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In the Closet of Jefferson State – Part 2: Homophobic and White Christian Supremacist Hate

Editorial Note:

In this second part of a four-part series, Shawn Schwaller examines why the creation of Jefferson State is not only highly unlikely to happen, but also an exceptionally bad idea from several standpoints. Throughout the series, he will explore a wide range of social, economic, and cultural issues including racism, anti-immigrant nativism, and attacks on the LGBTQ community in the contemporary history of the proposed boundaries of Jefferson. Part one of “In the Closet of Jefferson State” was entitled “Economic & Social Realities in California’s Pro-Trump Secessionist North.” It is available here.

Click here for Part 1 of “In the Closet of Jefferson State: Economic & Social Realities in California’s Pro-Trump Secessionist Far North”.

In the Closet of Jefferson State – Part 2: Homophobic and White Christian Supremacist Hate

A July 1999 story in the the Redding Record Searchlight reported the murders of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder.

The LGBTQ community faces a significant amount of hate in the proposed boundaries of the State of Jefferson (SOJ). This hate is displayed by some leaders at Bethel Church, the most prominent and powerful religious institution in the region, which characterizes people in the LGBTQ community as sinners and advocates for conversion therapy, as well as other establishments, like Lake Shastina Church.

The extreme homophobia displayed by churches in the proposed boundaries of the SOJ is dangerous. It is based in the same kind of hateful thinking that led to the murder of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder – a gay couple who lived in the Redding area – by two neo-Nazi white Christian supremacist brothers in the late 1990s.

As far as the SOJ goes, look no further than Sally Rapoza, the director of social media for the movement. Rapoza has posted several homophobic memes and other images for the public to see on her Facebook page and provided a platform for friends and fellow SOJ movement members to spew hateful rhetoric against the LGBTQ community in the recent past.

Sally Rapoza in 2019 photo. Source: Facebook.

A vast majority of people in the SOJ movement – and its supporters – are Republicans, many voted for Donald Trump in the last two presidential elections, and they readily tout their support for “family values.” However, many lack human decency when it comes to respecting and supporting the LGBTQ community.

“Bible-Thumpin’, Gun-Totin’, Wild-Eyed Pistol Wavers”

The fact that the SOJ movement is not LGBT-friendly and that white conservative pockets in California’s far north exhibit extreme homophobic tendencies has been acknowledged by supporters. In 2015, Placer County resident Sam Toll, established a Facebook page named LGBT for the State of Jefferson to combat the reality that the movement did not support LGBTQ rights. The page has just over one hundred followers and a vast majority of the content posted receives no attention – this compared to the over nine thousand members on the most followed Facebook page dedicated to the movement which receives a great deal more attention.

Toll described the movement as being “full of a bunch of Bible-thumpin’, gun-totin’, wild-eyed pistol wavers.” “My ideal neighbor in the State of Jefferson,” continued Toll, “is a lesbian and her transgender spouse – they’re married – guarding their marijuana field and their hemp field with their .50-caliber machine gun” and have “unlimited ammunition.” It’s hard to believe that the typical SOJ supporter would agree with Toll’s notion of the ideal neighbor, but there’s certainly an affinity for guns in the region. Bethel Church, the most popular and powerful religious institution in the region, certainly does not agree with Toll’s views of the LGBTQ community.

Bethel Church & the Christian Majority

While there was a small amount of religious diversity as the SOJ movement reignited, in 2010, a vast majority of peoples that followed an organized religion in the region identified as Christian. Similar to maps which showed high rates of poverty and state spending, opioid-related deaths and abuse, and gun sales, that which shows the least religious diversity in California mirrors the proposed boundaries of the SOJ. Per its creation, the SOJ would not only be over seventy percent white, it would also be over ninety percent Christian.

With over eleven thousand members, Bethel Church in Redding is a powerful center of Christianity in the proposed boundaries of the SOJ. Its pastors and music division are popular across the nation. The megachurch’s Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, attracts over two thousand students from around the world annually. The church has deep ties in Redding’s civic power structure. Bethel Church advocates for conversion therapy for LGBTQ individuals. A 2019 Instagram post by the church asked “can a person leave homosexuality behind?” The post was liked by thousands of followers. A common theme in the comments, which numbered over ten thousand, was that identifying as part of the LGBTQ community was a sin.

Screenshot from Bethel Church’s Instagram page

Screenshot from Bethel Church’s Instagram page

In 2018, Bethel Church came out against a series of assembly bills (AB 1779, AB 2119 and AB 2943) designed to provide a wide variety of protections for the LGBTQ community in California. As explained by R.V. Scheide in his 2018 A New Cafe article, in a sermon the same year, Bethel Church senior associate leader Kris Valloton cited that homosexuals did not deserve to be part of a protected class because there was “no scientific proof that homosexuality is genetic,” that homosexuals were “not an ethnic group,” and that it was comparable to being addicted to pornography or alcohol.

On his personal webpage, Valloton describes himself as a “leader of leaders” and a “husband and father” who is “passionate about helping you become fully alive, equipping you for your God-given mission, and preparing you to change the world!” Valloton’s beliefs about the LGBTQ community are filled to the brim with hate and fear, yet he has over three-hundred and eighty thousand followers on Facebook. Bethel Church promotes an extremist brand of homophobia. It is a danger to the LGBTQ community, and in this respect, represents the polar opposite of Christian values.

The Murder of Gary Matson & Winfield Mowder

In 1999, when two brothers, Matthew Williams (31 years-old) and Tyler Williams (29 years-old) broke into the Happy Valley home of Gary Matson (50 years-old) and Winfield Mowder (40 years-old) and murdered them in their bed with a 22-caliber handgun because they were gay, the toxic language against the LGBTQ community promoted by Bethel Church, materialized into deadly force.

Matson and Mowder were pillars of the community. They helped establish the city’s Famer’s Market, the Redding Arboretum and the Carter House Natural Science Museum that became part of Turtle Bay. The two men had been in a relationship for fourteen years. At the time of the killings, Matson had a 19-year-old daughter.

The murder of Matson and Mower drove a heightened fear into the LGBTQ community throughout the region. Many declined to speak to reporters after the tragic event because they were afraid of being the next victim. Troy Hawkins, a friend of Matson and Mowder who came out as gay while attending high school in Redding a few years before the murders expressed that he “got called a lot of stuff” and was “picked on a lot,” and that he was saddened and terrified by the killing of his friends.

The Williams brothers attempted to burn down an abortion clinic after fleeing to Sacramento the night after the murders. Shortly thereafter, law enforcement officials discovered they were followers of the Christian Identity Movement, that they were responsible for the distribution of thousands of antisemitic leaflets on Adolf Hitler’s birthday at area high schools and had participated in arson attacks against three Sacramento area synagogues in the months before the murders.

The brothers were homeschooled by a father with extreme religious views. “It was an unusual family,” explained a high school teacher who bought their house in Gridley when they moved to Redding, who continued by stating that “everything they did was about religion” and “they were fanatical about it.”

It wasn’t until 2003, that Tyler Williams was sentenced to 29 years to life for the murders of Matson and Mowder in a plea agreement, this in addition to the 21 years for the arson attempts. His brother, Mathew Williams committed suicide in jail in 2002, after the conviction for the attempted arson but before he was found guilty of murder. Shortly after the murders, the LGBTQ community and its allies mobilized to fight against the vicious hate that led to the killing of Matson and Mowder. Redding and Shasta County also passed a resolution encouraging tolerance and the Matson-Mowder Pride Alliance was formed and helped start an annual event known as the Celebration of Life and Diversity.

In 2006, a garden was founded in Matson and Mowder’s honor under the Diestelhorst Bridge, and in 2009, LGBTQ leaders and their allies in the Redding area founded the NorCal OUTreach Project and held its first pride festival a year later. “Since Gary and Winfield were killed, we’ve had a commitment to civil rights and social justice for gay and lesbian people,” claimed NorCal OUTreach Project board member Don Yost. In spite of the progress achieved since the murder of Matson and Mowder, a strong sense of homophobia is still present in the proposed boundaries of the SOJ.

“We Like Shooting”

While homophobic hate has deep roots in California’s rural and right-wing conservative far north, guns are also part of its DNA. They are certainly used by the vast collection of game hunters in the region; however, as illustrated by the murder of Matson and Mowder, they have also be used to hunt people and intimidate marginalized communities. Guns are a key ingredient used by men to define their sense of masculinity in the Northstate. Men sleep with loaded guns within arm’s reach to protect themselves and family members from imaginary intruders. White male baby boomers in the region grew up watching television shows like Bonanza and “Wild West” movies. Many still look up to the likes of John Wayne, a right-wing homophobe in his own right.

Between 2001 and 2015, Shasta County, at over six thousand and four hundred annually, had the highest annual rates of gun sales per 100,000 inhabitants among all counties in California. San Francisco County’s population of over eight hundred thousand towards the end of this period was eight times the size of Shasta County, yet average annual gun sales in the same period were only one hundred and fifty. Likewise, Shasta County’s population of around one hundred and seventy thousand paled in comparison to Los Angeles County’s four million inhabitants in 2013, yet the former was home to twelve times as many concealed-weapon permits.

“We like shooting,” exclaimed Redding Vice Mayor Patrick Henry Jones in a 2013 interview, “it’s just normal up here.” Jones’s family owned and operated the largest gun shop in the region at the time of the interview, an establishment that sold about two hundred and fifty guns per month. Elected in November of 2020, Jones now represents District 4 as a member of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors. In one of his campaign posters, titled “The 2nd Amendment Matters,” Jones is holding an old rifle which appears as a phallic symbol. Dressed in a tan long coat and a brown cowboy hat, it looks as if he just stepped off the set of the 1966 film “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. The representation of Jones in the poster is a nod to the frontier violence of the past and it speaks to the patriarchal masculinity ever-present in Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. What does this representation of Jones have to do with running for a Shasta County Board of Supervisor seat? Why was this representation of manliness appealing to voters?

Patrick Henry Jones’s 2020 campaign poster

Patrick Henry Jones’s 2020 campaign poster

As the SOJ movement reignited, its supporters boasted about the role guns played in protecting people against criminals. However, “the scenarios in which people protect themselves and their families are fantasies,” claimed Allison Anderman, an attorney working with San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, in a 2016 interview, who continued by stating that concealed handgun carriers are more likely to shoot themselves or others on accident, fail to keep their weapons out of the hands of children, or themselves commit a crime than they are to protect themselves or others. Nevertheless, guns are a key component of toxic masculinity in California’s rural far north and they – like Christianity – are used in ways that directly and indirectly threatens the LGBTQ community.

A Church in the Heart of the State of Jefferson

While Bethel Church is the crown jewel of homophobic Christianity in the proposed boundaries of the SOJ, other religious establishments have followed in its footsteps. In January of 2019, a Lake Shastina Church posted an anti-gay and transgender message on a sign in front of the establishment which read: “Bruce Jenner is still a man, homosexuality is still a sin, the culture may change, the Bible does not.”

Homophobic message on Lake Shastina Church’s roadside sign

Homophobic message on Lake Shastina Church’s roadside sign

 

Justin Hoke, the pastor responsible for the sign, defended his actions and described himself and his community as the victims. “If a conservative mountain farming community is no longer a safe place to call sin, sin, then is anywhere in this country still safe for real Christians?” he asked in one interview. Shortly thereafter, he resigned and took on a position at a Tennessee church. The fact that there was little backlash against the message on the sign by churchgoers, illuminates the fact that Hoke was essentially speaking to the choir in Lake Shastina.

Lake Shastina is a small middle class predominately white and conservative residential community between Yreka and Redding. It is not too far down Interstate 5 from the infamous giant barn that reads “Jefferson State” on its roof. It is located in Siskiyou County, among the twenty out of twenty-one counties in the proposed boundaries of the SOJ that voted in support of Proposition 8 in 2008, a policy that eliminated the rights of same-sax couples to marry.

Although Proposition 8 passed with fifty-two percent of the vote, it was ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court judge in 2010, paving the way for the legalization of gay marriage. Decades before this in the late 1970s, Proposition 6 also found widespread support in California’s rural far north. While it was not passed with a majority of the vote, the proposition would have made it illegal for members of the LGBTQ community to work in the public schools.

Homophobic Hate & Sally Rapoza of the State of Jefferson Movement

The hate for the LGBTQ community that fueled the killing of Matson and Mowder, Bethel Church’s brand of homophobic Christianity, Lake Shastina Church’s sign, and propositions designed to deny equal rights to people is subscribed to be leading members of the SOJ movement. In April of 2021, Sally Rapoza, the director of social media for the SOJ movement – the individual who boasted on Facebook that the SOJ flag was present at the January 6th rally in Washington D.C. – posted a meme with a photograph of Caitlyn Jenner that read “the same people that hate Trump, think this is a woman.”

A slew of hateful homophobic remarks from Rapoza’s friends filled the comment section under the meme. One simply stated “that ‘thing’ is gross” while another expressed “just like they think Michael [sic] Obama is a woman same crowd.” The latter comment shows how some supporters of the SOJ movement subscribe to racist and sexist conspiracies.

Screenshot from Sally Rapoza’s Facebook page that contained a homophobic meme of Jenner]

Screenshot from Sally Rapoza’s Facebook page that contained a homophobic meme of Jenner]

In addition, the homophobic meme of Caitlyn Jenner Rapoza posted on her Facebook page received over fifty “thumbs ups” and “laughing faces.” In March of 2021, Rapoza posted an image that celebrated North Dakota’s House Bill 1298, a bill that, if passed, would have restricted transgender athletes from K-12 sports – after passing the state senate, the bill reached Governor Doug Burgum’s desk on April 15, 2021 and was vetoed. Rapoza, like others on the far-right, have bought into Fox New Channel’s manufactured outrage against transgender athletes. While they claim to care about sports, their sentiments are really part of a broader anti-transgender movement sweeping across the nation.

Comments under Rapoza’s Facebook post on transgender athletes equaled the level of toxicity as those under the meme of Jenner. “The way around this,” commented one of her Facebook friends, “is for Biden to pass an order for no genders on birth certificates…watch that will happen next.” Mike Raffanelli, a self-proclaimed delegate to the Jefferson statehood convention, also commented on Rapoza’s post. “And if you are female,” claimed Raffanelli, “you cannot sew a dildo between your legs and call yourself a male.” Sadly, these are the sort of toxic-minded people attracted to the SOJ movement. Raffanelli’s Facebook profile picture contains a map of the SOJ and its flag. His cover photo contains a Chevrolet truck with two SOJ flags in the back, three SOJ magnets along the side, and two large SOJ posters attached to the bed.

Screenshot from Sally Rapoza’s Facebook page and Raffanelli’s comment as well as the latter’s profile and cover photos

Screenshot from Sally Rapoza’s Facebook page and Raffanelli’s comment as well as the latter’s profile and cover photos

In February of 2021, Rapoza posted a meme of Pete Buttigieg which stated “Hi my name is Pete Buttigieg and I attacked VP Pence over his Christian beliefs about homosexuality, however, I have never attacked Muslims for beheading, imprisoning, hanging, or throwing homosexuals off roofs!”

Outside of the blatant homophobia, the fundamental flaw with this sort of thinking is based in the right-wing desire to associate 1.8 billion Muslims across the world with the acts of a small group of radical extremists, something all too many white Americans have never been willing to do with the acts of white Christian supremacist terrorism. One of Rapoza’s Facebook friends simply responded to the meme of Buttigieg with “dick smoker.” Another expressed that Buttigieg had a mental disorder because he is gay.

Screenshot from Sally Rapoza’s Facebook page of Pete Buttigieg meme

Screenshot from Sally Rapoza’s Facebook page of Pete Buttigieg meme

Rapoza’s homophobic stance, as well as that taken by Facebook friends who comment on the content she posts, illustrates that the SOJ movement is a threat to the LGBTQ community. In a larger sense, the far-right content she posts on her Facebook page makes one wonder about the seriousness of the SOJ movement and whether it even has a detailed platform.

The violent homophobia present in the proposed boundaries of the SOJ and that displayed by leadership in the movement must be rooted out. It is hateful, dangerous, based in toxic notions of gender and sexuality, and those who subscribe to it are on the wrong side of history.

Shawn Schwaller

Shawn Schwaller

Shawn Schwaller grew up in Red Bluff, California. He teaches for the Departments of History and Multicultural and Gender Studies at California State University, Chico, and has a Ph.D. in history. His research interests include the study of race and ethnic relations and identity politics in the contemporary history of California. Shawn can be reached at sschwaller@csuchico.edu

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