As I prepare to publish this post early Friday morning, the world still awaits word – three days after the election – about who will be the next president of the United States of America: Joe Biden or Donald Trump.
Outside my window, a screeching storm whipped itself into a frenzy; such a departure from so many unseasonably warm days, with not a drop of rain on the horizon. The storm weaponized acorns, branches and patio chairs. It slammed the porch windchime against the house and flung the hummingbird feeder to and fro. The storm aptly reflected the mood and tension beneath Shasta County’s ominous, dark clouds.
One day things seemed peaceful. The next day came the promise of unrest and even violence.
The first hint of disruption happened hours earlier, Thursday night in Shasta County. That’s when Frank Fales, a Cottonwood resident and West Valley Junior Eagles Football coach, published his own post on Facebook; a rant and call to action as a show of support for President Trump, who’s falsely claiming that the election is being stolen.
Despite the fact that Trump’s assertions have been roundly discredited by not just Biden supporters, but even by Fox News, some high-ranking Republicans, and even some Trump colleagues, Fales and friends believe Trump. They are convinced that our country and our president are in grave danger. They say they’re ready to act.
“Enough is enough my fellow country men and women!!!!! These people on the left are blatantly trying to steal this election. It’s time to back our president come hell or high water this cannot happen on our watch. Let’s not be remembered as the generation that stood by and watch our country get stolen right out from underneath us without standing up and fighting for our freedom and rights. And if they want to fight us for this country than bring it on!! We are ready to go. Tired of these week ass liberals trying to Suppress?? the people of this country with there lies and threats and no means of backing it up. It’s time to call them out and when the smoke clears and the dust settles then we will see who’s really in charge. In god we trust! Who’s with me? It’s time to stop being politically correct that’s how we got here in the first place.” Source: Frank Fales’ Facebook page.
Update: since this publication of this post, Fales has accused me of twisting his words. For the sake of complete accuracy, here’s a screen grab of that Facebook post, which is no longer on his page.
Within minutes of writing that post, Fales — a third-generation timber faller, a popular Cottonwood football coach, and the vice president of West Valley Junior Eagles Football and Cheer in Cottonwood — received more than 30 supportive responses.
Here’s a sample of those unedited comments which I copy and pasted from the original screen grabs, without the names of the authors.
• Absolutely agree, ready to ride into this clusterfuck swinging, not gonna sit here and take it
• Weapons are all cleaned, locked, and loaded
• I’m tired of there Anti American shit! There response is oh your Inciting violence, that’s how they keep us from fighting is by trying to make us be politically correct. Well enough is enough that shits done, it’s go time.
• I’ve been done I’m ready for some population control
• you’ll know what the next step is when you hear the sound of horses rolling over the mountains like a swarm of locust through the trees, and you see your fellow country men floating across the land like coast fog with metal in its hands and I’m up front with a million northerners behind me then you’ll know cuzz’n.
• Time to load the guns brother
The flurry of comments concluded in less than an hour, perhaps because they resumed their conversations on a less-public platform.
But one of the final comments – perhaps the most troubling of the night – was from none other than Woody Clendenen, head of the Cottonwood Militia, also friend and barber of Shasta County Supervisor Les Baugh.
Clendenen’s comment was simple and direct.
“Time to stand tall…no more backing up,” Clendenen wrote.
His comment was followed by a response by Jim Vert, Fales’ fellow West Valley High School Football coach. “I’m there Brother,” Vert wrote.
Camaraderie and connections galore
Some cursory quick clicks on the names of those who left supportive comments and happy emojis on Fales’ post resulted in a treasure trove of like-minded memes that reflected a collective conservative viewpoint. Lots of trucks, American flags, hunting photos, and an echo chamber where Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris are hated bitches, and Biden voters are libtards and Dumbocrats.
My mother used to say, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names can never hurt you.”
But come to think of it, she never mentioned what to do when people call names, but they also threaten to break bones with sticks and stones. And what about guns? And at what point do words matter? At what point do we take them seriously?
I do know this; there were others who read Fales’ post and did not agree, or comment. Those people were extremely bothered by Fales’ words and the suggestions of violence. One such person wondered if law enforcement should be alerted, but decided against contacting the Shasta County Sheriff, the law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction in Cottonwood.
I have a few guesses why some people might feel uncomfortable reporting Fales’ Facebook thread, or other similar threats to the Shasta County Sheriff. First, perhaps they have zero confidence that the report would be taken seriously. Second, it’s widely known that Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini took a stance early on in the pandemic to not enforce public health mandates. (Hello, Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo.) Third, with a barely concealed wink and a nod, there’s a clear understanding that Magrini’s fans and followers will support Magrini, and it’s expected that he will support them by looking the other way, even when his fans refuse to comply with state orders.
Even when they disrupt public meetings, and the Shasta County Board Chair specifically asks for the sheriff to please ask the people to quiet down, so the supervisors can do their jobs.
Likewise, Magrini’s not demonstrated a willingness or ability to be impartial, to put citizens’ minds at ease that he’s the sheriff for all, not just his fanbase, which is predominantly comprised of ultra conservative folks, many of whom openly defy state mandated COVID-prevention measures.
He smiles and gives lip service to education, rather than enforcement, an interesting choice, considering he literally is Shasta County’s top law enforcement official. If he doesn’t enforce, who will?
Riddle me this: When was the last time you heard of Magrini educating anyone about the benefits of complying with state-mandated public health orders?
The point is this: When the rhetoric gets heated, and pissed-off patriots’ pledges turn violent — as happened in Fales’ Facebook post — who will protect those who have the misfortune of being caught in the center of those guys’ crosshairs?
For months now here in Shasta County, starting with the June 2 peaceful protest in Redding against the murder of George Floyd, we’ve seen evidence of angry white men who seem to be looking for an excuse to break out the guns.
So first it was they were angry about the protests and the imaginary Antifa and Black Lives Matter people who were surely going to burn down Shasta County, all of which never materialized.
Next came displays of rage delivered by guys like Carlos Zapata and Jesse Lane and Ian Smart and others, mad as hell about the coronavirus public-health mandates and state-ordered shutdowns. Generally speaking, the loudest complainers about COVID-related shutdowns are the least compliant when it comes to following public health guidelines. As Zapata has said, he doesn’t respect people who wear masks.
Red county equals purple tier?
In some ways, maybe our high COVID cases are inevitable.
According to an Associated Press analysis, in 376 counties with the highest number of new cases per capita, the overwhelming majority — 93% of those counties — went for Trump, a rate above other less severely hit areas.
Damn. If that’s true, then Shasta County is doomed to drown in a sea of purple. We may as well close up shop and call it a day.
That analysis partly explains why Shasta County snapped back to the purple tier less than two weeks after Shasta County was pulled from the brink of purple in the 11th hour and back in the red, thanks to a county/state collaboration that intervened and saved us.
Shasta County barely had time to enjoy its red status before its COVID numbers began to climb. Yesterday Shasta County public health reported 87 new cases for Wednesday.
Here in the North State, a perfect storm of discontent brews all around us. Our leaders are divided between those trying with all their might to keep us safe and do the right thing for the good of everyone, and those inconsiderate egomaniacs who play the public like their private little fiddles for their own personal agendas.
And dare I mention that strange fellow Vladislav Davidzon? Surely he has a major screw loose. He’s made it his mission to convince businesses to defy state orders. Will he pay businesses’ legal bills if they are fined? I bet no.
Even so, he’s sent out hundreds of letters on his quest to convince businesses to buck the state system, plus he’s included a yellow paper sign that he asks businesses to tape to their doors and windows.
(In a way, he did us a favor, so we can not shop at those places.)
His goal is to get as many people in Shasta County infected with the coronavirus, as if someone crowned him the king of herd immunity. He’s not concerned about death and consequences.
Sidebar, County Counsel: Isn’t there some legal intervention you can impart? This man is a public hazard worse than someone yelling FIRE in a crowded theater. Just a thought.
Better not forget Bethel
And in Redding, we have the dubious distinction of having the mega-congregation Bethel Church reside here, which oversees Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, with more than 11,000 local members, and millions of adoring Bethel Kool-Aid drinkers across the globe. But here in the North State, ever since Bethel was revealed as a super-spreader that graced Shasta County with more than 340 COVID cases, the bloom is fading from the Bethel bouquet. Also, adding insult to infection, Bethel leaders refuse to get on the same page with regard to the coronavirus. Plus, Bethel has a long way to go before citizens can trust it again. Case in point, look no further than the impassioned video about COVID compliance by Bethel’s No. 2 guy, Kris Vallotton, and then just a few days later he broke a laundry-list of public health rules to host a Vallotton wedding in Shingletown. The take-away message is ignore the Bethel leaders’ promises, and instead watch what they do.
The straw that broke the patriots’ backs: the delayed election
And now, add to the pandemic and Bethel and don’t forget the fires, the ticked-off guys are hopping mad about how the election appears to be slipping from Trump’s death grip. Bear in mind that they believe every word that falls from Trump’s mouth, just like all those Zapata followers believe Zapata and admire his outbursts of macho bravado and those fantastical boasts about how he could send out an email and he’d have tens of thousands of people who’d show up, just because he said so.
Followers of any stripe can wreak the most damage. In Trump’s case, he’s counting on his bold, brave, reckless believers to do his bidding and dirty work, yet we all know Trump has probably never soiled his pink little fingers in a fight in his entire life. Brilliant, really. Pick a fight, incite fear and lies with a big dose of victimhood, then step away and let your loyal servants be your surrogate fighters to the very death, if necessary. Not his death, silly. Yours!
Not that I’m condoning fighting, because I’m not.
A quick visit to some of Fales’ and friends’ Facebook pages illustrates their united mindset, and offers explanations for why they may be inclined to stand by and stand up for Trump. If he says run, they’ll run. If he says jump, they’ll ask how high. If he says the election is rigged and someone is picking on him, watch out, ‘merica. We’ve got a civil war in the making.
Here’s one example of a meme found on one of Fales’ friend’s Facebook page: Seven things you don’t mess with: 1. MY FAITH, 2. MY FAMILY, 3, MY PRESIDENT, 4. MY FLAG, 5. MY GUNS, 6. MY COUNTRY, 7. MY LIBERTY.
And this one: “The Second Amendment wasn’t written so we could go hunting. It was written so we could shoot at the government if it was ever taken over by tyrants. – Judge Napolitano”
And so here were are in blood-red conservative Shasta County, where many of the extreme right-wing groups have prominent friends in common, such as Supervisor Les Baugh, and retired Sheriff Tom Bosenko, and rabid State of Jefferson anti-maskers Tom and “Rally Sally” Rapoza, and on and on and on. Many of Carlos Zapata’s supporters are friends of Fales’ friends.
A look at the names and faces of social media friends and friends of friends and I see people I recognize. Some are acquaintances. Others are very well known to me, and loved by me. Some have been in my home. They’re coaches and business-owners and mothers and fathers and grandparents.
They’ve volunteered to clean up burned-out property. They’ve organized fundraisers for sick kids and hosted company Easter egg hunts.
Even so, as much as I’d like to find some common ground that connects us all, some issues – such as race and equality – are deal-breakers that form concrete lines in the sand that I cannot condone or cross.
That said, it would be so easy to paint them all with that red brush, but it’s more complicated than that. One thing I am hoping for: I hope that Fales fails. Put down the sword, Fales. Walk away and nobody gets hurt.
It turns out my mother was wrong. It turns out words can cause great hurt.
Yes, Shasta County is filled with many good, earnest people. Some – OK, many – are middle-of-the-road conservatives. Others are garden-variety liberals. Yet others are something else entirely.
But there’s also a potentially dangerous extreme right-wing faction that’s – to quote Zapata – exceeded its boiling point. They’re the ones I have my eyes on as we wait for the Associated Press to call the election one way or another.
I appeal to those extreme right-wing folks to step back from their violent rhetoric, and calls for guns and bloodshed. I appeal to them to look around to their families, many of whom may not share their political views. That’s OK. This is how it is in America. I implore them to see – really see – their neighbors, and take a long hard look at those they love who look up to them.
And if that doesn’t work, if they’re unmoved by people, and love and relationships, I ask them this: Are you so angry that you’d go to jail for harming an innocent person?
To the coaches, I ask that you borrow a page from the West Valley Junior Eagles Football and Cheer page, and commit one part to heart:
“Our program presents, to each adult affiliated with us, a unique opportunity to share in the molding of youth. Self-discipline properly taught on the football field by our coaches can be a major factor in turning a youth’s life from self-indulgence to meaningful self-respect, respect for rights of others and respect for the law.”
Respect for rights of others and respect for the law.
That could be one common ground. It’s a good start.
Hang onto your hats, fellow Americans. Things are bound to get rocky. But we’ll get through this. I have faith in us.
(Most of us.)
UPDATE: The previous link has been removed regarding Biden’s electoral vote count. I will await the official Associated Press report.