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Thank You, Socialism! Alt-Right Businesses Rake in Federal COVID-Crisis Money

Prominent members of Shasta County’s alt-right community gathered at Country Strong Fitness in Palo Cedro the night of  Feb. 1 awaiting the recall election results that would determine the fate of District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty.

Attendees at the event included replacement recall candidates Dale Ball and Tim Garman. Garman won the recall election with a mere 36 percent of the vote; 2,200 votes. This, compared to the nearly 4,000 residents who voted “no” to keep Moty in office. Garman is expected to assume the Districk 2 Supervisor position at the March 1 Board of Supervisors meeting.

The group at Country Strong Fitness also included such locally renowned alt-right figures as Terry and “Rally” Sally Rapoza, who are leaders in the extremist anti-government State of Jefferson movement that seeks to create a 51rst state. 

Also in attendance was District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones. He’s one of the two (Supervisor Les Baugh is the other) ultra-conservative county supervisors who’ve fanned the flames of chaos at board of supervisors meetings for the last year and a half. They also supported the recall of their colleague Moty.

Last but not least were co-owners of the political media organization known as Red, White and Blueprint, self-identified American “patriots” Carlos Zapata, Jon Knight, and Jeremy Edwardson, along with cast members Woody Clendenen and Lani Bangay. 

Country Strong Fitness is owned by Lani Bangay and his wife Karina.

Top: District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones at election-night party held at County Strong Fitness. Bottom: Tim Garman and Dale Ball discuss election results with a woman as Woody Clendenen looks on. Source: Sacramento Bee video screen shot.

Carlos Zapata and Lani Bangay at election-night party at Country Strong Fitness, a business owned by Bangay. Source: Red, White and Blueprint Facebook page.

As covered by A News Café journalist R.V. Scheide last January, the movement to recall Leonard Moty was driven by false accusations. One of the biggest lies was that Moty should have done more to push back against Governor Newsom’s COVID-19 mandates in Shasta County, a place where few businesses shut down and many citizens ignored public-safety mandates, even when case numbers of the deadly disease reached their peak. The truth was – and is – that supervisors have zero control over state mandates. 

In addition to criticizing COVID-19 safety mandates and the vaccine, many of those in the hyper-conservative community have said socialism is one of the North State’s biggest perceived evils. Members of this community regularly rant and rave about how government’s social programs are tyrannical.

However, despite their hatred of socialism, several key members of the North State’s alt-right community accepted Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act loans over the last few years.

Signed into law by President Trump in 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, was a $953 billion program which, among other things, granted Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to businesses to help them stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the PPP loans dispersed by the federal government were partially or fully forgiven.

Businesses that received PPP loans were required to use the money to cover business costs, but it came with no strings attached with regard to requirements to follow COVID-19 safety mandates.

Country Strong Fitness’s two Paycheck Protection Program loans

One cannot help but marvel at the fact that the recall-election party took place at Country Strong Fitness, a business owned by recall backer Bangay, who’s also a Red, White and Blueprint regular. Bangay’s County Strong Fitness business received two PPP loans. One loan was for $11,910 in April of 2020, and the other was in January of 2021. One loan was forgiven in January of 2021. The status of the second loan has yet to be disclosed.

Top: Photographs shared on the Country Strong Fitness Facebook page. Bottom: Congressman Doug LaMalfa and Lani Bangay chat during a Red, White and Blueprint podcast.

In a recent Red, White and Blueprint podcast, Zapata, Clendenen, Knight, and Bangay discussed federal and state money, and the requirements that sometimes come with accepting it.

Zapata had strong opinions about county spending and self-reliance. 

If I get to the point where I can’t financially support myself and take care of my family, I don’t go, ‘Hey who’s going to give me some money?’ Zapata said. “I go, ‘OK, what do I need to adjust, what do I need to tighten up?’ “

Zapata said that responsible business owners need to take action if they are struggling, rather than expect the government to save them.

We all own businesses here, we don’t go, ‘OK, who’s gonna give me money next?’ We go, ‘OK, shoot, what do we need to adjust? What do we need to do to make the business better?’ ”

Knight followed Zapata’s comments by stating that people need to live within their means. The men then discussed the ways in which government money comes with ties and requirements.

If you’re gonna borrow money, you have to have a plan to pay it back,” Knight said.

Knight’s statement was especially interesting considering Ashley Knight, his significant other, accepted a $9,000 EIDL loan on behalf of her Redding health and beauty business, LIT From Within.

Perhaps the $9,000 in government aid slipped Knight’s mind.

Zapata responded to Knight by calling the U.S. government the Mafia, claiming that the government never gives out free money.

Knight then warned about requirements that could hit counties if they accept American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 stimulus funds to combat COVID-19-related economic downturn.

“The next thing you know they’re gonna be telling us to do anal swabs,” said Knight, someone who frequently makes cringe-worthy claims rooted in far-right conspiracy theories during the Red, White and Blueprint podcasts.

Meanwhile, Bangay, the owner of County Strong Fitness, where the recallers partied on recall-election night, sat quietly. He looked down often and tinkered with his coffee cup as the other men discussed federal and state money, loans, and how responsible business owners should conduct themselves.

Maybe Bangay was reflecting on the disconnect between how he and his buddies have ranted endlessly about socialism and communism in podcast after podcast, but all the while he and his fellow patriot acquaintances have applied for government relief money intended to help struggling businesses. With that in mind, perhaps Bangay was at a loss for words as a recipient of a federal loan for more than $22,000 that ended up being free government money.

Lani Bangay looks away from the Red, White and Blueprint group and tinkers with his cup while Jon Knight asserts that when someone borrows money they have to pay it back.

Woody Clendenen is ‘not a liberal’ but he’ll take PPP money

Lani Bangay was not the only member of Red, White and Blueprint who received a PPP loan.

Paul “Woody” Clendenen, the swashbuckling Confederate-flag-waving, anti-government barbershop-owning member of the Cottonwood militia, also received government money. Clendenen, the owner of the Cottonwood Barbershop, received a loan of $4,400 for his barbershop in May of 2020, which was forgiven in March of 2021. The loan received by Clendenen reportedly saved one job: his own. This was a perplexing claim since Clendenen has said from Day 1 of the pandemic that he never closed his shop, and never would, even when the rest of Shasta County’s hair salons and barbershops were shuttered. Clendenen makes no secret of his refusal to follow state pandemic mandates.

In the pandemic’s early days, Cottonwood barber Woody Clendenen and Dist. 4 Supervisor Les Baugh pulled a photo-op stunt to push back against the state COVID-19 mandates and prove their defiance of the governor’s directives.

What’s more, Clendenen has boasted that if anything, he’s making more money since the pandemic. Does the government know about that? 

Several photographs of Clendenen’s barbershop surfaced when national media outlets rushed to Shasta County to cover the unfounded recall election that led to Moty’s removal from office. CNN’s story on the recall election, which included an interview with A News Cafe’s own Doni Chamberlain, also featured photographs of Clendenen’s barbershop.

Clendenen’s barbershop appeared as an unkept and dingy alt-right Wild West man cave where it’s likely the clientele and the owner show up strapped with concealed firearms. The walls are plastered with stickers, posters, and other decor that presents a variety of alt-right messaging.

One sticker above a window in Clendenen’s barbershop reads “NOT A LIBERAL.”

What a perplexing message, because Clendenen applied for government money, and in his book, taking government money is supposedly a hallmark of liberalism. 

Below the liberal statement on the barbershop wall, Clendenen, the PPP-loan-collecting not-a-liberal barber has displayed a copy of the Second Amendment resolution far-right extremists recently tried to persuade the Shasta County Board of Supervisors to pass, but to no avail. A few shotguns leaned against the counter, near a Confederate flag, which Clendenen proudly displays in front of the establishment when he gets the fever to channel his inner Confederate States of America rebel self.

A sticker with the words, “Build El Wall” is pasted to the paneled barbershop wall, while a small “All Lives Matter” flag hangs under an aging AC wall unit. Clendenen’s collection of alt-right décor, of course, would not be complete without the Gadsden flag with the words “Don’t Tread on Me,” co-opted by the far-right, most notably by those in the State of Jefferson movement. 

Woody Clendenen’s Barbershop in Cottonwood: Source: CNN video screengrabs.

Woody Clendenen’s Barbershop in Cottonwood: Source: KQED video screen grab.

Last January, Congressman Doug LaMalfa stopped by the Cottonwood barbershop to snap a photograph with Clendenen and District 5 Board of Supervisors candidate Colt Roberts.

Roberts, along with Chris Kelstrom, are both running on the ultra-conservative State of Jefferson/Red, White and Blueprint ticket. Colt claimed at a debate a few months ago that he carries an unpermitted firearm whenever and wherever he wants. But he’s perhaps most remembered for when he suggested that anti-vaxxer “medical freedom” rallies would have better results if protesters carried AR-15s. Oh, and by the way, his wife is a Shasta County Sheriff  deputy.

District 5 candidate Colt Roberts, Congressman Doug LaMalfa, and Woody Clendenen posing together in the Cottonwood Barbershop.

Jeremy Edwardson, co-owner of Red, White and Blueprint received PPP loan

Lani Bangay and Woody Clendenen are not the only people affiliated with Red, White and Blueprint who received a PPP loan. RW&B Co-owner/director Jeremy Edwardson received one for $16,900 for his downtown Redding business The Soundhouse in April of 2020, money that was forgiven later that year in November.

The Soundhouse is a music recording studio known for recording Bethel Music label acts and other Christian musicians. In addition to his close ties to Bethel Church, Edwardson is also good friends with Sean Feucht, alt-right preacher and musician.

Feucht maintains Redding connections

Speaking of Feucht, in early February, a few days after the recall election, Edwardson attended a wedding in Lubbock, Texas. There, his pal Feucht officiated at the wedding of Jamie Beaudoin and Whitney Nicole Whitt. Beaudoin works for Red, White and Blueprint as a musician. He also works for Feucht as a guitar player, producer, and personal assistant. Beaudoin, a graduate of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, also works as an engineer and producer at The Soundhouse. Birds of a feather.

Photographs of Beaudoin’s wedding shared on Facebook by Sean Feucht, including one of Edwardson (bottom left). Bottom right: Picture shared by Carlos Zapata on social media of Beaudoin’s face after some of his music equipment was stolen.

Feucht, like his Shasta County patriot brethren, has also partaken freely of government money. According to a story by A News Cafe reporter R.V. Scheide, Feucht received a $20,800 PPP loan and a $129,700 Economic Injury Disaster Loan. On its 2018 Form 990, Sean Feucht Ministries listed one employee, and a net loss of -$50,096 with net assets of $315,861.

Go figure.

Supervisor Jones’ gun shop received a PPP loan

In addition to the PPP loans received by Country Strong Fitness, and LIT From Within, and the Cottonwood Barbershop, and Sean Feucht and The Soundhouse, add gun shop Jones’ Fort to the list of businesses owned by ultra-conservatives who espouse disdain for government assistance, yet who’ve received PPP money.

Dist. 4 Supervisor Jones manages his family-owned Redding gun shop, an establishment that received a PPP loan for $32,158 in April of 2020 that was forgiven in March of 2021. Side note: Jones Fort was one of the locations advertised as a place that had petitions available for recall-election signatures. 

Top: Jones Fort gun shop. Bottom left: Supervisor Patrick Jones at the election-night party held at Country Strong Fitness. Bottom right: Poster used by Jones when he ran for a board of supervisor seat in 2020, funded by millionaire Reverge Anselmo with a $100,000 campaign contribution, said to be the largest in Shasta County history for a single candidate.

Jones is the alt-right darling whose most recent shenanigans was his Jan. 18 unauthorized supervisor meeting/circus outside the locked chambers. The board chambers entrance and outside doors were locked and the meeting was held virtually because of a spike in COVID numbers, as well as violent death threats made to Moty and Dist. 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert.

Patrick Jones stands in front of a massive rented TV rather than participate in the Jan. 19 supervisors meeting online. Photo by Doni Chamberlain

When the topic of threats arose, Supervisor Baugh chimed in and claimed that he, too, had received a threat. 

Although the supervisors meeting was hosted on Zoom, Jones and his Red, White and Blueprint friends erected a massive outdoor screen with huge speakers. Jones connected the video and sound equipment to a laptop computer so he could log in to the meeting online. Jones, as covered by A News Café, attracted a rag-tag collection of people, everyone from health-care workers, curious passersby and recallers, to alt-right misfits, moms with small children, activists, militiamen, and, in the case of Greg Walker, former law enforcement officials.

Cottonwood militia member Dan Scoville (green cap) reaches for former Shasta County Sheriff’s deputy Greg Walker, who holds a Vote YES Recall Moty sign at Jan. 18 board of supervisors protest event.

All were eager to join Jones for yet another rebel event hosted on county property. 

Some protesters brought homemade signs. One of them included a continuum titled, “The Political Spectrum.”

The side of the continuum labeled “right” contained the word “liberty” and “freedom.” The side of the continuum labeled “left” contained the words “tyranny,” “socialist,” and “communism.”

Did the person who brought this sign to Jones’ board of supervisors stunt know that their alt-right hero, Patrick Jones, received fee money from a federal social program?

Sign at Jan. 18 board of supervisor protest event.

Business named after anti-government State of Jefferson movement received PPP loan

Jefferson State Diesel in Redding is yet another business owned by a member of the North State’s alt-right community who accepted a PPP loan. Jefferson State Diesel, a business named after the State of Jefferson anti-government extremist movement, received a loan of $84,200 in April of 2020. It was forgiven in May of 2021.

Jefferson State Diesel owner/president Jeremy Wright is an ardent supporter of Red, White and Blueprint. In August Wright was a guest on a Red, White and Blueprint podcast. Wright’s Facebook page is littered with the RW&B imagery and content that paints socialism in a negative light. Jefferson State Diesel also donated money to the Shasta General Purpose Committee, one of the political organizations behind Moty’s recall.

Top: Jeremy Wright joins the Red, White and Blueprint gang during a podcast. Bottom left: Wright’s Facebook profile picture. Bottom right: the Jefferson State Diesel webpage.

Jefferson State Diesel signs at the establishment.

Leaders of the North State’s alt-right community continue to demonize and characterize such government assistance as food stamps as socialism and communism. Plus, many of these people drove a movement to recall Moty based, in part, on lies about COVID-19 mandates. And yet, collectively, they have received tens thousands of dollars in PPP money.

Likewise, today we see a mere sample of North State ultra-conservative business people whose thinking aligns with Red, White and Blueprint; people who supported the recall, and have also received PPP loans. They do not have to pay the money back. They simply asked the government for money and received it. The money was free. In short, they benefitted from a massive, federally funded social program.

Oh, the irony of it all.

But more than the irony is the hypocrisy of it all. For nearly two years, these ultra-conservative, anti-government business-owners have openly pronounced COVID-19 as fake. They’ve mocked and taunted the vaccinated and those who wore masks. They called them weak, and sheeple.

They seem oblivious to the fact that nearly 950,000 Americans have lost their lives to the coronavirus; more than 500 right here in Shasta County.

Still, these COVID-deniers unabashedly applied for and received money that was intended for struggling, compliant businesses whose owners suffered financially because they followed early state mandates and lost money when they closed their doors during peak COVID outbreaks.

What an odd brand of ultra-conservatism these self-described patriots follow: Their mouths characterize government assistance programs as socialism, while their feet line up for government pandemic aid.

This was the same group of people who accused Moty and Rickert of being RINOs – Republicans in name only.

It’s only fitting that these people should forever be known as PINOs – Patriots in name only.

###

Feb. 28, 2022 9:57 a.m. correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Ashley Knight and Jon Knight are married. They are domestic partners. Also, Ashley Knight accepted an EIDL loan, not PPP money, on behalf of her business, LIT From Within.
Editor’s note: While compiling information for this story, Shawn Schwaller reached out to Ashley Knight on her business Facebook page with a request for comment.  She did not respond.

Shawn Schwaller

Shawn Schwaller grew up in Red Bluff, California. He is an assistant professor in the History Department at California State University, Chico and holds a Ph.D. in history and an M.A. in American studies. Schwaller specializes in North State stories about law-enforcement corruption and far-right politics. He can be reached at sschwaller@csuchico.edu and welcomes your story tips.

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