What a difference five months made. Five months ago, two politically polarized North State men shared whiskey shots together.
Last week there was an assault at a downtown Redding restaurant that involved both men. Within days, one of the men filed a temporary restraining order, while the other is in hiding from being served.
One man is a militia member. The other is a comedian. One guess which of the two earned the restraining order.
When Nathan met Carlos
Back in December, after months of heated exchanges regarding opposing views about everything from a Sprouts Farmers Market protest in which Blaze suggests that Zapata’s behavior amounted to acts of terrorism, to debates about masks and Black Lives Matter, Carlos Zapata and Nathan Blaze had an unexpected drink together and a shared conversation in which they inexplicably found a tiny plot of common ground during one of the most a politically divided times in Shasta County’s history.
Zapata was a Palo Cedro right-leaning militia member/strip-club owner/bull businessman and Red Bluff Palomino Room restaurant owner. He’s also the leader of the Red White and Blueprint group that’s documenting an extremist grassroots effort to gut Shasta County government, recall the majority of supervisors, and replace them with citizens in Zapata’s ideological image.
Nathan Blaze was a Redding left-leaning Black Lives Matter activist who champions for racial equality, who led the June 2020 protest on Cypress Avenue.
His participation in protests in Seattle landed Blaze and Redding friend Marv Ellis and others a spot on the front page of the Seattle Times. Blaze said that he and Ellis helped with the CHOP zone security, and that Blaze piloted a video drone to keep aerial surveillance over the zone.
[May 13 correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that Blaze led the protest in front of the Shasta County Courthouse.]
Blaze is also a sous chef and comedian who’s satirized North State issues since 2015, most recently he’s specialized in mocking Zapata and the Red White and Blueprint in parody videos.
But back in December, both men shared the photo of them at the bar on their Facebook pages. This resulted in expressions of anger, confusion and disappointment by their respective friends and followers who couldn’t understand how either man could tolerate the other, even over a drink. Traitors!
At the time, Blaze (not his real name, nor is Ekil Eb Gnidder – hint, read that name backward – or a few other of the comedian’s other identities, for that matter) explained on Facebook how the photo came to be:
“Some clarification here. I stopped by after work for a drink, didn’t know there would be hella ppl there. Didn’t know Carlos was there. I was in fact the only person wearing a mask until I took it off to drink my drink and take this photo. No our conversations did not start off positively lol, but what matters is that it ended with a mutual respect. Yes, our political views don’t align, but we have more in common than either of us knew. I’m still going to support my side and beliefs and I’m sure he’ll do the same, but we as locals don’t have to be at war because of the games that billionaires are playing.”
Blaze recently recalled more about that initial meeting at the bar. He described how Zapata recognized Blaze from across the room, even with the mask, and that Zapata immediately started acting aggressively.
“He got right in my face; called me a keyboard warrior bitch,” Blaze said. “I didn’t react. He was trying to be dominant, I guess. I told him I wasn’t afraid of him, that there were more than 80 people there, and if he did anything to me, he’d look like an idiot. I said, ‘I’m going to order my drink.’ He bumps me and walks off. I’m standing my ground, and he comes up and stands right next to me, even though there was lots of room around me, and he starts talking more shit. I said, ‘How about you calm down and I buy you a shot? He said, ‘How about I buy you a shot?’ I said, ‘Two Jamesons, and he’s buying.’ He sat down and I sat down. By the end of the conversation he asked if I wanted a job at the Palomino Room. He said, ‘You’re a pretty cool person.’ ”
Pretty cool or not, after that, the two men went their different ways, albeit with more civility than before. Although Blaze didn’t accept Zapata’s offer of a job at the Palomino Room, Blaze said that every so often Zapata and his wife came to restaurant where Blaze worked. Sometimes, if Blaze saw “Carlos” written on an order ticket, he’d make a point to come out from the kitchen to say hi.
Yet as time passed, Zapata’s power, presence and sometimes vitriolic, violent messages about taking over the county picked up speed. Blaze grew increasingly concerned as he continued to track Zapata’s statements and behavior online and on social media. The more Blaze learned of Zapata’s plans, the more uncomfortable Blaze felt.
“At some point, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut,” Blaze said.
So last month Blaze created his first of many video parodies that mocked Zapata and his Red White and Blueprint movement. (Most have been disabled.)
“To him, it probably seemed like the videos were out of the blue,” Blaze said of Zapata. “For me, I’d been stewing about it.”
After Blaze had created a few videos, he texted Zapata and said, “Tell me you at least laughed when you saw my parody.”
But it was soon apparent to Blaze, judging by Zapata’s response, that no, Zapata did not think the parodies were funny. In fact, Zapata countered with the threat that perhaps he’d come by the restaurant where Blaze worked so they could “talk”.
Around that time, before the assault, Zapata posted an Instagram video that seemed pointedly directed at the only “funny” person Blaze could imagine Zapata would be so angry with.
Fast forward to last week when Zapata did exactly as his text to Nathan predicted: Zapata and his wife entered Blaze’s workplace restaurant. At the bar, according to Blaze, Zapata tossed his beverage at Blaze, drenching the sous chef’s face and shirt.
Asked whether it was possible, as Zapata suggested in a news story, that Zapata merely “spilled his drink” and it happened to land upon Blaze, Blaze laughed and said the odds that Zapata would threaten to come in the restaurant, and then follow through, and then drench him with a drink, and then two of Zapata’s companions would accidentally rough him up, was all beyond coincidence.
“There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that that drink just happened to be spilled by Carlos and just happened to spill on me,” Blaze said.
Blaze said that after the “spillage”, Zapata was joined by another man and a woman, and the trio confronted Blaze toward the back of the restaurant. Blaze said the woman grabbed Blaze’s shirt and ripped it, and her male companion hit Blaze in the face with enough force to cause bleeding, swelling and a black eye the next day.
Today marks the one-week anniversary when Blaze posted a video on Facebook that described how he was assaulted at work by Zapata and a couple.
Much has happened since then. Blaze said he’s now unemployed, as his employer let him go a few days after the assault.
Even so, to hear Blaze tell it, he’s not angry at his employer for letting him go. In fact, he understands what he imagines might be his employers’ take on the situation: Blaze is a potential liability as long as he is a comedian who attracts the rage and violence of the subjects of Blaze’s parodies; people like Zapata, who are renowned for their threats and short fuses. What’s more, Blaze has protected his employer by not publishing the name of the restaurant or its owner.
“The owners of the restaurant didn’t want this, or ask for what happened,” Blaze said of the assault. “Whether they fired me for liability or whatever, I worked there for a long time, and they are good people with good families. I want the focus to stay where it needs to be: Carlos and the Red White and Blueprint, and what they’re trying to do to this community.”
For the record, Blaze thinks Zapata and his Red White and Blueprint organization are a destructive force in the North State.
Blaze emphasized that he likes his former employer, and said that he saw his colleagues as family.
Even so, Zapata and his militia buddy Woody Clendenen boast on social media that they’ve been in contact with the restaurant owner, who is said to have told Zapata that he’s seen the restaurant’s surveillance videos, and the films not only clear Zapata, but the videos are the reason Blaze’s employer fired him.
I reached out to the restaurant owner to confirm Zapata’s story, but the restaurant owner declined to comment at this time.
“All this will come out soon and the truth will be told,” he said.
Bullies gonna bully
The restaurant’s surveillance footage hasn’t been made public yet, so only Zapata, Blaze and the witnesses know exactly what happened one week ago at the downtown Redding restaurant. But we know some things for certain.
We know that Blaze and Zapata were both interviewed by KRCR TV and the Record Searchlight, and that while Blaze’s story is consistent, Zapata’s was not. Note these few discrepancies:
Record Searchlight story: “Nathan Blaze said Carlos Zapata — co-founder of the Red, White and Blueprint group and one of the faces of the recall effort — showed up Tuesday night at the restaurant where Blaze works as a chef and for no reason threw his drink at Blaze. Blaze declined to name the restaurant. Zapata acknowledged he threw the drink and said it was because he was provoked …
… Blaze said Zapata came to the restaurant around 9:30 p.m. and sat at the bar. Blaze came out to the bar and saw Zapata, who he said was staring at him. Zapata then threw his drink at Blaze and got him wet.
“I told him, ‘You need to get out,’” Blaze said, adding that he told Zapata he can’t show up at his business and throw a drink at him just because they don’t agree politically. But Zapata said he was provoked. He said he was trying to have dinner with his wife, and Blaze wouldn’t leave them alone and got too close to them.
“So, I took my drink and splashed it on him,” Zapata said. “My wife and I left the restaurant and apparently he had an altercation with somebody else who I don’t know.”
Here’s something bizarre about that last part. According to sources, at least one of the assailants is a Palomino Room employee.
Back to the media interviews, which Zapata is now blasting as companies bought out by liberals years ago.
KRCR TV: “Zapata wasn’t available to go on camera, Mike Mangas spoke with him on the phone. He said he splashed a drink on Blaze when he knocked a glass, but this whole thing is an overblown, minor incident. Zapata said of Blaze, “He’s an instigator and agitator. He makes it a hobby to instigate. We asked him to stop. This is being blown out of proportion by a person with an agenda.”
Compare those comments to the posts Zapata created about Blaze after the assault. Zapata protests too much.
We know that Zapata has a history of making threats, and that he’s known to make a scene while belittling someone, such as he did recently at a Palo Cedro restaurant when he came unhinged, slammed his hand on the table and got in a woman’s face as she ate dinner with her husband. Later, he posted a message on Facebook that seemed to justify his angry outburst.
We know Zapata has a cozy relationship with North State law enforcement, especially the Shasta County Sheriff. Likewise, we know we have a sheriff who refuses to enforce COVID mandates, or, for that matter, when was directed by the board chair to ask the protesters in the lobby to please keep the noise down so supervisors could continue county business, instead Sheriff Eric Magrini popped his head out the lobby doors and had a brief conversation with Recall Shasta chair Elissa McEuen, including his whisper, “I’ll call you later.”
At the time, inside the chambers high on the dais, Chair Rickert was none the wiser that Magrini hadn’t said a peep about piping down, as she’d requested.
We know that Zapata and his former jujitsu business partner, Nathan Mendes, used to train law enforcement in martial arts, and that Clendenen boasted during a recent speaking engagement that federal agents work out with Zapata.
Finally, we know that one graphic piece of evidence that demonstrated the positive link between Zapata and law enforcement happened just last month when the pair of on-duty sheriff deputies assigned to the board chambers were seen hugging Zapata, the same morning supervisors were served with intent to recall papers.
We know that when Zapata and his followers gleefully suggest he stops by for a visit to an critic’s business, or a journalist’s home, for example, the intent is not for a pleasant social call, but to intimidate and instill fear.
Likewise, we know that when Zapata asked for his followers to pick up a suspect who’d been released from jail, Zapata’ words carried a sinister element.
We know that Zapata’s speech is liberally peppered with violent phrases.
We know that Zapata and his followers have an obsession with learning as much as possible about anyone who speaks critically about Zapata and his RW&B project. He seeks information about who they are, where they live, and what they do.
Temporary restraining order, meet Carlos Zapata, if you can find him …
In all his years of creating and posting satires and parodies, Blaze has been ridiculed, punched, and is accustomed to invitations to fight (he usually provides the Shasta County Jail address), and even death threats. That explains why he doesn’t use his real name as a comedian. Despite the fact that satire is protected speech, some public figures like Zapata don’t understand this fact, and take it upon themselves to seek, punish, threaten and silence their critics.
In the KRCR story, Blaze explained why he used satire to battle Zapata and the Red White and Blueprint movement. Blaze said making people laugh is the best way he knew to deal with the recall attempt.
“I’m going to use humor to counter it because it needs to be countered, because this is a problem,” Blaze said. “I don’t think they should be able to bully three of our supervisors into quitting.”
Zapata, for his part, characterized Blaze as a menace.
“So you have a derelict who goes around terrorizing businesses, trying to shut people down,” Zapata said about Blaze in one of his driving video selfies.
“And then he cries when somebody gets assertive with him. So, welcome to the world folks. This world is big, bad, and mean. It’s also beautiful if you stay on the right side of things, but if you make a hobby out of terrorizing people, out of bullying people online, then guess what? What you get is what you deserve.”
Gets assertive with him?
What you get is what you deserve?
Was Zapata still speaking of an accidentally spilled beverage; a story that was blown out of proportion?
No wonder Blaze filed for a restraining order. But my hunch is the primary factors were the fact that Zapata showed up at Blaze’s workplace, then threw a beverage at him, and, adding injury to insult, brought along reinforcements to do Zapata’s bidding, gangster style.
One particularly interesting detail about the restraining order is it would require Zapata to relinquish his firearms. Knowing what a close relationship Zapata has with his love of the Second Amendment, this might prove especially vexing for Zapata.
There are potential problems in attempting to serve Zapata a restraining order. First, there are law enforcement who claim a conflict of interest, so they won’t serve him the packet. Second, Zapata knows he’s being targeted to receive a restraining order, so he’ll be on high alert, and will most likely avoid public places, such as the Board of Supervisors meeting today. This fact produced a humorous development when Carlos made an 11th-hour pitch yesterday that there was no need for anyone to attend the meetings any longer.
I guess if Carlos can’t go and be the center of attention, he doesn’t want anyone to attend, either. And what a laugh that Zapata acts as if he cares about spectacles. The guy’s a walking, talking spectacle, and his August 2020 comments to the supervisors was the biggest spectacle of all; an event that further inflated his ego, and propelled him as a super star into the social-media stratosphere.
Consequences, Carlos, consequences. While the rest of us are inside the chambers, you’ll be peeking through the curtains of your ranchette, wondering when and where someone will serve you. A neighbor? Someone in retail? A former friend, now enlightened? And here’s a fun fact about the guns: You’d be guilty of a crime if you failed to relinquish all your guns. Plus, added bonus: It would be a felony if you bought more guns while you were a prohibited person.
Maybe the server will be Marv Ellis, one of Blaze’s friends who happily volunteered to hand deliver Zapata’s restraining order packet. Yesterday Ellis waited outside the Red White and Blueprint recording studio for more than two hours, waiting for Zapata to exit. One by one, out came everyone from the group, except Zapata. He must have slipped out the back, Jack.
In fact, one of the members of the group pointed to a white truck driving away, and said there Carlos goes now.
While Ellis waited, Cottonwood militia leader/barber Clendenen came outside and said that Ellis was harassing their business, and Clendenen threatened to call the police. Ellis replied that he had a right to be there. A short while later a police car did show up, but the response delighted Ellis.
“The police came, were aware of the situation, and told me I had every right to be there as long as I wasn’t trying to be rude or a problem, Ellis said. “I informed the officer of my name, and let him know I gave them plenty of space and only spoke when spoken to. The policeman smiled and fist bumped me and told me to have a nice day.”
The officer never even left his vehicle, but drove away without incident. Smiles? Fist bumps? Maybe there’s hope after all that not all North State law enforcement are in Zapata’s back pocket.
Meanwhile, other North Stage comedians are picking up the torch in support of Blaze.
And a fund has been created to assist Blaze during his unemployment, and to help cover unexpected bills related to the assault. Blaze said he’s touched by the support, though it’s difficult to accept help. He said he’s had some job leads at other restaurants, but he’s worried that his private life as a comedian will put any new employers in a compromising situation.
Last night Blaze created one more video that explained how he felt about the week’s events, and his plans to attend the Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting today.
In the end, let’s hope that humor and intellect will win the day, and maybe Zapata and friends will finally get the message that bullies never prosper. Perhaps then they’ll gather their ponies and ride off into the sunset. Never to return. The best blueprint ever.