California county recalls top official, giving militia-aligned group a path to government

<span>Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Voters in far northern California have solidified the ouster of a Republican county official, giving control of the Shasta county board of supervisors to a group supported by local militia members.

Leonard Moty, a retired police chief and Republican with decades of public service, lost his seat in a recall election in one of California’s most conservative counties. The Tuesday recall came as tensions reached a high in the county after two years of threats and increasing hostility toward moderate Republican officials over pandemic health restrictions.

Related: California county on track to be run by militia-aligned group

“I really thought my community would step up to the plate and they didn’t and that’s very discouraging,” Moty said in an interview with the Guardian earlier this week, warning the recall would shift the area to the “alt-right”.

Updated polling numbers released on Friday showed about 56% of 8,752 voters supported recalling Moty. Cathy Darling Allen, the county registrar of voters, said there were about 121 ballots left to count. The results won’t be finalized until next month, but the two candidates in the lead to replace Moty attended a celebration on Tuesday with members of an area militia group, the Sacramento Bee reported.

The recall is a win for the county’s ultra-conservative movement in their efforts to gain a foothold in local government in this rural part of northern California and fight back against moderate Republicans they felt didn’t do enough to resist state health rules during the pandemic.

Though Shasta county was among the least restrictive in California amid Covid, residents unhappy about state rules and mask requirements have showed up to meetings in large numbers since 2020. Moty and others were subjected to what law enforcement has deemed “credible threats” and personal attacks in meetings – one person told him that bullets are expensive, but “ropes are reusable”.

Experts have warned the pandemic and eroding trust in US institutions has fueled extremism in local politics and hostility against officials. In Shasta county, the successful recall campaign will likely set up more conflict between the local government and the state government, said Lisa Pruitt, a rural law expert at the University of California, Davis.

Carlos Zapata, a local militia member who helped organize the recall efforts, in 2020 told the board there could be blood in the streets if the supervisors didn’t reject state health rules such as mask requirements.

“This is a warning for what’s coming. It’s not going to be peaceful much longer. It’s going to be real … I’ve been in combat and I never wanted to go back again, but I’m telling you what – I will to stay in this country. If it has to be against our own citizens, it will happen. And there’s a million people like me, and you won’t stop us,” he said.