Life in Shasta County hasn’t been the same since the ShasTaliban infiltrated our little slice of God’s country almost two years ago.
To know how much things have changed for the worse in Shasta County in the last 23 months, it’s important to remember what Shasta County was before the ShasTaliban’s arrival.
The way we were
Once upon a time, Shasta County was a literally warm and mostly friendly place. It was an ideal region in which to raise families, or to retire for a little rest and relaxation. Not that Shasta County was perfect, because no place is perfect. Every place has its warts and flaws. But generally speaking, aside from complaints about our hellish summer temperatures, Shasta County was usually described in positive terms: a semi-rural northern California county surrounded by hillsides, majestically dominated by the rare pair of natural volcanic beauties, Mt. Shasta and Lassen Peak.
Just a short drive from the county seat of Redding you’ll find an outdoor-enthusiast’s paradise. People kayak, swim, sail, paddle-board and picnic at Whiskeytown Lake. Others take to Shasta Lake upon water skis, houseboats, fishing boats, jet skis, air mattresses and patio boats.
Proud residents pointed visitors to such novelties as Shasta Caverns with its epic, white-knuckle bus ride, or the always gorgeous Burney Falls where the fine mist provided blessed relief on even the hottest days.
Overall, Shasta County’s citizens are generous, almost to a fault. From the very poor to the ultra rich, people give what they can to help those in need.
For example, just last week at Hilltop Drive off Cypress a big red truck’s engine stopped in the middle of the intersection. Suddenly, a pair of men who were walking on the sidewalk ran into the street where they pushed the stranger’s disabled pickup to safety. That’s classic Shasta County.
For the most part, we were, as the saying goes, salt-of-the-earth folks who got along, and didn’t put on airs.
However, there’s no disputing the fact that politically, Shasta County was – is – predominantly conservative. Even so, it was possible for Democrats and Republicans to agree to disagree; to focus on shared values: a love of life, safety, personal and financial security, family, friends, ethics, good health, culture, education, hard work, community, God and country, to name a few. Likewise, residents valued law and order; common sense and civility.
One of the best parts about the old Shasta County was how residents could put their differences aside and gather happily for such quintessentially Shasta County events as the county fair, parades, car shows, the rodeo, and the Asphalt Cowboy’s annual pancake breakfast that fed thousands of people right in the middle of the streets, blocked off once a year for this special occasion.
Ditto for yearly July 4th fireworks displays, free for the watching for miles around, provided by the McConnell Foundation’s generosity.
I’ve made no secret that I’m a Democrat, but I don’t dwell on it, or talk about it much, or try to convert others to my way of thinking. What’s the point? Here in blood-red conservative Shasta County, blues are in the minority.
Either way, truth be known, I’m not a big fan of the way Democrats have handled things for some time, but my beliefs align more closely with the Democratic party than the Republican’s, so here I am.
This is not an invitation for debate.
Some people who are dear to me are Republicans, and we adore, respect and accept each other despite our political differences. One of my favorite people is someone who started as a plumber but over the years has become a trusted friend. There are so many things we enjoy talking about, such as writing, kids, travel or remodeling. Guess what we don’t talk about. Politics. Why go there? I won’t change his mind, and he won’t change mine. For the sake of our friendship, we’re not Facebook friends.
Meet the ShasTaliban
I made up the fictionalized term “ShasTaliban” a few months back while trying to figure out how to wrap my brain around what parts made up the whole of the destructive group that appears hell bent on destroying Shasta County as we once knew it.
At the moment, Shasta County continues to attract international attention as incredulous reporters file one story after the other about how a Republican, Second Amendment-loving former police chief and Notre Dame graduate, District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty, was removed in a baseless recall election constructed on a foundation of malice and misinformation.
Moty’s replacement? Tim Garman, an alt-right Happy Valley School Board president who sometimes has difficulty putting one cogent sentence in front of the other.
Case in point, look no further than the last supervisors meeting when a disheveled, mussed-haired Garman, who wore a black hoodie, approached the lectern and stumbled through his statement.
An audience member took pity upon him and called out, “child abuse” — Garman’s apparently elusive words with regard to his opinions about masks on schoolchildren.
“Thank you,” Garman said to the woman.
Consider this chilling fact that illustrates just how wrong recalls can go: Because recall elections do not include the targeted person’s name — in this case, Moty — the winner is decided after all the challengers’ votes are tallied and divvied up between the other candidates. The person with the most votes wins.
Garman won Moty’s seat with just 2,391 votes out of 12,647 District 2 ballots; 3,958 of which were against the recall, and in effect, for Moty.
So Moty lost his seat to Garman’s 2,391 votes, despite 3,958 votes against the recall, 1,567 higher than Garman’s results.
And still, Moty is out, and Garman is in. There we have it, exhibit No. 1, evidence of a deeply flawed recall system, and why it’s long overdue for radical reform.
A look back
But before the recall, early on in the pandemic, Shasta County received worldwide media attention regarding an endless stream of examples of some people’s instability and insanity exhibited throughout the county. The craziness was demonstrated beneath the Sundial Bridge, and at a Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo, and was in rare form with threats inside board chambers, and by the unabashed presence outside the Shasta County Superior Courthouse of Proud Boys decked out in what looked like brand spanking new Proud Boys face gators, Proud Boys wrist bands and Proud Boys T-shirts. Their outfits’ matchy-matchness was reminiscent of boy scout neckerchiefs, patches and whatnot, but with a Nazi fashion flare. Their white-pride hand gestures only added to the surreal spectacle, just as surely as if the KKK had stopped by to say hello.
A memorial trial
The Shasta County District Attorney brought charges against Carlos Zapata and friends after their part in the assault of a comic who’d satirized Zapata in videos, which resulted in a trial that ended with Zapata being found guilty on four of five charges.
In the middle of the trial proceedings, Zapata’s attorney, Joseph Tully, subpoenaed me as a possible witness, which would have effectively prevented me from being inside the courtroom to report on the trial.
Nice try, Tully, but no cigar.
Fortunately, a trio of rescuers rushed in to help. First, journalist R.V. Scheide stepped up to cover the trial during my temporary ban from the courtroom.
Second, ANC’s Alan Ernesto Phillips videotaped what I couldn’t see in person. A News Cafe reporter Doni Chamberlain and videographer Alan Phillips.
Finally, a team of top-notch, dedicated attorneys responded within minutes of when I was served with Tully’s subpoena. One of the stellar attorneys represented me and ANC at the trial and spoke eloquently before the judge. I was not called as a witness, and I was granted permission to return to the courtroom for reporting.
On another personal note, I was the target of a public rant by Zapata, all captured on video, as his supporters yelled profanities and insults from their seats.
These are some of my first-hand experiences, and I know many of you have yours, too.
For month after month, some uncouth, unhinged extremists terrorized Shasta County Board meetings in particular. Cruel, sometimes violence-laced expletives and threats were hurled at supervisors and county staff.
The ShasTaliban folks made no bones about their desire to “take back” Shasta County, a goal that begged questions that are bound to commit some prepositional-phrase offenses. Who or what do they want to take back Shasta County from? Where do they want to return Shasta County to?
All those appalling actions, words, and destructive deeds led me to view this motley extremist group as North State terrorists, hence the ShasTaliban moniker.
I will not paint all these ShasTaliban members with the same ugly brush, or suggest they share identical beliefs, because they don’t. But what they have in common is a desire to dismantle Shasta County government. Why? For so called liberty and freedom. Not for all, as the Pledge of Allegiance suggests, but just for them.
Some members of this group that I call the ShasTaliban include some State of Jefferson devotees, some Christian Nationalists, some Bethel Church followers, some white supremacists, some racists, some extreme Constitutionalists, some anti-vaxxers and some anti-intellectuals.
Some ShasTalibans remain convinced that Donald Trump’s presidency was stolen, and they don’t recognize Joe Biden as the president. Some ShasTaliban members were present at the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection in Washington, D.C.
Some see the insurrectionist mob members who’ve been prosecuted for trashing the nation’s Capitol Building — and even causing injury and death — as victims.
Note the word “some”. Not all.
Last but not least among those I include in the ShasTaliban family tree are those who call themselves militia members; supposedly thousands of them here in the North State. The truth is that these so-called militia members are known mostly for shooting off their mouths with talk of threats and their love affair with firearms. Maybe it’s a compensatory thing.
Finally, some of the most prominent leaders of the group to whom I refer as the ShasTaliban are those with the Red, White and Blueprint organization, and sub groups spawned by Red, White and Blueprint, namely, Recall Shasta and the Shasta General Purpose Committee.
Together, these anti-government folks hatched the plan to take over county government by recalling anyone who didn’t goose step to their belief system. Ironically, after that, the anti-government ShasTaliban plans to place their members in those newly vacated government positions.
How do you spell hypocrite?
The ShasTaliban isn’t picky about its means of disposal of elected leaders and valued government employees. Their tools are crude, whether it’s to forcibly push people from their seats, such as via a dirty recall election, or make life so miserable that those people jump. For the ShasTaliban, it’s a win-win situation. An empty seat is an empty seat waiting for an extremist.
Of course, every successful terrorist group needs funding, and that’s why son-of-a-billionaire Reverge Anselmo gains top billing as ShasTaliban’s millionaire in chief.
Here in the North State, Anselmo’s money greases the political skids. Bizarrely, he’s a political operative who resides in Connecticut, not Shasta County. He’s involved because of revenge, not because he fancies hanging out with northern California fellers, most of whom speak inexplicably with Southern country twangs and dropped g’s, despite being Californians through and through.
Although there have been extremist splinter groups in Shasta County for many years (hello, Tea Party) ShasTaliban was born in the spring 2020, conceived after state COVID mandates piggybacked upon seeds of discontent over everything from Trump’s failed election and economic frustrations, to the fact that many Shasta County residents had still not fully recovered from the 2018 Carr Fire and 2019’s “Snowmageddon”.
Shasta County was weak and vulnerable. And then along came COVID-19.
But rather than come together – Shasta Strong – as we did during the Carr Fire and other community disasters, the ShasTaliban folks basically seized upon the opportunity presented by the pandemic and proceeded to tear the county apart, family by family, business by business, friendship by friendship, neighbor by neighbor, church by church, district by district.
Adding insult to injury, many of the ShasTaliban faithful aren’t even from Shasta County, but rather, they were born and raised elsewhere, and claimed Shasta County as their new home, ready to “take back”. Worse yet, many of these people tell citizens who’ve lived here all their lives, or citizens who were born here, or citizens who come from generations of Shasta County pioneers, to “go back” to San Francisco, Portland or other places where Socialists, Communists and Marxists would feel more at home.
Board of Supervisor chambers were taken over by the ShasTaliban who yelled threats and used profanity. Monster trucks roared around town with huge flags that promoted Trump or the State of Jefferson. The ShasTaliban hijacked the American flag, and massive American flags flapped high on poles mounted in pickup truck beds alongside “Let’s Go, Brandon” flags. Old Glory clothed State of Jefferson pusher Terry Rapoza.
The American flag motif also adorns a barber-shop smock used to catch hair clippings at Woody Clendenen’s Cottonwood barbershop.
Sometimes Clendenen’s shop displayed the Confederate flag outside.
Retail establishments displayed merchandise that promoted guns, Trump and the State of Jefferson.
Lies beget lies
Remember how Carlos Zapata – the de facto head of the ShasTaliban, stood before the Shasta County Board of Supervisors in August of 2020, arms crossed, voice booming?
Remember how he said things wouldn’t be peaceful much longer? Remember how he blamed the pandemic mandates that had been in place a few months for people he knew who were starving, and the pressure of those few months of pandemic mandates caused six of Zapata’s Marine Corp buddies to commit suicide? Remember how Zapata claimed to be a combat veteran, when the truth is that he is not?
Later, after Zapata’s video rant when viral, he reduced the number of Marine suicides to three. Who are these families who starved? Who were the Marines who killed themselves over state mandates? Why did Zapata steal true combat veterans’ valor by claiming he’d fought in battles, when he did not?
With wisdom comes responsibility
We are so much wiser now than we were in the summer of 2020. We know that a man who will lie about being in combat will lie about all kinds of other things, such as ginning up fake allegations to recall elected leaders whose greatest “crimes” are daring to push back against thugs, bullies and liars.
We know that in the political chessboard of life, when a pissed-off millionaire has a score to settle, his first move will be to buy himself a sleepy little Patrick Jones pawn as the millionaire’s first beholden supervisor. We now know the game plan: use more funds to pick off rightfully elected leaders via the recall process, since recall elections lack the state election finance constraints imposed in general elections.
It’s a diabolical and effective strategy. Why bother with the traditional democratic process? Why wait for a regular election with its pesky restricted campaign contributions, when recall elections offer blue-sky funding opportunities galore? Gotta love those campaign finance loopholes!
Consequently, at the expense of an elected leader’s career we watched and learned of the perfect recipe for a successful recall: one millionaire, one shopping list of false accusations, and one district in which nearly 60 percent of the registered voters couldn’t be bothered to fill out a pre-stamped ballot and mail it.
Basically, District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty was recalled in a dirty election because of money, lies and apathy.
The recall passed. The ShasTaliban won. Shasta County lost. This time.
But it’s not over. The ShasTaliban fooled us once. Once fooled, shame on them. Twice fooled, shame on us.
We know the ShasTaliban’s game plan.
The only way to beat the ShasTaliban is to not buy into their terror and division. We can beat them by coming together and setting aside political differences. For this fight, we’re not Democrats or Republicans. We’re Shasta County’s rational citizens from every political party who’ve joined forces, resources and goals to reject the destructive players who are big on ego, but short on caring about this place we call home.
In our defense, for nearly two years we were preoccupied with the pandemic. But in that time we lost sight of how high the stakes were, and what can happen when good people fail to sum up the energy and courage to face the bullies and terrorists and speak their least favorite word: No.
We’re Shasta County strong; stronger than the ShasTaliban. We’ve got this.
About the ShasTaliban illustration: Ren is a cartoonist and illustrator who likes to work incognito. No one knows where he is. Not even himself.
If you appreciate commentary, reporting and stories like this from someone who grew up in Redding and cares about Shasta County’s future, please consider a contribution or donation. Thank you!
(Note: This story was updated at 3:27 p.m. Feb. 22, 2022 for additional information and clarification.)