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How a Right-Wing Militia Seized Power in Shasta County, and Is Targeting Other Counties Next

Members of the Cottonwood militia used the recall process to gain a board of supervisors majority

PUBLISHED FEB 17, 2022 12:00 A.M.
The 'Red, White and Blueprint' group plans to spread from Shasta to other California counties.

The 'Red, White and Blueprint' group plans to spread from Shasta to other California counties.

Roger Sturtevant / Wikimedia Commons   Public Domain

Leonard Moty, the former police chief of Redding and a conservative Republican, was elected to Shasta County’s Board of Supervisors in 2008. His tenure in the position came to an end on Feb. 1 of 2022, when he lost a recall vote. About 56 percent of 8,990 voters in the recall election voted to oust the longtime public servant. 

Recall elections at both the state and local level are not unusual in California. In addition to the failed recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom, there were 65 other attempted recalls of elected officials in 2021, according to the election data site Ballotpedia. By the middle of February 2022, there were already 21 recalls in progress or, as in Shasta County, already completed.

On the local level, it doesn't take much for a recall to have an outsize impact. Turnout in the Feb. 1 District 2 recall was about 42 percent. That means it took the votes of just 23 percent of registered voters in the district to remove Moty from office, even though he had already won three elections there.

What made the Shasta County recall different was not the result, but the forces that carried it out. The Shasta County recall was a battle between conservative Republicans on one side, and right-wing extremists, many of them affiliated with a local, militia group on the other. The militia won, and now plans to take the same tactics to other counties.

Nevada County Recall Push Gets Going

Another recall movement is underway in Nevada County, where organizers accuse the board of supervisors of “crimes against humanity,” and have acted out so aggressively that the county registrar of voters was forced to close its offices in January over “security concerns.”

What ties together the recall movement in Shasta and Nevada counties? In addition to over-the-top anger against COVID-related health measures—anger fueled by unfounded conspiratorial beliefs and misinformation about the pandemic and vaccines—the activists appear to have an unwavering support for former President Donald Trump.

But in that regard, there is one significant difference between the two counties. Trump is overwhelmingly popular in Shasta County, which voted for him over Joe Biden in 2020 by a 68-32 percent margin—a near mirror image of the state as a whole, where Biden trounced Trump 64-34.

Trump doesn’t exercise quite the same grip on Nevada County, where Biden came away with a 56-41 percent win in 2020, perhaps indicating that a Trump-inspired attempt to seize county power through recall elections might not be as effective there.

COVID Health Measures Fueled Recall Push

The Shasta recall was also supported by the State of Jefferson movement, which counts among its advocates Doug LaMalfa, the Republican United States House rep from Shasta County. The State of Jefferson movement, which claims to trace its origins back to 1850 when California had just become a U.S. state, wants counties in northern California and southern Oregon to split off and form their own state.

The recall effort was sparked, at least ostensibly, by outrage over the state’s COVID-19 health mandates going back to the first months of the pandemic in 2020. That seemed like an odd catalyst in a county that barely bothered with the state-mandated health measures. In September of 2021 the board of supervisors voted 4-1 to oppose the ongoing health mandates. Also that month, Shasta County’s rate of COVID infections was higher than any of the state’s 57 other counties.

In that same vote, the supervisors decided against sending a letter to Newsom expressing their opposition to the health measures. That decision sealed Moty’s fate. The recall supporters accused him of somehow kowtowing to Newsom, and failing to take a strong enough stand against the state measures—which weren’t being taken seriously there anyway. Shasta Sheriff Eric Magrini stated publicly that he would not enforce any COVID health orders from the state government. Nonetheless, at a public meeting in October, a resident named Richard Gallardo stood up and announced that he was placing the entire board under “citizen’s arrest.”

In that case, the sheriff’s office declined to follow up on the “arrest,” pointing out that the supervisors had not, in fact, committed any crime.

Shasta Recall a ‘Blueprint’ for Other Counties

Under the banner “Recall Shasta,” the effort originally targeted three of the five supervisors, all conservative Republicans and all deemed “RINOs,” that is “Republicans in Name Only,” by one of the recall leaders, Patrick Jones, himself a member of the board of supervisors, who owns a gun store in Redding. 

“We want true conservatives. This is a conservative county,” Jones told the Sacramento Bee. “The government should reflect that.”

Jones also told the Bee that he is in contact with the recall organizers in Nevada County, who were engaged in “exactly” the same effort as the recall forces in Shasta.

Another of the recall leaders was Carlos Zapata, a Marine Corps vet who became something of a viral celebrity among the far right when he appeared at a supervisors meeting in August and appeared to threaten violence if COVID restrictions were not lifted.

“It’s not going to be peaceful much longer,” Zapata declared at the meeting. “Good citizens are going to turn into real concerned and revolutionary citizens real soon.”

Zapata and two other recall leaders got into a fight at a restaurant bar in May 2021 with an aspiring comedian named Nathan Pinkney, who was described as a Black Lives Matter activist. Zapata was eventually charged with battery against Pinkney, but was acquitted by a jury. He was convicted of disturbing the peace over the incident, and sentenced to probation.

The group co-founded by Zapata, “Red, White and Blueprint,” produced a seven-part “documentary” on YouTube also called Red, White and Blueprint. The series, the group said, was designed to inspire recalls of local elected officials across the state and country. 

“That was the idea behind this: Not only to affect change in our own county, but to create a template for other people to do the same thing,” Zapata told the Bee. “And that’s what we’ve done.”

In at least one important respect, however, the Shasta effort may be difficult to replicate in other counties. A reported $450,000 in funding funneled to the Recall Shasta campaign came from Reverge Anselmo, a conservative Connecticut multimillionaire who appeared to be motivated by revenge as much as ideology. Anselmo—who is credited as an executive producer on the 2005 film The Squid and the Whale—lost a lengthy court battle against the county in 2013 over a proposed restaurant and winery development project that the county said violated local zoning laws.

Militia Takeover of County Government

Zapata is reportedly a militia member and another Red, White and Blueprint co-founder. Cottonwood barber Woody Clendenen founded the local militia, a branch of the California State Militia—a private paramilitary group not to be confused with the California State Guard, which is part of the state’s military department as the only legal militia in California.

Clendenen and several other local businessmen started the Cottonwood militia after a series of robberies in the small town about a decade ago. It has since grown into “almost a political action committee,” Clendenen told the Los Angeles Times. The militia operates a camp for boys, and awards an annual scholarship, in addition to its political activities. And of course, its members carry guns.

“I’m carrying if I am out of the shower,” Clendenen told the Times, which reported that he cuts hair in his barbershop while armed with a Glock 26 handgun.

Private militia groups are illegal in California, and in fact, all 50 states prohibit private militias from engaging in any sort of quasi-military or law enforcement activities. The U.S Constitution’s Second Amendment, famous for its declaration,  “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” does not allow the formation of private militias. In decisions going back to 1886 and most recently in 2008, the Supreme Court has held that the right of individuals to own and carry guns does not, in fact, extend to protection for private paramilitary organizations.

The candidate who won Moty’s seat in the Shasta County recall, former roofer and Happy Valley Union School Board President Tim Garman, claimed that the Cottonwood militia was not behind the recall effort, telling the Sacramento Bee that “it was a group of mothers who started the recall.”

Garman has been outspoken against COVID health measures, and has declined to take a COVID vaccine despite the fact that, according to statements on his own Facebook page, he is diabetic and overweight, both high risk factors when combined with COVID. And Garman did indeed contract the disease in September of 2021, requiring oxygen for more than two weeks while saying that he was treating himself with the drugs ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, both popular among the far-right and anti-vaccine movements.

Both drugs have been shown to be ineffective as COVID treatments and even dangerous when taken without strict medical supervision. Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic medication. Hydroxychloroquine is used to prevent or treat malaria caused by mosquito bites.

With Garman’s election, the Shasta board now has three members aligned with the views of the recall’s militia backers, with two more-traditional conservative Republicans.

The new board majority is sympathetic with “anarchists, extremists, and white supremacists wanting to take over the county,” Moty told the San Francisco Chronicle, after the election. “It’s going to change the character of our county, much more to the alt-right.”

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