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Red, White & Blueprint Episode 2: Army of Darkness

I have an on-and-off relationship with Carlos Zapata, founder of Red, White and Blueprint, the production company that’s making a documentary series of the effort to recall three Republicans from the Shasta County Board of Supervisors for following COVID-19 health guidelines.

Mostly the relationship is on, until I make a smart-aleck remark about Zapata or the recall movement on social media, and he lets me know I crossed the line. His responses over the past several months have softened from veiled threats to complaints that I’m being unfair, like this post from earlier this week:

“Why do you talk so much shit about us on these threads?” Zapata asked me on Facebook Messenger.

I didn’t pause a second before pounding back an answer because I know it in my heart. It doesn’t have anything to do with partisan politics.

“I am personally opposed to your cause because it’s dangerous to the people I love the most in this world, my parents, who didn’t retire here for this kinda crap,” I wrote. “It’s that simple to me. I need to overcome that bias, granted. I’ll try harder in the future.”

I’ve asked Zapata several times how the county’s response to the pandemic has hurt him, and he always claims he hasn’t been injured in the slightest. So, I don’t know if his reply to me was from his own experience or from another member of the recall movement.

“Have you ever had children were depressed because they are not in school?” he wrote. “Have you ever had to console your son or daughter because they are not able to play sports their senior year in high school?”

I haven’t had those experiences, but I did stop substitute teaching last year, a job I really loved, because I have several COVID comorbidities and I’m not willing to risk my life for a paycheck. I’m working from home until the coronavirus coast is clear.

“If our message is so inherently dangerous, how come so many people are following what we are doing?” Zapata added. “Do you not think that people want to stay safe and stay alive?”

The answers to those questions are first, we have no idea how many people support the recall effort, and second, I believe some people have politicized the coronavirus to the point that they deny the science that keeps us safe and alive.

At any rate, the dialog above indicates constructive discourse between recall proponents and opponents is at least theoretically possible in the future. You’ll find no such hope in the recently released Episode 2 of “Red, White & Blueprint: A House of Cards.”

Like its predecessor, “A House of Cards” opens up with stark overhead drone images of Lake Shasta and Redding on an unusually overcast day. First-time directors Eli Kay and Benjamin Thompson have created a gloomy hellhole of a town, devoid of people, as if a neutron bomb had gone off, to star in the 10-episode docuseries.

Elissa Mceuen, chair of Recall Shasta

Elissa McEuen, chair of Recall Shasta

As violins cry softly in the background, Elissa McEuen, chair of Recall Shasta, explains how just a year ago, she was a stay-at-home mom with no background in politics leading a rally of 15 people and now by golly she’s leading the county recall.

“So what does that tell you?” she asks.

Well, what that tells me is next time you file to recall three supervisors at a potential cost to the county of $1.2 million, you might want to consult someone with a background in politics, or your petitions will be terminated for something silly, like forgetting to include the required signatures, as happened to Recall Shasta last week.

McEuen speaks of “the revival of responsible citizenship” and trading “political apathy” for “love for republic,” language sure to please the evangelicals in the audience, some of whom may feel left out by the relative lack of any prominent religious presence in RBW episodes 1 & 2.

“Let’s choose hard work,” she says. “Let’s clean house.”

Sounds like “love for republic” to me.

We wouldn’t be talking Patriots with a capital P without the obligatory all caps quote from a founder taken out of context, hanging over the doomed city of Redding like a scythe, this time from Thomas Jefferson:

“Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”

McEuen will demonstrate later in the episode that she’s probably not what Jefferson had in mind when he wrote about a well-informed public. But first, via a cacophonous segue featuring multiple musical genres, we’re transported to Zapata’s ranchette in Palo Cedro where a small rodeo was held in March.

As a dozen western-clad teenagers salute the flag in the middle of the pen, presumably waiting for the national anthem to play. A disembodied voice, perhaps added later, booms out the RBW credo, defending the flag and the freedom it represents. Here’s a sample:

“It’s your duty to protect it. If somebody stomps on it, well, you put ‘em in their place and if somebody tries to take it away from us, well you build the red, white and blueprint! It’s not for what you need, it’s for what you want. Don’t let ‘em tell you what to do. Don’t let ‘em take it.”

Next, we spend a few meaningless minutes fishing with some retired dude who wasn’t affected by the pandemic but supports the recall anyway and then we’re introduced to the monstrous elephant in the room, the anti-government secessionist movement known as State of Jefferson, in this case represented by SOJ leader and chief swag officer Terry Rapoza.

Scene from the docuseries.

Scene from the docuseries.

Let’s pretend Shasta County is an army, Rapoza suggests, and lucky for us he brought his army men to play with at school today. This is apparently how Rapoza views the situation on the ground in Shasta County: We the people, the electorate, choose our generals, i.e. supervisors. The supervisors choose department heads for Health and Human Services, Probation, Resource Management, etc. The department heads in turn hire employees, blah, blah, blah.

It gets worse. The shiny tan and green army men, stand-ins for the citizens of Shasta County, are photographed up close with a macro lens, appear to be sweating and are about to go to metaphorical war with one another. That’s what happens when supervisors or department heads make decisions Rapoza & Co. don’t like. The shooting starts, with animated sparks firing from the guns as the two sides, the SOJ v. the civilized Shasta County, face off. Department heads and employees of the aforementioned agencies, who somehow aren’t part of the electorate in filmmakers’ minds, are to be liquidated.

Considering the violent rhetoric generated by the recall movement since its inception, including this army-man bit in the episode, is grotesque trolling of the lowest denominator, and further evidence why no one from the State of Jefferson will ever hold elected office in Shasta County.

Perhaps I’d be less harsh if anyone involved with the RBW project did a little bit of research and fact-checking. That’s what Jefferson meant by a well-informed public. For example, I’ve heard recall movement supporters such as Patrick Jones, McEuen and others repeat, over and over, that the Shasta County Health & Human Services Agency received $18 million in CARES funding in 2020. McEuen repeats it again here.

It’s incorrect. According to the latest data from Shasta County, the county received $18.1 million in CARES funding in 2020; HHSA received $9.4 million of that, 41 percent of which went into operations and containment—testing and contact tracing—to combat the coronavirus.

Jones is fond of saying government expanded during the pandemic. No kidding. That’s the appropriate response to a pandemic.

In the episode, Jones says off-camera he has a gut feeling longtime Shasta County Auditor-Controller Brian Muir, 77, has retired because of some alleged wrongdoing the recall will dig up by this fall. For the record, Muir said he planned to retire in January, but stayed on to help with the county’s COVID response.

After flirting with the State of Jefferson, it appears the recall movement is heading straight to Jonestown. During his previous term on the Redding City Council, Jones was infamously opposed to public employee unions and the good wages and retirement benefits they provide. Insiders say Jones feels the same way about the public safety unions. Is draining the swamp such a great idea when the economy is still recovering and 18.5 percent of the jobs in Shasta County are provided by the government?

Could Shasta County be bent to the will of one exceedingly rich man?

Reverge Anselmo.

Could Shasta County be bent to the will of one exceedingly rich man?

The answer is apparently yes, as the climax of “A House of Cards” features the return of Reverge Anselmo to Shasta County. I’ve read few local stories about the former Shingletown rancher, vintner and restaurateur that mention how insanely rich Anselmo is. Most of his wealth was inherited from a driven father who established the first private satellite television network in the 1980s. The company was sold for $3 billion after his father’s death. You can read more about this incredible story here.

Now back home in Connecticut, Anselmo has never been able to fill the shoes of his father, and many of his attempts to strike out on his own, including a poorly received autobiographical novel and Hollywood feature film as well as his attempt to become a feudal lord in Shasta County, have fizzled out. He left Shasta County having lost his attempt to circumvent environmental regulations on his properties.

It’s not hard to imagine Reverge seeking revenge.

Anselmo swooped into town last year to gift Jones’s supervisorial campaign with $100,000, three times more than usually raised for a supervisor’s race. The gambit paid off, although Carlos Zapata doesn’t necessarily share my point of view.

“No, I’m sincerely trying to understand. How do you buy a seat?” he asked me on Facebook Messenger.

“The going price is $100 K,” I said. “It’s just a matter of stuffing enough mailboxes with misleading fliers, saturate local tv and radio with the same.”

“Cool,” he said.

I wish I was kidding.

R.V. Scheide

R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas. He can be emailed at RVScheide@anewscafe.com.

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