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Homeschool Hucksters & Anti-Vaxxers Converge on Redding Riverfront Park for School Walkout Rally

On Mon., Oct. 18, during the statewide school walkouts to protest the vaccine mandates for all public school teachers and staff, a few hundred protesters converged upon the Riverfront Park in Redding to air their grievances.

According to state mandates, teachers and staff were required to be vaccinated as of October 15, or choose to test once a week, while students 12-years-old and older, may be required to be vaccinated as early as January 2022.

Many who attended and spoke at the rally were also involved in the now-fledgling far-right movement that attempted to recall three Shasta County Board of Supervisors: Joe Chimenti of District 1, Leonard Moty of District 2, and Mary Rickert of District 3.

Among the series of speakers who took to the stage, several operate their own homeschool cooperatives in the Redding area, and they showed up at the rally to pitch their version of the anti-vaccination-laced alternative to the California dream. This, as Jon Knight, a Red, White, and Blueprint producer, recorded everything with his cell phone at the foot of the stage.

District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones and Congressman Doug LaMalfa also took to the stage. Later in the day, as the ignorant statements he uttered at the rally went viral on Twitter, LaMalfa visited the Mountain Top Media studio as a guest on a Red, White, and Blueprint podcast.

Ryan Spitz & the California Adventure Academy

Ryan Spitz, the CEO of the California Adventure Academy, a K-12 homeschool cooperative with two locations in the Redding area, spoke at the rally. One of their current locations is a space they rent at Twin View Church in Redding. According to the California Adventure Academy website, the homeschool collaborative is launching a new 15-acre campus in Shasta County in the fall of 2022, as well as three  new campuses across the United States.

In addition to a one-time fee of $225, enrollment at the California Adventure Academy ranges from $550 to $750 per month for the half-day and full-day programs.

Spitz stated at the rally that he started the California Adventure Academy as a protest against Covid-19 safety mandates. He also claimed that children were under attack by the school system, and he encouraged the crowd to think about homeschooling and other educational options, especially as “teacher are holding their ground and losing their jobs.”

“But guess what?” asked Spitz. “There’s a whole bunch of badass tutors that you now can hire as a homeschool family.”

The crowd cheered.

“It is time to burn our ships,” Spitz said, who added, “We’re ready for the battle [and] we’re choosing kindness and love,” but “don’t be fooled because there’s a lot more behind that if you show up at our door.”

Aaron Hayes, the executive of California Adventure Academy, joined Spitz on the stage. He holds a Master’s Degree in education from Simpson University.

The number of Simpson University degrees among those who own or are teaching at the homeschool cooperatives is astounding.

Top: Ryan Spitz in California Adventure Academy video; Bottom: Spitz & Aaron Hayes on stage at the Riverfront school walkout rally.

Melody Fowler & Roots Farm

Recall Shasta supporter Melody Fowler, who, like Hayes, graduated from Simpson University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies and a teaching credential, took the stage not long after Spitz and Hayes. The obtainment of a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies at Simpson University can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time than at other institutions of higher education, such as California State University, Chico.

Fowler taught in the Enterprise Elementary School District for 15 years, until she resigned in August.

Fowler claimed last year was the worst year of her career, and that she quit teaching because she did not want to enforce masks and because she “wanted my students to breathe.” She also claimed in a manner that could elicit a zany face emoji that “I’m a living testament to what God has done – when you hitch your wagon to him, he has done amazing things.”

Fowler’s example of God’s greatness was the success she and her husband have experienced with Roots Farm, their homeschool business. Based in Palo Cedro, Roots Farm’s philosophy is: “I am a child of God; I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me; I ought to do my duty to God and others; I will choose what is right.”

In addition to a $250 registration fee, Roots Farm enrollment costs range from $1,200.00 to $5,500.00 depending on the 10-month program selected.

According to the Roots Farm website, Fowler “finds it essential to teach the next generation to revere and protect the rich inheritance of liberty they have been gifted.” As illustrated by posts on Facebook, part of this “rich inheritance of liberty” Fowler is protecting includes the right to call employees of restaurants who enforce mask requirements “Nazis.”

Left: Melody Fowler on stage at the Riverfront school walkout rally; Right: Photograph of Fowler on Roots Farm website.

I Just Wanted to Order a Teriyaki Bowl”

“Had my first run in with a mask Nazi and Nui Hawaiian BBQ,” wrote Fowler in a recent Facebook post.

“I just wanted to order a teriyaki bowl and the boy refused to serve me because I would not accept a mask,” she continued.

Fowler then wrote, “I told him he was being discriminative” and that she was going to share with everyone that they “aren’t face-friendly.”

Cue the zany face emoji.

Co-owner of Roots Farm, Chad Fowler also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies from Simpson University.

Melody Fowler calls employee at Nui Hawaiian BBQ a Nazi.

Meanwhile, in Red Bluff

The comparison made on the far right between mask mandates and vaccines and Nazi Germany and the Jewish Holocaust is one of the most ignorant and insensitive, and also wholly inaccurate, popular ideas among the far-right today.

So-called educators like Melody Fowler should know better.

The idea that one is having to deal with “Nazis” because they could not purchase a teriyaki bowl without being required to wear a mask warrants a hard look in the mirror.

Stacy Pearce, a teacher at Berrendos Middle School in Red Bluff, attended a school walkout rally in front of the Tehama County Clerk of the Board building. Pearce, who wore a large yellow Star of David pinned to her shirt, was filmed by KRCR News as she explained how her anti-vaccination compared to being a Jewish person in Nazi Germany.

Anwar Stetson of KRCR reported on Pearce in a matter-of-fact manner. This was refreshing considering the recent coverage of anti-vaxxers by some employees who work for KRCR, a Sinclair Broadcast Group-owned news outlet.

For example, a few days before the school walkout and rally in Redding, Alexandria Williams of KRCR News hugged an anti-vaxxer who was crying about “losing her freedom” – and told  the woman she was “very strong” at a “freedom rally” protest on the corner of Hilltop Drive and Dana Drive during Williams’ live Facebook report.

During Williams’ Facebook live video, she reported the news in a highly positive manner without questioning, in a critical, objective manner, the context or content displayed upon protesters’ posters.

Berrendos Teacher Goes Viral on TikTok

Stacy Pearce shared a video of herself wearing the same Star of David flag in a recent TikTok video. The video has since been removed, but not before a portion of it was captured by another TikTok user and shared far and wide.

The TikTok user who shared a clip from Pearce’s post also shared where Pearce worked, and encouraged viewers to report her to Berrendos Middle School. The video has more than 37,000 views, more than 2,700 comments, and has been shared more than 935 times.

Pearce has subsequently made nearly all of the photographs on her Facebook page private, including the picture of her standing next to her husband Kevin behind a Ford F-150 flying a giant Trump 2020 flag in front of the Tractor Supply Co. on South Main Street.

The superintendent of the Antelope Elementary School District is aware of Pearce’s activities and the matter is being investigated.

Top Left: Stacy Pearce at Red Bluff protest; Bottom Left: State of Jefferson sweatshirt & truck with Confederate flag with the word “redneck” at Red Bluff protest; Right: Image of Pearce’s viral TikTok video.

Local Anti-Vax Movement Makes Fox News

On the same day of the school walkout rally in Redding, and as Stacy Pearce went viral, three anti-vaxxer supporters of the recall movement in Shasta County appeared on Fox News.

One of the individuals was Enterprise High School teacher Martin Reid. Reid became popular after he recently published a public letter filled with misinformation that criticized the vaccine mandates. It was shared by Bill Johnson, the leader of Bethel Church, on social media.

Johnson and his family, who have hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram alone, have taken to social media to support the movement against the state’s vaccine and safety mandates.

Reid, who said he was placed on administrate leave for not receiving the vaccine, and for refusing to be tested, claimed that parents “did not want to give their child the shot for whatever reason” and “they don’t see a point in taking the shot.”

Reid also said that as someone who teaches critical thinking, “I can’t stand by and act like this is logical.”

Despite the fact that Reid teaches critical thinking, he provided little evidence to support his claims.

Reid appeared on Fox with his wife Crista Reid and Katie Gorman, a kindergarten teacher at Buckeye School of the Arts.

Martin Reid, Crista Reid, & Katie Gorman appeared on Fox News.

When asked how requiring the vaccine is impacting children, Christa Reid replied that she did not have an answer because it was a medical question. She also claimed that the vaccine was bad because it allows “medical strangers” to join parents when they visit the doctor who should not have the power to force the vaccine on said children.

Reid did not answer the question very well, either. Like Martin, she did not cite any evidence. Both of their responses were perfectly suited for the low bar on Fox News when it comes to facts.

After Reid stumbled through her response, Gorman chimed in to claim she was proud of the parents who pulled their students out of school and proud the faculty and staff who walked out. She and her husband Arthur Gorman, who is a nurse at Mercy Medical Center, were also among those also spoke at the Redding Riverfront Park rally.

Top: Authur and Katie Gorman at recent “medical freedom” rally in Redding; Bottom: Arthur posing with District 5 Shasta County Board of Supervisor Les Baugh at the same rally.

The Gormans have claimed on several occasions that they both contracted Covid-19 more than once, and that Arthur was on a ventilator for five months. Upon being contacted for this article, Arthur Gorman, despite the fact that Katie served as the emcee at the Monday rally, would not say who organized the event.

At the end of the Fox News interview, Reid explained that he did not know what was in store for his future, but also that God would provide for his family.

Supervisor Patrick Jones & Congressman Doug LaMalfa

As it approached noon at the school walkout rally, District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones took the stage to introduce Congressman Doug LaMalfa. Before introducing LaMalfa, Jones said that “this started last March” when small businesses “were shut down and people lost their jobs and a lot of people in Redding were threatened.”

“It hit the health care workers and now it’s hitting our educators and our children,” continued Jones, who was, of course, referring to Covid-19 mandates and the vaccine, as opposed to the deadly contagious disease itself.

Among other things, Jones spoke about the unofficial public meeting he hosted in the board chamber in August after partaking in a protest march through downtown Redding. The regular scheduled meeting was canceled because three supervisors were unable to attend for a variety of medical-related reasons, but Jones, a big supporter of recalling three of his colleagues, opened the doors and breeched the chambers nonetheless.

Congressman Doug LaMalfa and District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones on stage at the Riverfront school walkout rally.

Supervisor Jones: “I opened the building”

“I opened that building and allowed people to speak because that’s your building and we will be heard,” Jones said in reference to the breaching of the board chambers.

The building was locked because the meeting was canceled, but Jones, opened it, flipped on the lights, and turned on the microphones so his far-right followers could spout Covid-19 misinformation and hate for more than two hours after marching through town.

Carlos Zapata showed up to the unofficial meeting in the chamber and catapulted himself into a heated attack on A News Café journalist and owner Doni Chamberlain. He is good at showing up and belting out fanatical rants when the time is right for his imagined revolutionary fervor, but he was nowhere to be seen at the Riverfront Park rally.

Zapata has been laying low of late, especially after being found guilty for disturbing the peace while fighting for his role in the attack on local comedian Nathan Pinkney. His sentencing is pending.

However, Zapata did host LaMalfa – along with Zapata’s co-hosts Woody Clendenen, Jon Knight, and Lani Bangay – later that night on a live Red, White, and Blueprint podcast. In that podcast, Zapata stated that the only answer for rural Northern California now is to form the State of Jefferson – a belief that shows a change in his perspectives, just as the wheels are falling off the Recall Shasta movement.

Congressman Doug LaMalfa Takes the Stage

After claiming that he would open the board chamber again if he needed to, and encouraging everyone in the crowd to attend the Board of Supervisor meeting the following day, Jones introduced LaMalfa.

LaMalfa took the stage with his signature cowboy boots, jeans, tucked-in button-up shirt, blazer, and baseball cap; his typical attire when meeting with “the people” here in the North State.

The Congressman claimed that he and his wife homeschooled their four kids and that “the line in the sand for us, on our last two that are still in high school is no vax is gonna be forced on my kid.”

The crowd cheered and applauded.

A video of Jones’ introduction of LaMalfa, as well as the latter’s mention about how a vaccine would not be forced on his children, was shared on Twitter by Ron Filipkowski, a Florida federal judge who resigned from his post because of the actions of Governor Ron DeSantis.

Filipkowski’s retweet went viral, garnering more than 27,000 views, more than 500 likes, more than 260 comments, and nearly 200 retweets.

Filipkowski is the same individual who recently retweeted Carlos Zapata’s anger-filled threat of revolution at a 2020 Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting. Although he was late to the ballgame, his retweet of Zapata’s tirade went viral.

LaMalfa also spoke out against so-called “vaccine passports” and claimed that “it’s the government that’s not complying” because of its supposedly unconstitutional actions.

LaMalfa riled the crowd, but he spoke for less than three minutes.

LaMalfa essentially made the same comments as he did at the rally later that evening on the Red, White, and Blueprint podcast.

Congressman Doug LaMalfa joins Red, White, and Blueprint team during podcast.

Lani Bangay & Country Strong Learning Center

Lani Bangay also spoke at the rally held at the Riverfront Park. He is a Red, White and Blueprint cast member and appears frequently on the media company’s podcasts. He is also co-owner, with his wife Karina Bangay, of Country Strong Learning Center, a homeschool cooperative in Palo Cedro.

As the so-called citizen journalist Lori Bridgeford shuffled around snapping photographs at the rally, Bangay encouraged the crowd to get out of their comfort zone.

He called on people to be “anti-tyranny” just like the Founding Fathers. His speech, like that of other rally speakers, was fairly short.

Bangay also spoke about the public-school system in a recent Red, White, and Blueprint podcast. Among his opinions about public school were, “The schools try to bubble-wrap every kid all day,” and “It’s hard to then reverse that when you get home to tell them you’re ok, you’re safe, God’s got your back.”

Bangay then argued it was wrong for teachers to protect students and not let them say certain things, or wrestle with their friends, or hug.

The Bangays are ardent Bethel Church followers, and they regularly share content posted by its senior associate leader Kris Vallotton on social media.

Top Left: Lani Bangay poses for a picture at Riverfront Park rally; Top Right: Country Strong Learning Center logo; Bottom: Lori Bridgeford prepares to snap a photograph of Bangay on stage.

Country Strong’s “Staff of Patriots”

Littered with photographs of children running around carrying American flags, Country Strong’s webpage appears as a kid’s version of Red, White, and Blueprint.

In one photograph, a little boy flexes his right arm and frowns. Will he appear someday in a Red, White, and Blueprint podcast to discuss how important it is for boys to get into fights as they grow up, like Carlos Zapata and others have said on many occasions?

The Country Strong webpage claims to teach children “the morals, values and ethics that founded our great nation,” and refers to its teachers as a “staff of patriots.”

In a recent video on Instagram, Meredith Feamster, a Country Strong instructor, described the history course she was planning to teach.

“The first couple of lessons we’re going to go over is really the basics,” explained Feamster, who continued by stating that children who attend the Country Strong institution need to “unlearn” the “skewed concepts” they have been taught in the public schools.

Feamster, who was incredibly vague in her explanation, said that one of the first lessons would study the difference between truth and opinion, and that the second lesson examines freedom. She claimed to want to teach kids to learn about the Founding Fathers and be proud of their country.

Feamster, who also attended the rally at Riverfront Park, previously worked as an instructional assistant in the Millville Elementary School District.

Top Right: Meredith Feamster at the Riverfront Park rally; Top Right: Feamster describing history curriculum on Country Strong Learning Center’s Instagram page; Bottom: Feamster bio on Country Strong Learning Center webpage

Similar to the other homeschool cooperatives, Country Strong Learning Center may indeed be exploiting a loophole in California by teaching their own curriculum without filing their own Private School Affidavit with the Department of Education.

When asked if a private affidavit was filed to operate Country Strong, Karina Bangay, speaking on behalf of the institution, replied, “We are not a school” and, “We only facilitate onsite help for homeschool families who have filed their own affidavit.”

A staff member with the California Adventure Academy offered a similar explanation. 

Despite Bangay’s claim that his educational institution is not a school, individuals who work there are referred to, at least in some places online, as “teachers” and the Country Strong Facebook and Instagram accounts are littered with photographs of their employees teaching children science and other subjects.

Top: Country Strong Learning Center post on Facebook claiming that the school has “great teacher child ratios;” Bottom: Claim on Facebook that “there are teachers in charge of the program” at Country Strong Learning Center.

Top: Country Strong Learning Center post on Facebook regarding “what we will teach at the learning center;” Bottom: Claim on Facebook that “we teach the morals and values that founded our great nation.”

Country Strong Learning Center teacher looks through microscope with children.

The Other Side

Some teachers who did not attend the school walkout rally and who do support Covid-19 vaccines and safety measures shared their perspectives with A News Café, but they requested to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal.

One teacher described the environment at the school they work at as “toxic” and explained in reference to the day of the walkouts: “Today was great because the anti-mask/vaccine teachers were off campus.”

The same teacher also said they were told by anti-vaccine colleagues that if they came to work after the vaccine deadline passed, they were “Un-American.”

“We have teachers who refuse to wear a mask or implement the mask rules in their classrooms,”  the teacher said.

“This walkout today had NOTHING to do with kids,” the teacher said. “It was about teachers not wanting to get a shot or be tested.”

Another credentialed and certified non-teaching staff member who works at Foothill High School – a rural school with a very low teacher and staff vaccine rate – complained about having to take up extra work as a substitute for their colleagues who walked out.

One of this staff member’s colleagues is a teacher who expressed on social media that they were willing to get a Covid-19 test to comply with the Cascade Theatre’s requirement to attend an event, but refused to do so for “the students he says he loves so much.”

“Some of the teachers did stand on a corner close to the school holding signs and protesting before school started, which just made me feel very sad,” continued the staff member who also stated that the climate on campus during the walkouts was “overwhelmingly positive.”

“The division being created” by individuals “who have succumbed to the false narrative is heartbreaking,” added the Foothill High School staff member.

A special education teacher interviewed by A News Café said about the walkout, “The stunt they pulled today was just dumb,” and, “I get they want the choice but employers have a choice on what requirements they want for their employees.”

The teacher added, “This one day did absolutely nothing, other than point out to the teachers that their behavior problems were not at school today.”

The same teacher also pointed out that colleagues didn’t complain about having to get a TB tested, or proof of other vaccines or boosters for hepatitis.

“So why is this one so different?” the teacher asked. “My great grandparents and grandparents would be rolling over in their graves if they could see what is going on in the world today.”

“They don’t realize how much this is impacting education,” the special education teacher said. “They just want to pound their chest and say, ‘My choice!’ ”

The Monday rally at the Riverfront Park in Redding, yet again, seemed to bring out the worst in the North State as, in a few instances, individuals went viral on social media for all the wrong reasons. Individuals hustling to make money in the homeschool market also showed up to peddle their money-making ventures. This, as Red, White, and Blueprint videographers filmed everything. Consequently, do not be surprised if material from Monday shows up in the next Red, White, and Blueprint episode as the media company looks for a fresh post-recall identity and cash flow. Also, do not be surprised if the Red, White, and Blueprint takes credit for the walkout.

As Carlos Zapata recently posted on Twitter, “People in Shasta County are finally pissed off enough to do something.”

Are they? Or is this just the same old shenanigans?

Jon Knight, co-owner of Red, White, and Blueprint, recording Congressman Doug LaMalfa’s short speech at the Riverfront Park rally.

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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