“Not About A Vaccine”: In Shasta County, Marathon Eight Hours of Public Comment Centers on Feared Loss of Freedoms

Some also expressed concerns about the potential for violence as local unrest against Newsom’s COVID mandates swells.

One day after many hundreds of locals rallied by the Sundial Bridge as part of a state-wide walkout against COVID vaccine mandates in schools, many dozens showed up to voice similar dissent during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.  

Speakers were mostly united against COVID mandates that many said signify a loss of their basic rights as Americans. Their concerns ran much broader and deeper than COVID restrictions, repeatedly referencing deeper concerns about “communism,” “marxism,” and “socialism”.  They pleaded with the Board and the larger community to “wake up” to what they call a radical agenda much broader than COVID restrictions that is being put in place across the United States and the world.

“What are we dealing with?” public speaker Lisa Michaud asked. “A virus? Communism? Marxism?  To the marxists, it’s war … right now the weapons they use are education, language, healthcare.”

Another speaker, Brenda, echoed a similar theme: “If you think this is just about mask mandates, you’re wrong. We have a government that’s trying to divide our people, God’s people, by the color of their skin, by their medical choices, by history, by their gender identity, all of those things. And if we keep allowing this to happen we will have no country.”

A sign outside the Board Chambers. Photo by Annelise Pierce.

Dozens more shared similar words and themes, with many relating vaccine mandates to symbols connected with the Nazi party and the Holocaust, including stars, paper clips, death trains, Auschwitz, and the Nuremburg trials. 

Linda Johnson held up a paper clip necklace during her speech, telling the Board that it represented the paper clip chains used to support educators who refused to teach Nazi principles in Norway: “The mandates are not laws, and shouldn’t be…Don’t tell us what to think.  Stop. We want freedom and liberty even if it occasionally makes us sick.”

And former Redding City Council member Gary Cadd spoke similarly, “They came for the unionists, the school teachers, SEUI, I did nothing,” he said, sharing a well-known reference to the Nazi occupation; “Then they came for me and there was no one to help.”

It’s a comparison that has angered Jewish communities across America, including in California’s Orange County, where Marilyn Harran, director of the Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library at Chapman University, told news media outlet Voice of Orange County, that statements like these are inaccurate, inappropriate and “demeaning to the suffering of those who actually experienced the Holocaust.”

Harran said vaccination cards should be compared to drivers licenses, documentation that expands freedoms, rather than the Nazi yellow star that was meant to “separate, limit and ultimately take away any kind of personal freedom or rights.” 

The regional director of Orange County’s Anti-Defamation League, Rabbi Peter Levin, also speaking to the Voice of Orange County, agreed, saying that reasonable concerns about vaccine mandates are undermined by comparisons with the Holocaust. “If we’re going to talk about some kind of vaccine passport,” Levi said, “those are important conversations and discussions we need to have.” But, he said “this comparison (to the Nazi regime) completely misses the point and is a distortion on what the Holocaust is all about — the evil, the monstrosity. And it doesn’t legitimize their position.”

But in Shasta County, some community members insist they are facing persecutions that indicate similar losses of freedom lie ahead. As evidence, they cite healthcare workers who have lost their jobs after refusing to be vaccinated against COVID and teachers who face the loss of their jobs after refusing both testing and the COVID vaccine. 

Many also expressed concerns about the loss of educational choices for their children. Speakers were emboldened in their vocal protest of Board policies by the large number of local families who participated in a school walkout on October 18. According to reporting by the Record Searchlight, in some local districts up to 50 percent of students were absent from school. Parents kept their children out of school as a preemptive protest against COVID vaccine mandates for students that won’t actually take effect until July 2022. 

As the mostly unmasked crowd packed the County Board Chambers, Shasta County’s COVID pandemic continued, with Health and Human Services reporting eight more deaths from COVID that day. Shasta County has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state and a COVID-19 death rate that is six times the state’s average. 

After more than an hour of public comment, Supervisor Patrick Jones interrupted the comment period to make a motion that the Board send a letter to Newsom stating that they would not enforce mask or vaccination mandates. His statement was met with loud cheers from the crowd and was immediately seconded by Supervisor Les Baugh.

“We have all authority granted to us by the populace that has elected us in Shasta County,” Baugh said. “We are not restricted on taking any stand, or any vote, or any opinion that we choose. I am only one person, but I can choose to say whatever darn thing I want to say. I can choose to shout back at the state of California…There comes a point when you have to stand up and say not only no, but hell no.”

On September 14, 2021, after contentious debate, the Board approved a resolution that opposed state vaccine mandates. At the time, the only dissenting vote came from Jones, who felt the resolution wasn’t strong enough. But on Monday, Baugh appeared to have changed his mind, agreeing with Jones that a new resolution was needed and telling fellow Supervisor Mary Rickert, “Either take a stand or get out of the chair!” 

But Supervisors Rickert, Leonard Moty, and Joe Chimenti voted not to form another resolution against COVID mandates. Instead, all three repeatedly emphasized that they have no power to change state mandates, that a resolution expressing their opposition to state COVID restrictions has already been sent, and that further action would not be effective.

“This is just political banter,” Chimenti told the crowd; “We don’t have the authority. The best way for us to do this is to not enforce. The best way for us to do this is to do enforcement through education which is what we’ve done for the last fourteen months. We’ve never written a ticket, we’ve never closed a business, we’ve never done any of these things.”

But for many hours, speakers urged the Supervisors to reconsider. Sometimes speaking calmly one-by-one and at other times shouting in response to the Supervisors during multiple tense moments in the room, community members asked the Board, regardless of their legal powers, to speak up on behalf of a growing and vocal constituency.  

Many said if the Board does not take a vocal, public stand now, regardless of their legal powers to affect COVID mandates, they have indicated their complicity with what one speaker called a “slave and peasant” mentality. “Would there ever be a mandate from Sacramento,” science teacher Matt Fowler asked, “that you would say no to”? “Where is your line in the sand?” others asked.  

A sign outside the Board Chambers. Photo by Annelise Pierce.

Still others shamed the Supervisors for refusing to sacrifice for the cause of American liberty, alluding to the actions taken by white settlers during the American Revolution and to the ultimate sacrifice made by American soldiers who’ve died fighting wars abroad.

Calling America “the only stabilizing force in the world,” Peter Scales spoke about his concerns for the future, saying he came to the meeting to speak to the Board about water issues, but was impassioned to join in on the issue of freedoms after listening to the crowd. “If America fails there’s going to be a serious world war. And what’s going on here is going on all over the rest of America. It’s slowly building, and it’s happened before, in 1776.”

Many asked the board to offer them hope by being vocal advocates for a significant Californian minority and working with representatives in other Counties to form a united stand against Newsom’s mandates.

“You are extremely influential and  powerful,” said Jeff Lowe, “your voices carry.” Referencing national news coverage of statements made publicly at Board of Supervisors meetings over the last year he said, “The whole country knows what’s going on in Shasta County, they’re paying attention.” 

Brent Taylor, a local businessman, echoed those who said they’d like to see Shasta County be one of the places in America that “takes a stand.” Then, seeming to warn of the possibility of violence if vocal public opinion is ignored, Taylor continued: “In history, when good people get pushed, sometimes good people do bad things. I don’t think that’s where we want it to go.”

Cadd voiced similar concerns. “Shasta County is about to catch fire,” he said. “It’s not going to be a wildfire but when it’s all over, said and done it’s going to probably look like a wildfire. These people are mad. I could use a more descriptive word but they’re really mad and they have a darn good reason for being mad. You’re threatening them, their lives, their jobs, their children. You could not do anything to more upset the people in the county of Shasta than exactly what you’re doing now.” 

Jeremy Edwardson, a music producer with connections to Bethel Church, who is producing a TV documentary series focused on local politics related to COVID restrictions, told the Board he had hoped multiple counties would get on board with a united stand against COVID mandates.

“I think this would be a much more exciting documentary,” Edwardson said, referencing the Red White and Blueprint series, “if we could show a second county, third, fourth, fifth, standing up against a wave of tyranny that keeps on coming and doesn’t look like it’s going to change. I’d like to turn a corner and show some hope in this documentary.”

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