REDDING, California – The uprising, which took place in a government building in rural Northern California, came the day before the forcible siege of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.
Shasta County's regulators had planned to practically meet on Jan. 5 as the number of coronavirus cases rose. The supervisory chambers in Redding were closed. Seats had been removed. The speaker's microphone was disabled.
A newly elected supervisor opened the doors in protest. Dozens of people exposed to vent their anger. Three supervisors present watched from a distance as threats flew between the speeches.
"When Joe Biden's long winter goes down and the dark night comes in this land, do you think you'll see dawn?" Timothy Fairfield, 44, of Shingletown, asked managers. "No you won't. Escape now while you can. Because the days of your tyranny are coming to an end and the legitimacy of this government is dwindling.
“When the ballot box is gone,” he added, “there is only the ballot box. They made bullets expensive. Fortunately, ropes are reusable. "
In a way, the rhetoric at this officially closed district government facility was a reference to the anger that would rise over 2,800 miles away if pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol the next day. Five deaths, including that of a U.S. Capitol Police officer and the police shooting of a San Diego County Air Force veteran, have been linked to the siege.
Here in the rural, conservative counties of California, where people have long wanted to separate from California and create a new state called Jefferson, shows the kind of anger and distrust of the government that Trump has fueled.
And it's unlikely to go away anytime soon, as some residents believe there is great political benefit in making government officials believe that potential violence could become all too real.
"We have to frighten the politicians again," Carlos Zapata, who attended the meeting of the supervisory authorities, told the Los Angeles Times. "If politicians don't fear the people they rule, that relationship is broken."
That such tension is playing out in liberal California – which overwhelmingly voted for Biden and battled the Trump administration on immigration, climate change and myriad other issues – only signals that it is happening across the country, locals say.
As Supervisor Leonard Moty, who virtually attended the district assembly, observed the violence in Washington, he thought of the threats thrown at him and his colleagues the day before. Moty, a former Redding police chief, texted the chairman of the board of directors asking how he intended to keep their meetings safe in the future.
"I've definitely seen parallels," Moty said in an interview. "I saw the possibility that this type of behavior could break out in our county."
Moty said residents had become more apparent to government employees in the face of the pandemic. Some announced the home address of the county health officer and asked police to conduct additional patrols in their neighborhood.
"It's totally inappropriate," said Moty. "We run the business of the county – the public can tell us we're doing it wrong. They can tell us how to do it. But they should never make threatening statements.
"This is by far the worst that has ever happened," he added. “You politicized the virus. The pandemic. You saw a climax when a president called upon a group of people to march to the Capitol and do bad things. I think we have a number of people in this county who are following his voice. Who knows what they're gonna do? "
The president's supporters in Washington last week included men wearing the yellow and green flag of Jefferson State with its two X's, known as the "double cross," which convey a sense of rural abandonment.
When Moty watched the news with alarm, Zapata kept up with pro-Trump friends in the nation's capital who, like him, believe the election has been stolen.
“People say … 'Oh man, those people in the Capitol were violent. It's un-American, "said Zapata." I think the most American thing you could have done is … burn this down. "
In Shasta County, where Trump defeated Biden by 33 percentage points, regulatory meetings have become a major scene of outrage. Allegations of treason and socialism are the order of the day. There is also talk of revolution and civil war.
In August, Zapata – a 42-year-old Marine Corps combat veteran who served in Iraq and now owns the Palomino Room restaurant and bar in nearby Red Bluff – beat up supervisors for “muffling” their faces , and communicated the closings and restrictions that this means have devastated small businesses, starving families. His unplanned speech warning that "it will not be peaceful long" went viral.
Over the next month, a man in a Grim Reaper attempted unsuccessfully to set fire to a surgical mask during public comments. Another man announced in October that he would put all regulatory agencies under civil custody. When his three-minute speaking time was up, the sheriff's deputies escorted him out.
By December, coronavirus cases were climbing in Shasta County. At least three employees in the county’s administrative building, where the regulatory offices and boards of directors are located, tested positive, Moty said.
Regulators voted 3-2 to hold virtual meetings while the county was on the most restrictive purple or red tiers on the state's reopening plan.
When Patrick Jones – a former Redding mayor who defeated an incumbent boss in the November election – joined the board this month, the tenor changed. The established operator had supported virtual meetings. Jones, who campaigned for the county to reopen, did not.
On January 5, he and another supervisor showed up for their first face-to-face meeting and greeted the crowd inside.
Behind the counter at Jones & # 39; Fort, the Redding gun shop he manages, which has a giant Jefferson flag on the wall, Jones said last week that heating up was only part of an elected official's job To make comments. There are more and more recall efforts to displace his colleagues who did not come to the meeting in person.
"You have to face the public," he said. “You need to hear their concerns. And sometimes they are angry. Sometimes they're mean. You have the right to be. We may not like it, but under the Constitution and the first amendment, you have these rights. "
Jones called the close combat in Washington "unfortunate".
"I don't expect violence here," he said. “I know most of these people. They vent and bring out some frustrations. "
During the January 5 meeting, a mother with glasses who said her son had been fighting under school closings told superiors that "civil war was brewing."
Another mother in a MAGA hat, holding up a picture of the yellow Star of David that the Nazis had forced to wear and comparing it to pandemic mask orders, said she would fight in this civil war "because I don't turn around anymore. ”
A 12-year-old boy said the restrictions were "created by the left to scare people," and told superiors, "Please open schools, sports. No masks. No social distancing. "
Terry Rapoza, a leader of the State of Jefferson Movement, wearing a polo shirt with a US flag and the Lincoln Memorial on it, turned to the crowd, most of whom stood because the seats had been removed.
"We're here, aren't we?" he said when they cheered.
Rapoza read a statement saying that he had helped prepare for the self-proclaimed California state militia that business owners were beginning to put in their windows. Companies, it is said, "are" protected "by the militia, and any attempt by the government to interfere" may meet with resistance ".
In an interview, Rapoza said that there are still many unanswered questions about what happened in Washington, but that "we got it right in Redding".
"When a bit of rhetoric got rough, big deal," he said. “They hit each other with sticks in Congress when someone said something wrong or stupid. For the most part, everyone was pretty level-headed. The people we voted for are very disappointed. There will be a recall and they will be gone. "
Three days after his angry speech, Fairfield said in an interview that he sees what happens at the regulatory meetings as a "microcosm of what happens at the national level".
Fairfield, a disabled army veteran who served in Iraq, said he believed the presidential election was stolen and that elites, including local officials, benefited from the pandemic while Americans were losing their livelihoods.
"Democracy doesn't die because people question the results of an election. Democracy dies when people don't believe the election results and don't believe what they are told by the government and government mouthpieces like you," he told a reporter the Times: "Nobody believes the media."
Among the groups putting pressure on Shasta County officials – the State of Jefferson Movement, the Redding Patriots, the Open Shasta Coalition, the California State Militia – Zapata has been a preferred voice since his speech in August at the regulatory meeting which has led to several appearances on Alex Jones & # 39; Infowars.
Zapata is an active member of the militia and was a longtime Democrat who turned Republican to vote for Trump. He said he was considering running for office himself.
As the son of Peruvian immigrants, he breeds rodeo bulls on 10 hectares in Palo Cedro, right next to the ranch of the late country legend Merle Haggard. In his home last week, he said that politicians should have a "healthy fear" of their voters and that the line between threat and confrontation is good.
If district officials lock the buildings down in the future, people will march in and have armed militia guards outside.
“Without the threat of physical violence, our words are empty. We don't have teeth for our message, ”said Zapata. "When I call for violence, I say," Hey, let's kill people? "Absolutely not. And I never have. I was misquoted there. But I say we have now come to the point where we have to consider the threat of violence in order to protect ourselves."
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