The week started off fairly well for Carlos Zapata, the 42-year-old former combat Marine who’s become the figurehead of the movement to recall three Shasta County supervisors for following the state’s recommended COVID-19 precautions during the pandemic.
On Monday, the Redding Police Department released a report that flipped the script on an alleged assault on local comedian Nathan Pickney, whose stage name is Nathan Blaze (or Blayze), a prominent critic of the recall movement, by two Zapata associates on May 4. The police report, which turned out to be riddled with errors, effectively transformed the victim, Blaze, into a villain.
Zapata is co-producer of the “Red, White & Blueprint” docuseries, a 10-episode streaming video product that began promoting the recall of Shasta County supervisors Joe Chimenti, Leonard Moty and Mary Rickert several months ago.
Blaze is a gifted satirist who’s parlayed his costumed resemblance to leftist Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata (Carlos’s first name is Emiliano) into a series of side-splittingly hilarious YouTube videos that poke both fun at and holes in RW&B.
The satirical parodies drew the ire of Zapata, a jujitsu blackbelt with a penchant for making veiled threats on social media and in public places such as the supervisors’ chambers and local restaurants. A month or so ago he threatened to come to the downtown Redding restaurant where Blaze works as a sous chef to show the comedian just how funny he thinks his material is.
Zapata denies making the veiled threat, which was captured for posterity with a screen grab, calling the notion “bullshit.”
All parties agree that Zapata and his wife visited the restaurant on May 4. At some point, Zapata encountered Blaze behind the bar, words were exchanged, and Zapata threw his glass against the wall, dousing Blaze with liquid and shattering the glass.
“I backhanded the glass as if to say get away from me [to Blaze],” Zapata told me. “The video shows that.” The he inexplicably added, “The problem with society today is that a beta can poke an alpha and when the alpha strikes, he is called a bully because he is clearly tougher, stronger etc.”
According to Blaze’s account, after Zapata and his wife were ordered to leave the restaurant, he cleaned himself up and was standing outside the backdoor of the restaurant with a coworker when two of Zapata’s associates, Elizabeth Bailey and Christopher Meagher, allegedly confronted them.
As Blaze attempted to go back inside, Bailey allegedly grabbed him by the shirt while Meagher stepped inside the door and allegedly punched him in the face. In turn, Blaze’s coworker allegedly punched Meagher in the face.
Meagher allegedly picked up a heavy CO-2 bottle and brandished it in a threatening manner. Blaze ran to the office and retrieved his registered handgun from the safe and loaded it. (He told me he purchased the gun for self-defense during the past year, after his political activism began drawing online death threats.) When Blaze learned Meagher and Bailey had left the premises, the gun was unloaded and returned to the safe.
The RPD report released on Monday confirmed some of these details but added new elements to the incident, including a second crime scene and a possibly angered Blaze.
“After Zapata left the restaurant, he was followed by Pinkney (Blaze’s given surname) and a co-worker,” the report states. “The two followed Zapata to another downtown business where a second argument began. Zapata was joined by two acquaintances who were customers at the location [Meagher and Bailey].”
The RPD maintained that this argument eventually carried over into a parking lot near the second business, where the alleged fight broke out. As we shall see, that’s not what happened. With the RPD report having established Blaze as the potential aggressor in the altercation, it proceeds to suggest the comedian was on the verge of committing a murderous shooting rampage.
“After the fight, Pinkney went back to the restaurant where he worked, grabbed a gun, and said he was going to shoot someone, but did not provide a name,” the report said.
“Other employees were able to disarm Pinkney and calm him down.”
Dutifully regurgitated by local mainstream media, RPD’s erroneous report turned Blaze from hero to zero overnight. On social media, recall supporters, including Shasta County Supervisor Les Baugh, piled on the hapless comedian. Even some of Blaze’s supporters were critical. Zapata was ebullient.
“The truth always prevails,” he crowed to KRCR. “I knew I would be vindicated once the video footage was presented. Every so often the good guys still win.”
Perhaps because the truth didn’t prevail, Tuesday was the best news day for the recall movement in some time.
It was not to last. The problem for Zapata and recall supporters? The Redding Police Department got it wrong on both the location and Blaze’s demeanor, as the LA Times pointed out on Wednesday in a major feature story on Shasta County’s rebellious recall movement. From the Times:
“In a Monday press release, Redding police made statements about the bar fight that [Jon] Poletski, the police captain, later confirmed were inaccurate. These include details about where the altercation took place and claims coworkers had to ‘disarm’ Pinkney after he retrieved a legally owned handgun following the assault.”
In other words, Blaze didn’t follow Zapata to a second location where a fight then ensued. RPD Capt. Poletski confirmed the assault took place at the backdoor of the restaurant, as Blaze and other witnesses claim.
Blaze wasn’t so distraught he had to be “disarmed” by coworkers—as stated in the report Poletski signed off on just two days earlier. Now Poletski says a co-worker asked Blaze to hand him the gun after the incident was over, which he readily did.
What accounts for these discrepancies? A call to RPD chief Bill Schueller was not returned. RPD’s response to the LA Times article repeated some of the same errors in the original press release, downplayed the black eye Blaze received during the alleged assault and chalked it all up to “political bluster:”
“An extensive article in the LA Times calls into question many of the findings of a Redding Police investigation into a dispute between the leader of Shasta County Supervisor Recall Campaign and one of his critics. The two primary figures in the conflict are bar owner Carlos Zapata, who has sharply criticized the Shasta County Board of Supervisors and pressed for their recall, and Nathaniel Pinkney, aka “Nathan Blaze,” who has made parody videos in which he impersonates Zapata and ridicules the “Red, White and Blueprint” group.
On May 4, there was some kind of altercation in Downtown Redding that began in the restaurant where Pinkney works, or used to work, and ended in a nearby alleyway or parking lot. Pinkney had his allies and Zapata had his allies but none of the people involved suffered any serious injury. Redding Police Captain Jon Poletski says that’s really as far as it matters to their investigation and the rest is just political bluster. Captain Poletski stresses the press release was not a comprehensive account of the event but merely a brief summary of a minor incident. The police report has been submitted to the District Attorney’s office for further review.”
RPD’s equivocating response did little to quell suspicions by some recall opponents that Zapata has a more-than-cozy relationship with local law enforcement, a belief in part cultivated by Zapata, Cottonwood militia leader Woody Clendenen and others since the Black Lives Matter protests last summer. It’s no secret that jujitsu expert Zapata has trained scores of local law enforcement officers in fighting and self-defense tactics.
“How many RPD officers have you trained?” I asked Zapata on Wednesday after the Times story broke.
“I don’t know how many,” he replied. (That sounds like a lot—or not. You’re never sure with Zapata sometimes.) “Do you feel like I get preferential treatment from cops? I assure you I don’t,” he insisted.
Yet in this week’s LA Time’s story, Zapata implies he does receive preferential treatment, bragging that his relationship with local law enforcement is so strong it’s unlikely any member will serve the temporary restraining order filed by Blaze against him weeks ago.
“There is not a person in this county who is going to serve that fucking thing,” he told the Times.
But Zapata objected when I speculated that someone from RPD might have altered the crime report to his benefit without him knowing it, since he works with so many law enforcement officers.
“[That’s] circumstantial at best,” he replied. “I have trained maybe three RPD officers.” From “I don’t know how many” RPD trainees to just “three.” Zapata aggressively denied planning the attack on Blaze with Bailey and Meagher.
“Premeditated?” he said. “You’d be a fool to believe that.”
He said he goes downtown three nights a week with his wife and on May 4 they just happened to select Blaze’s restaurant.
“I was only with my wife,” he said. “I did not show up there with anyone else or call anyone else to come there. Why the fuck would I do that?”
It’s a reasonable question. It’s entirely possible Zappa’s acquaintances Bailey and Meagher allegedly assaulted Blaze on their own volition.
But it’s hard to believe the tension that Zapata and the recall movement have created in Shasta County by pitting the unmasked against the masked, the unvaccinated against the vaccinated, the irrational against the rational, didn’t help spark the incident.
Zapata told me he believes COVID vaccines are dangerous and he won’t be taking any of them. He has tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies and I asked him how many people he figures he’s infected.
“We will never know,” he replied. “I don’t know how many people have gotten the flu from me either. It’s irrelevant. I stayed home when I was symptomatic. Common sense. I took a pack of Z-Pack [when I was] in Korea though.”
Despite the fact Z-Pack is an antibiotic not recommended for treating viruses, including coronavirus, he called such usage, “responsible.”
From Wednesday on, the week didn’t get much better for Zapata and the recall movement, as it continues to run afoul of the complicated recall election process.
Shasta County Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen notified the movement that its refiled notices of intention to recall supervisors Chimenti, Moty and Rickert have been accepted after discrepancies with signatures were corrected. However, there are now deficiencies with the draft initiatives that must be fixed by May 28. That’s before a single recall signature can be counted.
Right on the heels of that, Shasta Forward, the anti-recall organization headed by supervisors Chimenti, Moty and Rickert, announced the California Fair Political Practices Commission has opened investigations into three organizations involved with the recall: Recall Shasta, the Shasta County General Purpose Committee; and ‘Red, White & Blueprint.’
“At the center of the Recall effort is the so-called ‘Red, White and Blueprint’ project, which has publicly announced raising large sums of campaign finances through illegal campaign events and other solicitation channels,” states a Shasta Forward press release.
“Styled as a documentary and a ‘media company, its explicit purpose has plainly been to advocate the recall of three specific local elected officials, qualifying this project as a primarily formed campaign committee under state election law. As such, all of its donations and sponsorships by local businesses would be subject to the transparency and disclosure requirements of a political campaign.”
“[I’m] Not at all concerned with the FPPC,” Zapata told me. “It [the election code] doesn’t apply to a for-profit business.”
I believed Zapata when he said he wasn’t concerned about the FPPC ruling against his pet project. At the same time, I wasn’t surprised late Thursday night when Zapata messaged me out of the darkness to tell me he was giving up the dream.
“I quit the RWB today,” he said. “Just too much going on.”
“Well damn,” I replied. “Thanks for letting me know.”
Naturally, I shared the news with the Thought You Should Know Facebook group dedicated to exposing the machinations behind the Shasta County recall. The comments started coming quickly, and something Zapata had told me earlier resonated again
“We’re just a bunch of right-wing hillbillies,” he wrote. “What could be so interesting?”
At 5:13 the next morning, Zapata delivered the punchline. Turns out he’s not quitting the RB&W after all. That turned out to be, for lack of a better expression, just another big lie.
“Yeah, I figured since ANC is a platform of lies, I would just feed you one myself,” Zapata informed me.
As the immortal Quint might put it, “Fool me once, Mr. Zapata, shame on you. Fool me twice? Shame on me.”