On August 3rd, Ammar Campa-Najjar announced that he had received California Governor Gavin Newsom’s endorsement in Chula Vista’s mayoral race.
This isn’t Campa-Najjar’s first campaign for public office. In 2020, he ran against congressman Darrell Issa to represent California’s 50th Congressional District. Running as a Democrat, Campa-Najjar flaunted his proximity to Donald Trump through comments in the Defend East County Facebook group.
Campa-Najjar commented that he intended to switch his party affiliation to Independent once elected, and that he did not support “legal or illegal” abortion. As an aside, Campa-Najjar congratulated former representative Justin Amash for changing his party affiliation from Republican to Independent in 2019. Campa-Najjar also appeared on a livestream with DEC’s founder, Justin Haskins.
“I joined Defend East County because I wanted to see it for myself . . . I sat down, talked to Justin a couple weeks ago. We talked for five hours about East County and everything you guys stand for,” answered Campa-Najjar on the October 7th, 2020 stream.
Campa-Najjar continued, “When I first logged on, one of the questions was, ‘Will you refrain from racism? Will you refrain from hate speech?’ I can get behind that. That sounds different from what I’ve been hearing in the news.”
Defend East County is a San Diego-area hate group that formed largely in response to Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and organized largely through Facebook. One particularly violent member of the DEC Facebook group was, Grey Zamudio, a neo-Nazi who was arrested for unregistered silencers and made bombing plots with a former Sheriff’s Deupty. Haskins, who emerged as DEC’s leader, has a significant record of violence and racism.
A video of the livestream posted by The Activated Podcast includes on-the-ground footage of DEC members’ behavior. One instance shows Justin Haskins asking a Black man what plantation he’s from.
Another video shared by The Activated Podcast shows Haskins leading DEC members in a chant while confronting a protester. His shouts of “East County” were met with unified shouts of “WAR.”
WAR–short for White Aryan Resistance–is the name of late white-supremacist Tom Metzger’s skinhead network. Metzger’s group is now defunct, but its name lives on as a racist symbol in iconography, tattoos, and speech.
Justin Haskins has continued in his efforts to agitate since hosting Campa-Najjar. In 2021, when congressional candidate Steven Houlahan condemned Haskins’ racism, Haskins responded by joining a Zoom call for constituents to state that “BLM is a group, not a race,” and “there were many minorities with me defending the community against BLM.”
On January 6th, 2021, Haskins attended the capitol riot in Washington D.C. He posted a video of himself in a crowd marching up the street.
“I just finished hearing Trump talk. We’re all heading to the Capitol,” said Haskins in the clip.
Haskins has also directed threatening comments to Tasha Williamson, a Black woman who organizes for social justice in San Diego. In one such comment, Haskins says he hopes that Williamson knows “how to swim with your hands and feet tied. We’re gonna find out.”
Last month, Haskins solicited funds to support the assailant in the hate crime LCRW reported on earlier this year. He characterizes the assailant as the “political prisoner of an overzealous liberal DA trying to pander to the BLM mob.” Although the victim was called racist and misogynistic slurs while being stabbed and beaten, Haskins claims the assailant acted in self defense.
Following backlash from local Democrats in October of 2020, Campa-Najjar stated that he does not condone hate or threats of violence from any group, including DEC. This change in messaging was evident in two of Campa-Najjar’s tweets sent fifteen minutes apart. On October 9th, he tweeted that both he and DEC do not condone violence, only to follow that up by stating he does not condone DEC’s own violence.
“I will continue to work with people across the aisle. I will never again engage any group that tries to threaten the lives of people, uses racism, or proactively uses violence,” said Campa-Najjar in a Facebook video on October 11, 2020.
Since then, Campa-Najjar has made statements affirming his commitment to the Democratic party and recognition of systemic racism. He has condemned the 2021 capitol riots, and signaled an aversion to defunding the police and socialism. As a mayoral candidate, his website promises to hire forty police officers in Chula Vista.
In May, The Activated Podcast reported that Campa-Najjar’s mayoral campaign received funding from the family of congressional representative Sara Jacobs. Campa-Najjar’s campaign sent out mailers depicting him with a woman and two children who are not his immediate family. Campa-Najjar has since stated that the two boys are his godchildren, but this information was not present in the mailer, nor online.
Neither Campa-Najjar’s campaign nor Governor Gavin Newsom’s office responded to LCRW’s requests for comment.
Joe Orellana is a San Diego-based photojournalist. You can find his work on his website. You can tip him for his work at $joeorephoto on Cash App and send him tips on events to photograph at Photo@joeorellana.com.
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