say what he had to say, I guess. We didn’t do anything wrong. I feel pretty dumb now, thinking the sheriff wanted my help. We are being told that if we support our community and the Constitution, this is what needs to be done to protect everything we stand for. I cannot abide by lying when we didn’t do anything wrong.”

What a puzzle. Do we believe multiple people from a variety of non-protesters groups who claim that Magrini was in contact with them and giving orders during the protest?

Or do we believe Magrini, and assume that perhaps, as KCNR broadcaster Carl Bott suggested on his radio show, that perhaps the lower-level militia folks weren’t aware of what was happening higher up?

Like a pony buried in a room of shit, the truth is in there somewhere.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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