New to Shasta County During the Pandemic? So Much to Learn

Sacramento River photo by Doni Chamberlain

Hello, new North State resident! Perhaps you’re a pandemic refugee who’s escaped a big city that’s been in purple lockdown for months. How frustrating that must have been! Welcome! I hope you were able to secure housing, and that your real estate offers weren’t undermined and snatched up by a cash, full-price Bethel buyer.

Bethel? Oh, let’s tackle that for another day, shall we?

If you arrived this week, your timing is perfect! Just last week Shasta County was on a fast-moving conveyor belt whisking us away from our relative comfort of the state’s red tier, into the jaws of the purple tier’s economic death.

Why were we headed for purple, you ask? Well, Shasta County had a huge uptick in numbers that included two notable sources: Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, and Windsor Redding Care, a skilled nursing facility. BSSM (that’s how we locals refer to it) had 321 cases alone!

It’s so difficult to explain BSSM to outsiders, what with the fire tunnels, the glitter glory clouds, the “angel” feathers, drunk in the spirit, dancing in the spirit, gay conversion therapy (hate the sin, love the sinner), the 7 Mountain Mandate, as well as healings (aka “signs and wonders”), attempts to raise the dead, as well as grave-sucking, etc., etc., etc. As their motto says, “On Earth as it is in Heaven.”

Yes, BSSM is a “real” school. Sort of. I mean, it has students. It has books (written almost exclusively by staff – guaranteed sales!) and it has tuition (about $5,000 a year), but no, BSSM is not accredited.

So, as I was saying, poor Shasta County was zooming down the road on its way to purple quicksand. But thanks to a fantastic job of collaboration between some key county and state leaders, we were pulled back from the purple precipice, literally hours before we were slated for a head-on collision with the purple tier Friday at midnight.

Granted, the red tier is not as open as the yellow and orange tiers, but the red tier allows restaurants, places of worship, movie theaters, fitness centers, personal care businesses and museums to remain open indoors. That’s a very big deal. We’re grateful.

The final decision to remain in the red tier was handed down late Friday night by Dr. Mark Ghaly of California Health and Human Services Secretary.

The Shasta County team who made the county’s case to the state included: Shasta County Health and Human Services Director Donnell Ewert, Health Officer Karen Ramstrom, Public Health Branch Director Robin Schurig, Shasta County CEO Matt Pontes and supervisors Leonard Moty and Joe Chimenti.

Take note of those names, because here in whacky Shasta County there’s a growing list of folks accepting full credit for staying in the red. What the what? Yeah, I know it’s crazy.

That’s why I’m on the lookout for those who unjustly take credit for Shasta County’s red status, just because, you know, fair is fair. The truth is, Shasta County leaders helped secure our red status despite the anti-maskers, the demanders, the bullies and the screamers; not because of them.

The No. 1 offender, contrarian and grandstander is District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh. He’s a pastor, but don’t let that fool you. He’s also someone who is rarely in step with his fellow supervisors. It’s as if Shasta County Supervisors are all part of one of those big two-section horse costumes, and for the most part, four of the supervisors are at the head, leading the charge toward the community’s greater good, while Baugh is at the back end, bucking and pulling to gallop off in the opposite direction, far into left field.

Baugh, bless his heart, he does like a bit of theater. Way back in the beginning of the COVID shutdowns, he pulled a memorable stunt of defiance against the state at the very start of the COVID shutdowns, and got a haircut by Woody, his Cottonwood barber,  who also happens to be the head of the Cottonwood militia.

Militia? Yes, silly! We do have militia here, and yes, more than one group. My first introduction to Shasta County militia was on June 2 in front of the Shasta County Courthouse during the peaceful protest against George Floyd’s murder by police officers. There were more than 200 militia and militia-lite folks there. They actually posed for photos afterward.

There’s your Christmas card, fellas!

The militia group gathered for a photo- op break as the protesters headed toward Shasta Street on Tues., June 2. Photo by Doni Chamberlain

Of course, many militia and militia-lite guys brought weapons, not counting things like baseball bats, visible in the back of pickups and Jeeps and sedans.

The June 2 protest in Redding attracted a variety of people, including camo-wearing men who brought weapons. ANC file photo.

But giving the guys the benefit of the doubt, maybe they were going to go play baseball afterward.

Speaking of weapons, if you own a gun, you’ll be in good company here in Shasta County, where more than 11,000 citizens have concealed weapons permits. The gals have special little gun-toting purses, while the guys favor little fanny-pack gun holders.

Hey, I just thought of something! Eleven thousand is the same number of people who attend Bethel Church in Redding! How about that!

Back to Supervisor Baugh, and his acceptance of credit for Shasta County being in the red tier. If you doubt me, take a quick peek at his Facebook page and you’ll see his friends’ comments that heap one scoop of praise upon another on Baugh. On his Facebook page, he’s the man of the hour, the hero who gets his followers so whipped up in a frenzy that surely the state must have bowed down before Baugh and handed over the red tier.

The last time I checked, Baugh had not corrected this followers’ misconceptions, or directed rightful credit where it was due (see the names, above).

Here’s a sample of some of the comments directed toward Baugh:

Thank you Les and to all that stood up and spoke up against the tyranny and illogical and unconstitutional orders of the state and local government.

Thanks for all of your hard work. It is appreciated

AMEN, Thank you Les Baugh…. job well done my friend

Les, thank you for standing strong for all small business’s and all the citizens of Shasta county!! Your dedication is acknowledged and appreciated!!

Thank you Les Baugh for supporting businesses and the silent majority.

It goes on an on like that for dozens more posts of praise. However, Baugh did give the most cryptic, non-specific of acknowledgements in his post that modestly suggested he didn’t accomplish that feat completely singlehandedly: “ … SCPH, Administration, fellow Supervisors, to all involved.”

But there’s plenty of false credit to go around. Meet Elissa McEuen, the bullhorn-yelling anti-masker who routinely shows up in board chambers to scold, lecture, demand and threaten public health staff, county counsel and supervisors to fully open the county.

Her social media posts congratulated her fellow shamers and shouters for a job well done. Keep up the pressure, McEuen says. Our efforts are working!

Elissa McEuen bullhorns her speech through the closed supervisor chamber doors, directly in front of the county sign that explains the new state mandated COVID-19 meeting rules. Source: Screen grab video from Redding Patriots Facebook page.

She has a growing following and fan base, and many people are suggesting she run for a Shasta County Board of Supervisors seat.

Speaking of the Board of Supervisors, if you’ve not attended one of its public meetings, you’re in for a real eye-opener. I don’t know how supervisor meetings are from your former home town, but in Redding, you never know what you’ll see. For example, you missed seeing the guy who attempted a citizen’s arrest of the supervisors and the county counsel.

You missed the woman with the handcuffs, the guy with a mega bullhorn attached to his belt, the woman who read a story about a turtle from a book of children’s fables, marking her place with a Reese’s peanut-butter cup wrapper. There was the guy who dressed with a camo shirt, a starry cape and a leather cummerbund. Those are but a few examples.

Of course, mixed in with the more bombastic speakers are earnest citizens who address the board members with civility and respect; such a rarity during the Board of Supervisors’ public comment period that those people stand out as welcome anomalies.

Masks may be mandated, but in Shasta County, they appear optional

I’m guessing that if you’re here from a big city, you’re accustomed to wearing a mask, because, you know, it’s the science, and because you probably want to keep yourself and others safe.

But oh, honey! Brace yourself, because around here you’ll notice that many people are anti-mask. You’ll see folks with masks beneath noses, or masks hanging from one ear. You never know which groups’ members, generally speaking, lean toward being anti-mask, but there are a bunch of them: State of Jefferson, Re-Open Shasta County, The Redding Patriots and Bethel Church.

Dang! Back to Bethel again! I know. It is surprising that Christians would take that anti-mask stance. In all fairness, according Kris Vallotton –No. 2 in charge – part of the problem is that Bethel’s leadership cannot and will not get on the same page with regard to COVID-19 and public health compliance.

After that spectacular spike in BSSM student infections, Vallotton went on and on via video about all the steps they’re taking to stop the spread of the virus: hand-washing, sanitizing, social distancing, the whole deal. In fact, one of my favorite lines was when he said that masks just aren’t about the law, they’re about love.

Cynics will claim that Vallotton had lots of incentive to give that impassioned video speech, but we’ll just name two possible reasons: 1. He’s the founder of BSSM, a miraculous money-making machine that draws thousands of students around the world from as many a 72 countries. 2. Cal-OSHA may have contacted Vallotton, and if you consider the cost in fines BSSM could face for non-compliance, well, let’s just say it could make a public-health-compliant believer out of almost anyone.

… Except Beni Johnson and her daughter. Respectively, they’re the wife and daughter of Bill Johnson, Bethel’s No. 1 pastor and leader.

Beni’s video went viral of the Johnson women mocking a Humboldt County town where the people are extremely compliant, and, no surprise, have very few COVID cases. Beni called masks “frickin’ stupid” and said they “don’t even work”. For Godly women, as the Johnson women claim to be, to say “frickin’ “ you know they’re mad as heck about something.

Later, after Bethel released a press release explaining that Beni is just one of many Bethel leaders and they all have different opinions, Beni eventually released her own apology/non-apology. Disappointingly, it was lame as lame can be because she used the apology platform as an opportunity to take another whack at her viewpoint about masks, which is that she doesn’t believe in them.

I’ll get off the topic of Bethel in sec, but let me just say that Vallotton totally lost my trust because just a few days after his “masks are about love” video he and his family held a large wedding up in the tiny mountain town of Shingletown (you must visit!) where more than 100 people crowded together, no masks, no social distancing.

This was a shockingly bad PR move in a county where the single greatest number of positive COVID cases came from BSSM. And yet, there was the BSSM leader, a man who told us he took COVID seriously, defying the state and county mandates that ban large gatherings.

To many of us, what was especially awful about the Vallotton wedding was we all couldn’t help but look over the past nine months and recall all the things we’d given up during that time. Weddings, funerals, vacations, retirements, graduations, birthdays, and on and on. The arrogance and entitlement of it all really got to us. And like Beni, even when Vallotton knows how hurt and angry people feel, he doesn’t act as if he truly cares.

Here’s a social media thread in which someone called him out on the wedding caper (the commenter’s name is redacted), and his response.

“Life is a risk and we will all die in the end,” Vallotton explained. “It’s just a matter of when.”

The unfortunate part about Vallotton’s risk is his actions put others’ lives at risk; perhaps people who aren’t ready to die any sooner than necessary. Another topic for another day.

But here in Shasta County, what you may discover with regard to masks, and who wears them, is that for the most part, the most vocal speakers, the ones who regularly yell at supervisors and command they re-open Shasta County immediately, they’re usually the same ones who refuse to wear a mask, and encourage others to not wear a mask, either. Makes no sense.

Take this image found on McEuen’s page, please.

Contradictory messages, if you ask me: We won’t comply, we won’t wear masks or practice social distancing, yet open Shasta County. That kind of stinkin’ thinking will get the county shut down again, and then the anti-maskers will again demand the county re-opens, whether we’re ready or not.

Enforcement? Is that what you asked? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Oh, that’s rich! Here in Shasta County, our Sheriff has made it clear since he gave the A-OK for the Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo to carry on, despite the early COVID shutdowns, and that he will not enforce state COVID mandates. Redding Police Department overall has the same hands-off coronavirus-enforcement policy. But no worries, we’ve got ABC, FBI, CHP and Cal-OSHA, and a bunch of other state and federal enforcement agencies who’ll step in when they have to, so we’re not totally screwed. Well, maybe a little bit …

At the last Board of Supervisors meeting, for example, one woman speaker thanked supervisors Baugh and Joe Chimenti for not wearing masks during the meeting. Baugh beamed, but Chimenti quickly held up a mask and explained he had one at the ready, but his seat was more than 6 feet away from anyone, so a mask wasn’t necessary. The speaker shared her opinion that the lack of face coverings was a sign of intelligence. She’s the same one, if memory serves, who refereed to face coverings as face diapers, and said they were as filled with bacteria as a soiled Pamper.

What’s maddening is the anti-maskers behave in reckless ways that all but guarantee that we’ll be back at purple’s doorstep in no time. It’s like they don’t understand the connection between their actions and our COVID rates. So they don’t wear masks, and Shasta County’s positive COVID numbers rise, and the anti-maskers will bitch and moan the loudest when we’re on the brink of purple. This Facebook group, OpenShasta, is well known for members’ anti-mask stance.

Another popular North State anti-masker is Carlos Zapata, the former Marine whose video of his threatening message to supervisors during the public comment period when viral.

Now, Zapata has become a celebrity in conservative circles and he’s been in high demand in programs and podcasts all over the country. We’re talking asking-for-an-autograph famous.

Apparently, he does his best thinking and ranting while driving, because we see a lot of his videos in that setting. During one recent video, he said that he doesn’t have any respect for someone who wears a mask. Personally, I will not lose any sleep over the loss of Zapata’s respect. In fact, it’s my honor. But that’s just me.

Fun fact: He owns the Palomino Room in Red Bluff in Tehama County, which is just south of Shasta County.

Zapata’s go-to solutions usually revolve around threats and intimidation.

In fact, there was a violent incident in Red Bluff more than a month ago by a man who’d assaulted an elderly man at the post office, allegedly because the older man was wearing a Trump hat. The suspect was arrested and released, and this so infuriated Zapata that he took to Facebook and asked for someone to find the suspect and bring him to the PR (Palomino Room) so Zapata could “talk” with the suspect.

There were all kinds of pretty alarming comments on Zapata’s Facebook page about what kinds of “talking” would be done with the suspect. Some violent suggestions were made. I contacted the Red Bluff Police Chief and asked if he knew the suspect’s whereabouts, and he said he did not.

I feel sorry for the Red Bluff Police Department, because Zapata has claimed that he could beckon tens of thousands of his armed followers to Red Bluff in a jiffy if anyone tries to close his restaurant over the COVID mandates.

Zapata raises bulls in Palo Cedro, a rural area east of Redding. He’s made noise on Facebook about taking Board of Supervisor Chair Mary Rickert’s seat, and was asking his friends to write in his name on the ballot. The problem with that is that Rickert’s seat won’t be available until 2024. So that’s kind of embarrassing. But now, Zapata is threatening to recall Rickert.

He thinks he has the right stuff to be a board supervisor. In a way, he has a tiny head start, because if you Google “Palo Cedro mayor” a sentence on a Wikipedia page will claim that Zapata is the mayor, which is impossible because Palo Cedro doesn’t have a mayor. One source said that Zapata actually inserted that information into the Wiki page years ago, to mess with his kids (I am too the mayor of Palo Cedro! Google it!).

Vladislav Davidzon speaks before the Shasta County Board of Supervisors.

There’s so much I’ve not told you about, such as this relatively new face on the Shasta County scene, Vladislav Davidzon, which may or may not be his real name. He recently mailed out an undetermined number of letters and flyers to business owners that encourages businesses to disregard the state COVID mandates.

I’m a business owner, and I didn’t get one. That’s fine. I’d have thrown it away anyway. But in a way, Davidzon did us all a huge favor, because now when I approach a business, if I see Davidzon’s yellow sign in the window that suggests it’s a mask-optional place, then it saves me the trouble of setting foot inside. Thanks, Vladislav!

By the way, Davidzon, like Zapata, has also voiced aspirations for a seat on the Shasta County Board of Supervisors. He’s gunning for Joe Chimenti’s seat. I suggest that first, Davidzon should learn the pronunciation of his potential opponent’s name. It’s Chimenti, like Chianti, not Chimenti like shush.

Can you imagine if McEuen, Zapata and Davisdzon all ran for office simultaneously, and if they all became Shasta County Supervisors? If their behavior during the public comment period is any indication of how they’d behave as supervisors, the meetings would be worthy of popcorn and whiskey.

Gosh, I think we’ve run out of time. Maybe we can chat again some time soon, OK?

In the meantime, our conversation began with the good news about Shasta County’s red tier. I hope we stay in the red, but judging by how so many people here don’t believe in science, and willfully defy the state mandates, I’m afraid that we’ll be back to the purple tier in no time.

It doesn’t help matters that many Bethel folks are making the decision to not get tested, in part because they want to spare Bethel any further criticism.

And all Vallotton’s talk about how careful Bethel folks are being to follow public health guidelines? Social media tells a different story, such as this thread between Bethel moms, looking for a sitter for their Bible study.

Oh, Shasta County! What in the world can we do with you?

It’s like Shasta County includes a crazy clown car full of reckless characters who careened off the road and got us stuck in a ditch. The state took pity on us, and dragged us out of the mud, and set us back on the rosy red road to public health and safety.

I don’t know how many times the state can save us from ourselves. If people don’t join together and take the virus seriously, we’ll be back to purple. What’s frustrating is the careless actions of the few adversely affects the health and safety of the many.

The only advice I can offer is steer clear of the clowns, follow the public health mandates, and support businesses that follow the rules. With any luck you should be just fine.

What’s that? You’re here for BSSM?

Never mind.


Special thanks to those who provided background, links, photos, screen grabs, information and tips that contributed to this story. You know who you are, and I appreciate you. Thank you! 

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 Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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