But for those who orchestrated the ousting of the longtime public servant, former law enforcement officer, fiscal conservative and Second Amendment supporter, it was a fair outcome for a man who no longer represented their views, using the recall procedure authorized by California law. . Moty’s impending replacement, along with the election in 2020 of another candidate backed by self-proclaimed “strict constitutionalists”, has tipped the balance on the 5-member board.
“The mandates brought me here,” said a mother of two who opposes vaccines for her children, during a recent board meeting. “I know change starts locally, that’s why we’re all here.”
“Even if they go by the name Republican or Conservative, it doesn’t always mean they have the same conservative values,” Venus said of the supervisors. “We don’t feel like we’re being listened to. Being passive gets you nowhere.”
For Moty, the change in tone of the public meetings came quickly.
“People started to get a lot more vocal, a lot more aggressive, a lot more defiant,” he said.
The public comment portion of the meetings began to be filled not only with rage, but also with threats.
“It’s a warning for what’s to come. It’s not going to be peaceful any longer,” Zapata told the board, saying Covid health restrictions needed to be dropped immediately. “I tell you what I will do to save this country. If it is to be against our own citizens, it will happen and there are a million people like me, and you will not stop us.”
His fiery speech upset some county board members and landed him a guest spot on right-wing platforms like the InfoWars disinformation outlet.
Zapata, Venus and other speakers wanted the county to return state and federal money, so it had the freedom to defy health orders.
Moty told CNN the request was moot and said the vast majority of the county’s budget is dependent on state and federal funds.
Then Moty and two other board members were subject to a recall effort, permitted by California law when voters are unhappy with an elected official. Enough signatures have only been obtained for Moty to fight for his place.
“Leonard is kind of a Mitt Romney-type Republican,” said Woody Clendenen, owner of the Cottonwood Barber shop. “He calls himself a Republican Reagan, but he’s got plenty. He’s more of a RINO,” he adds, using the pejorative term for “Republican in name only.”
Clendenen’s shop is the visual expression of Shasta County’s ultra-conservative rage.
Two rifles were leaning against the counter next to a small pile of ammunition during CNN’s visit. “Not a Liberal” bumper stickers, a “Let’s Go Brandon” flag and other alt-right imagery were displayed around the small store. Customers have their hair cut wrapped in an American flag cape and a price list offering haircuts for $20, rising to $100 for liberals with an extra $5 for vaccinated, is on the wall, a prank gift from a client, Clendenen said. There’s also a red “Make America Great Again” hat and two Confederate flags in one corner, which Clendenen says he flies “When I feel like it.”
Some shoppers seem to share the owner’s view, with a man arriving for a cut wearing a t-shirt saying, “We the people are pissed off.”
Clendenen, who says he is also in a militia with his friend Zapata, described the energy in the county that led to the recall.
“I think we had an ‘oh sh*t’ moment in this country. People are like shit, we better take care of things here,” he said as he cut his hair with a pistol at the hip. “You have to start locally because that’s what you have control over. And then you just hope it spreads.”
Local passion or not, perhaps the biggest difference came from outside the county and from a wealthy Connecticut donor, Reverge Anselmo. A generous donor to Republican politicians and Super PACs according to the Federal Election Commission, Anselmo donated $450,000 to the “Recall Shasta” effort, according to county records, by far the largest donation to the group.
CNN reached out to Anselmo for comment but did not hear back.
Moty, who says he spent just $30,000 on his last campaign, was suddenly inundated with attack ads on local television and in direct mail.
“It’s very disheartening to me that a band could spend so much money to personally attack my reputation, which I’ve worked for 44 years to build in my hometown,” Moty said.
“They forced the ousting of a supervisor who really did nothing wrong,” Chamberlain told CNN. In stories online, she portrayed some of her neighbors as “a bloodthirsty recall mob” who “killed an innocent man’s career”.
“I call it Shas-Taliban,” Chamberlain said of those behind the recall. “It’s a bunch of groups: it’s anti-vax, anti-mask, anti-science.”
And now they’ve succeeded, she added: “I’m scared of the kind of people who will come, how they will vote and what will happen to Shasta County.”
Securing control of government bodies is the first step to regaining the freedoms Zapata says he is entitled to that have been curtailed by pandemic mandates.
But the militia member says political action is not the only option.
“The most important right given to us by the Constitution is the Second Amendment because we have the right to defend ourselves, and that’s the main thing,” Zapata said. “When a government becomes so intrusive that we can’t make a living, what do you leave us? My voice only goes so far. At some point, we may have to fight. Is “Do I want that? Absolutely not. That’s why we use political mechanisms, peaceful mechanisms so that it doesn’t have to come to this.”
To those like Moty, that sounds like a threat.
“I think they’re going to try to make this community their image and make it a very alt-right extremist community,” Moty told CNN.
“I had this group rise up against me and spread enough lies and enough reputational assassinations to try to destroy me. And they succeeded.”