How anti-mandate rebels took over — and took over — their California county

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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.”

“Just to throw this out there, I’m not a terrorist,” the woman added, wearing an American flag cowboy hat and a T-shirt emblazoned with the anti-Biden slur, “Let’s go -y, Brandon”. She later told CNN her name is Venus, although she goes by the name “Freedom” at these public meetings.
Venus, who declined to give CNN her last name for fear of online hate, identified Newsom’s order closing schools and businesses in March 2020 as the slap she needed to pay heed to the council of the local county. Venus was angry at the impact on her job and then on her children. As California reopened, children returned to schools wearing masks and state workers were ordered to get vaccinated. Venus said she believed vaccines would give her children seizures, despite evidence that Covid vaccines are extremely safe and effective.
Venus, which counts Joe Rogan’s podcast as a key source for its news, expected its county council to share its views and defy state orders.

“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.

Leonard Moty rose through the ranks to become local police chief, as well as county supervisor.

The public comment portion of the meetings began to be filled not only with rage, but also with threats.

Among the most vocal critics was Carlos Zapata, whose remarks during an August 2020 board meeting went viral on right-wing social media.

“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 says he is part of the so-called California State Militia, a loosely organized group of armed paramilitary members. He adds that he is not a violent person, but was found guilty of disturbing public order by fighting during an encounter with an anti-recall supporter.
Carlos Zapata says political action against an intrusive government is a first step and he reserves the right to fight.

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.”

Woody Clendenen drapes his clients in an American flag cape before cutting their hair in his barbershop.

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.”

Republican extremism offers glimpse of possible new House majority

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.

Moty may have lost the support of county voters, but he has the sympathy of Doni Chamberlain, a self-proclaimed Democrat, who publishes the “A News Café” website that covered all the twists and turns of Moty’s recall.

“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.”

Doni Chamberlain mocks the groups that came together to oust Moty in Shasta County as Shas-Taliban.

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.”

Zapata, the original viral video star of Shasta County Board Meetings, also looks to the future. He is now the face of a video campaign called Red, White & Blueprint. Seven of the promised 10 episodes have been released for a series Zapata says is a “model” for other conservative communities who want to remove local officials who don’t represent what he calls “constitutionalists and conservatives.”

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.

Two rifles are propped up near a "Recall Moty"  Sign in Clenenden Hair Salon.

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.”

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