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On February 7th and 8th, coalitions of far-right groups descended upon two San Diego county civic events. On the 7th, the coalition gathered at the Oceanside Unified School District school board meeting. On the 8th, they gathered at a Santee city council meeting. Several figures attended both events despite not being a constituent of one or both cities. Far-right actors brigaded public comments with transphobic diatribes and intimidated pro-LGBTQ+ activists and locals.
Right-wing groups organized in response to city council public comment about a trans woman using the women’s facilities at the Cameron Family YMCA in Santee. At a subsequent meeting on January 18th, Proud Boys attended and were confronted by antifascist community members, and broader community defense. They continued to gather in the following days, and many of of the same people organized for these meetings.
Awaken Church, whose staff had called people to organize at the previous Santee city council meeting, was represented by staff members at these meetings. Awaken has the largest platform among local far-right organizers, and largely are the driving force behind this right-wing mobilization.
In a video of an Awaken Church sermon shared on February 6th by church staff, pastors call on their congregation to attend both civic events. Subsequently, a flier was circulated online by the private Facebook group, SanteeParents4Choice. Its founder also founded the East County Parents Alliance group.
Staff and affiliates of Awaken Church attended and spoke at both meetings. The most well known of the group is Louis Uridel, a TPUSA affiliate, Awaken member, and antivaxx organizer. He was joined by two other prominent figures in the San Diego antivaxx, christian nationalist movement.
Pastor Samuel Deuth and Shaun Frederickson attended and spoke as well. Deuth is a TPUSA affiliate as well as an Awaken pastor. He has previously defended himself against accusations of Christian Nationalism by going live on Instagram while driving away from a TPUSA conference which hosted Donald Trump. Frederickson is an antivaxx organizer the church has worked with. Uridel and Frederickson have worked on antivaxx events in San Diego through Freedom Revival Events. Uridel and Deuth are both a part of Awaken’s Emerge Men’s ministry. The three spent their allotted time making transphobic comments and jokes and fear mongering about trans people.
On both nights, Uridel attempted to turn his public comments into a transphobic tight-five, bemoaning some supposed woke ideology and denying the very existence of trans people through cheap jokes. In Santee, Deuth’s tone was more serious. He characterized trans identities as something people have been coerced into acknowledging—and characterized trans women in women’s restrooms as a battle against evil. He thanked the city council and encouraged them to “challenge the narrative.” Frederickson similarly leaned into accusations and fear mongering–in Oceanside, he accused the head of the LGBT Resource Center of wanting to manipulate children to become LGBTQ.
In Santee, Frederickson brought a video of a trans sex worker in a public restroom and used it to imply that gender-inclusive laws will enable predators. However, Frederickson didn’t reveal that the woman in the video was a sex worker in his presentation. He has retweeted the sex worker directly.
All three were clear that they would continue to organize attendance to these public meetings until their demands were met. These strategies echo Michael Flynn, the former Trump admin National Security Advisor who appeared at Awaken Church last year. Flynn has advocated for brigading school boards on multiple occasions.
Awaken affiliates were joined by other organizations and loosely-affiliated cohorts. Like all the Awaken affiliates present, several speakers at Santee were vocal at San Diego city council and school board meetings last year. All made conspiratorial, antivaxx comments. One such speaker is Audra Morgan, who’s been a fixture at right-wing political demonstrations in San Diego. Another speaker, Alan, routinely pushes Libertarian lines in Escondido and Chula Vista. Several speakers at both events admitted they did not live in the relevant city.
One such traveling commenter is Bryce Henson, founder of a “parent advocates” group. Henson commented in Thousand Oaks, San Diego, and Temecula Valley. His organization is opposed to “critical race theory, radical gender theory, and vaccine and mask tyranny.” He protested drag story hour at the Boo Bash in Hillcrest last October. He was joined by Mario Presents, other Gays Against Groomers members, and Proud Boys. He also attended events with LEXIT and Exiled Patriots.
“Our movement is growing, and we are going to have to pick sides now,” said Henson to the Santee city council. He said nearly the same thing to the Oceanside Unified school board the night prior.
The transphobia was consistent across both nights. Some speakers tried to erase trans people, claiming that they were merely dysfunctional gay men. Others tried to portray trans people as sexual deviants. One Oceanside speaker went so far as to claim the devastating earthquake in Turkey was God’s response to Sam Smith’s performance at The Grammy Awards. The pathologization of an identity precedes genocidal ideation, and this was highlighted by one speaker at Oceanside.
When one Mr. Finn commented that Nazi Germany began its genocidal campaign with attacks on gender-affirming care and books about transgender issues, he was met with laughter.
Extremist groups were represented across both nights. Several attendees in Santee wore LEXIT hats and shirts. Proud Boy-adjacent group Gays Against Groomers had representatives at both meetings, some of whom attended both events. At least one Proud Boy was in attendance at Santee—Adam Kiefer. Although Kiefer was not pictured that night, he was photographed at prior Santee hate rallies. On the 8th, he was joined by right-wing streamer Joshua Fulfer. Kiefer and several masked goons wandered the grounds of city council, seemingly looking for anti-fascists, and rushing to respond to perceived threats. Chris Reyes, who assaulted antifascists in Riverside and regularly joins Proud Boys for anti-choice protests, also attended.
LCRW had the opportunity to speak with a Santee resident who planned on commenting publicly, but opted not to out of concern for her safety.
“I was very uncomfortable. I came as a resident of Santee and an educator to let the city council know that if they decide to cut ties with the YMCA they would be taking jobs and services and activities from the community. I wanted to let them know that all three of my children took lessons from the YMCA,” she wrote.
She continued, “But I felt extremely uncomfortable to share that because the group that came to protest the YMCA and the transgender woman were loud and aggressive. The outside of the city council building was inappropriate and uncomfortable as there were members of extreme right wing groups present and a man selling Trump merchandise. I had to call my husband to come to the meeting to escort me outside because I am a woman of color and I was afraid of the group outside.”
At the end of the Santee city council meeting, Mayor John Minto reassured the right-wingers in the crowd he was working on the their behalf.
“You have no idea what we’re doing behind the scenes, but we’re listening to you, and we’ve heard what you’ve said.”
When Minto indicated that the city council had also listened to the other side, the crowd was silent. Minto then reminded the audience that Santee city council cannot override state mandates.
He was interrupted by jeers.