Today, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn into office. What a historic moment for Vice President-elect Harris, in particular. She’s the first woman to be elected vice president, as well as the first Black and the first Indian American to be elected as vice president of the United States.
This should be a joyous day for many people. It is a joyous day. I just hope it stays that way everywhere, but selfishly, I’m especially hoping so for Shasta County.
But still, don’t mind me if I keep one eye on the cellar door, because North State friends, I’m here to tell you there’s some dark stuff brewing down there, and it’s ugly.
For months I’ve been collecting screen grabs and evidence of threats and violent rhetoric delivered primarily by North State militia members who’ve been so bold about their viewpoints that they’ve not tried to conceal them.
Early on in the pandemic, a group of vocal business owners openly defied all public health mandates. North State law enforcement made it clear from the get-go that they weren’t interested in enforcement. But then we heard that never fear, state agencies like ABC would be cracking down on those businesses. It turns out that for the most part, the state agencies don’t appear that keen on enforcement, either.
The result? Here in the North State the Covid mandates seem arbitrary, and citizens rely upon each other to stay informed regarding which places cater to their personal beliefs and practices.
Meanwhile, here we are some 10 months since the first state mandates and there are some individuals and businesses that defy the rules and have done so since Day 1, such as many restaurants and bars that have never closed, and have no intentions of closing. One such restaurant is the Palomino Room in Red Bluff, owned by Carlos Zapata of Palo Cedro, someone whose name is familiar to many who read this site.
Before I’m accused of being a snitch or ratting him out, Zapata actually posts on Facebook the fact his business is open, and he plans to stay that way.
He’s said that should anyone try to come and force his place to close, he’d call upon the manpower and wrath of thousands of his fellow patriots. He has lots of company, and with each day that passes without any repercussions, more businesses feel emboldened to follow suit.
Many people wonder how the Covid non-compliant business-owners “get away” with it. How can they continue to break the rules month after month? Where are the enforcers? Sure, some agencies may say they’re overworked and understaffed, but my hunch is there’s not a huge push for enforcement for another reason: Nobody wants to risk a Waco reenactment right here in Shasta County. That threat is real.
Speaking of threats, since spring, when the pandemic hit and shutdowns took place, some outraged citizens who viewed the mandates as tyranny spewed threatening messages toward public health officials, elected leaders, and even some media members, like this thread between militia member Jesse Lane and friends, none of whom are fans of my writing.
A new day for democracy
All across Facebook I see positive words and images that celebrate the end of the Trump era and a peaceful transition of power to Biden and Harris.
For many of us, today is a new day that’s dawning brightly while one of the most destructive, narcissist presidents in U.S. history finally leaves the White House stage. Good riddance, I say. Don’t let the Oval Office door hit you on the way out.
As much as I want to feel hope, here in Shasta County, mostly I feel dread. I feel dread because I live in an area where thousands of citizens truly believe the election was not free and fair.
I feel dread because the majority of North State voters chose Trump, and many of those voters are convinced Biden stole the election, and he shouldn’t be president.
I feel dread because even an event as abhorrent and horrific as the attack on the Capitol on January 6 was justified by some North State people, like State of Jefferson believer “Rally” Sally Rapoza.
I feel dread because North State militia membership is on the rise and militia training sessions are packed. These groups are becoming normalized in our region, complete with their own public relations video that describes the militias as harmless, wholesome, helpful community organizations.
In Cottonwood there’s even a junior militia for boys, especially those who lack strong father figures in their lives.
I feel dread, as if I’m living in a nightmare, where so many good people around me breathe great sighs of relief that the worst is surely over. But I can’t join them yet. I can’t shake the dread of waiting for the other shoe to drop. My gut feeling is that when that shoe does fall, it will be on a landmine that will blow the North State’s complacency to smithereens.
I feel dread because there are long, red, tangled tentacles in this county that intertwine with militia, State of Jefferson fanatics, anti-intellectualists, anti-maskers, Tea Partiers and even some leaders of the mega congregation, Bethel Church, which has more than 11,000 members locally and millions of followers worldwide. Many of these people are enraged about the election outcome, and with that outrage comes a cacophony of social media chatter from those who vow to “do something” big to disrupt things. They dream of getting Trump back as their president. For some, it’s a life and death matter.
I feel dread because I hear about the beefed up security at the Capitol, which is surely prudent, and I hear about cities across the country on high alert, which is most likely better safe than sorry. But I wonder: Who’s keeping an eye out for bad actors in the North State? The sheriff? Fox. Henhouse.
And although it’s true there are recurring, now-familiar names here of the most outspoken, demonstrative guys – Jesse Lane, Carlos Zapata and Woody Clenenden – between them they have tens of thousands of followers and friends. And it’s those people – the unknown people aching to follow a strong leader, who may be hellbent on bloodshed – those are the ones who are the most potentially dangerous in my book. Guys like Zapata, Lane and Clenenden? At least we know about them. So far, we know they’re big talkers who have large followings.
The trio presented a New Year’s message earlier in the month in which they offered words about patriotism, the pandemic, officials who are drunk with power, the militia, the warrior culture, and keeping businesses open despite public-health mandates that require otherwise.
Even so, I feel dread because these militia members, despite their claims that they’re just civic-minded folks who help with fires and whatnot, the blatant verbal threats and violent rhetoric spoken by some of their most visible members is doing irreparable damage to their positive PR image.
Make no mistake, these are these are well-connected, far-reaching, well-financed groups.
Case in point was that December video-taped panel discussion facilitated by former KRCR reporter Courtney Kreider in Cottonwood, a video that at last count had more than 1.8 thousand comments and 45,000 views.
As the evening drew to a close, Clenenden wrapped up things with a little joke, which a chuckling Zapata and the laughing crowd obviously enjoyed.
Clendenen: “Just so you know, if you see Carlos and I with our masks on, we’re there to do bad things to you.”
Zapata: “I love it.”
I feel dread because militia leaders boast so often about their warm relationships with local law enforcement.
Wood Clenenden: “ … (North State militia’s) done everything, from community watch programs to working at fire evacuee camps, to when BLM came up here to Red Bluff, I contacted law enforcement down there. They were excited to have us down there. And then, I contacted law enforcement up in Redding (about the June 2 protest); all three branches. And afterwards, I had several stop by and say, ‘Hey man, we were glad you guys were there.’
I feel dread when I recall the September Facebook post in which Zapata wrote a message to his friends after learning that a 26-year-old man had attacked an elderly veteran at the Red Bluff Post Office, and Zapata behaved as if he was a mafia Don who’d take the matter of justice into his own hands. Obviously, the suspect’s actions were reprehensible. But then, so were Zapata’s.
And I feel dread to remember how, when I contacted the Red Bluff police chief to inquire about the suspect’s whereabouts and welfare, the police chief said the suspect had been released. He suggested I watch some of Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini’s messages about jail overcrowding.
I still don’t know what happened to that suspect; whether he had an audience with Zapata at his Palomino Room, or whether he was beaten or hanged, both of which were suggested by some of Zapata’s social media friends.
I feel dread because if we’re to believe the words of Cottonwood militia leader and barber shop owner Woody Clendenen, militia and law enforcement are genial colleagues of sorts. And if that’s true, to whom can non-militia citizens turn when members of the militia cross the line, even blue ones?
Woody Clenenden: “They (media) try and chastise the sheriff for knowing me or for being in contact with me, and they made a lot of false claims, but we do have a good relationship. I have a good relationship with both sheriffs in Shasta and Tehama County, and local CHP; cops in Redding. Anybody that’s ever worked with us, they don’t have a bad thing to say. We have professional people throughout, and we do a good job of getting rid of people that don’t belong.”
I feel dread because some militia members have openly threatened people who’ve spoken out against them, or who’ve reported businesses for failing to comply with pandemic public health mandates.
Woody Clendenen: “So just to go along with that, I want to address these people that think that it’s a good thing to do to go around ratting your neighbors and your businesses and your local towns off. Don’t think we’re going to forget who you are, because we’re not going to. We know who you are. We see the list. I don’t want you in my community at all. I mean, to me, that’s the lowest. You can justify it in your mind all you want to, but if you rat somebody off and harm their way of life and the ability they have to make a living over a coronavirus with a 99.8% survival rate, you’ll do it over worse things when it really counts too. And we just don’t need you in our community. I don’t even want you here. So go move off down to San Francisco or somewhere where your kind live because I don’t want you here…
Zapata delivered a similar message at the same meeting held last month in Cottonwood.
Carlos Zapata: And with that, since we aren’t pulling punches, We also are collecting intelligence, we have people on the streets, we know where you live, we know who your family is, we know your dog’s name, so if you think for one second that we are going to let you spy on us without us doing our due diligence and spying on you, you’re absolutely wrong.
So just know that, next time you think about calling in because the Palomino Room is open and has people in there, and because we are having a good time, and because Dill’s Deli is allowing people to sit inside, or whatever business it might be, if you think you’re anonymous you’re wrong. Your anonymity ended a long time ago, we don’t talk about everything we do, but just know that we know a lot more than you think, and you are not going to be welcome in this community, we are not going to make you feel very comfortable in our community.
Do those words sound wholesome and harmless to you?
I feel dread because there’s a North State vision by many self-described “patriots” that’s contrary to many residents’ vision for the place we call home.
Carlos Zapata: “We feel that in the North State here we really are the last bastion, we are the last stand, and if we don’t stand we literally feel like all eyes in this country are on us, are on Shasta County, Tehama County, Siskiyou County, in these northern counties right now, all eyes are on us right now, what we do will set the pace and tone for what the rest of the country will do.
Shasta County hasn’t been able to say that ever about anything, and we can now, and we can be really proud of this, and the fact that the people in this room and the people that are watching and the people that are going to see this later on are going to have an opportunity to right history.
Our grandchildren will read history books about what we did, not only today but from here on out; the day that we stood up and said enough is enough, you know this is it. You know if we think that we’re just another page in history, no, we are going to be the history book, we are now, because our country really depends on what we’re doing right here. If these words fall in deaf ears, our country is done in about three weeks. If good patriots stand up and do what they know they need to do, at the guidance of good leaders, we can keep our country.”
I feel dread because I see social media posts by militia members who talk about collecting ammunition, practicing how to use a gun (not for hunting) and using violence, and for the life of me, I cannot figure out who their targets will be, and exactly why.
It’s in part because of the bullying threats spoken by people like Zapata and Clenenden that they ending up fighting the very stereotypes that they continue to perpetuate. Consequently, the fear many North State people feel is real, and it’s manifested by the increase in people using false names on Facebook posts that might anger militia-minded people. Increasingly there’s even an unwillingness to leave even the most benign public comment on stories on this site, out of concern about fallout or retaliation. After all, what if it’s true, that some militia members are collecting names, and addresses, and information about everything from family members to pets? The question is, of course, what will they do with that information?
Finally, I feel dread as I think of one particular young man – the son of a former colleague – who probably doesn’t remember me. I remember him quite well as a cherub-faced little kid who participated in a pizza-making video way back in my newspaper days. I saw a photo of him recently on Facebook, posted by his proud parents. That little boy is all grown up now, so strong, so handsome, so ready for the world and all it has to offer him. Even so, I recognized that little-boy smile behind his grown-up face, even with his law-enforcement graduation uniform.
I feel dread for him, and any fellow officers who might one day get the 911 call to confront some unhinged, fully armed North State “patriots”, loaded for bear and spoiling for a fight.
Having said all that, with all my heart I feel hopeful that all my dreads turn out to be just a terrible nightmare. I feel hopeful that I can awaken from that nightmare and find that dawning of this new day, filled with contentment, hope and most of all, an intact democracy.
And since today’s a new day for our country, I feel emboldened to reclaim my American flag. It’s displayed outside my house now, and I may leave it there for a while, to make up for all the days I felt as if the flag had been hijacked. The stars and stripes belong to us all, not just so-called patriots who roar up and down Hilltop Drive with mammoth tattered Old Glories the size of bed sheets snapping and flapping beside Trump flags and State of Jefferson flags and Confederate flags.
I know. The American flag is just a symbol. But that’s a good place to start. Next we can tackle the more difficult things, such as how to repair all the damage that’s been done to our nation and relationships. Another day. In the meantime, let’s take it one day at a time, beginning with this one.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.
Note: Special thanks to the hard-working volunteer researchers who provided information that contributed to this column.