X Close

The California militia ready for civil war In Shasta, libertarian cowboys control the county

Patrick Jones in his family gun store (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Patrick Jones in his family gun store (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)


June 27, 2023   9 mins

Redding, the capital of Shasta County in the far north of California, spreads out in thin strips of suburbia, its freeways reaching up into mountainous upcountry. Here, 19th-century gold-mining settlements crouch in the valleys among snow-ridged glaciers and lines of pine trees ravaged by the yearly forest fires. Looming over all of this is Mount Shasta, a huge volcano associated with Native American legends, New Age cults, and purported UFO sightings.

Shasta County has always attracted American outliers, a laboratory for both success and failure. These are the valleys and mountains where John Steinbeck sent his characters in Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, escaping from the restrictive cities and scarce land of the Midwest. In the Seventies, hippies fled the fading counterculture of the Bay to live communally here. Today’s exiles take the form of a conservative militia.

When the Covid pandemic hit in March 2020, California’s Democratic governor Gavin Newsom enacted America’s first state-wide stay-at-home order, before introducing some of the country’s strictest measures, closing schools and mandating the wearing of masks in public buildings. The health officials in Shasta, aware of local sentiment, attempted to limit the extent of these policies and consequently implemented some of the most lenient lockdowns in the state. However, if the fiercely independent residents of Shasta bit their tongues and did as they were told, it was grudgingly, and only up to a point. According to many libertarians in Shasta, lockdown measures threatened their livelihoods, while vaccine mandates were viewed as a further infringement on their personal liberties. So, when Shasta County’s elected Republican Board of Supervisors suggested residents take up their grievances with state legislators, enraged residents took matters into their own hands.

Over the past three years, the established local political elite — a wealthy class of Reagan Republicans that has traditionally run the county from its ranches and legal offices — has slowly found itself recalled and replaced with libertarian newcomers. Post-Covid, only Mary Rickert, a local cattle rancher who describes herself as an “incredibly conservative Catholic” (though others in the town label her a “rhino” — Republican in name only), remains in office.

Patrick Jones, whose family owns a local gun store, helped to overturn the once mighty Republican majority by convening a new movement made up of libertarians, evangelical conservatives, the local Cottonwood militia, the Shasta-based Liberty Committee, and anti-California secessionists. Jones and his three other newly elected insurgent supervisors — Kevin Crye, Chris Kelstrom and Tim Garman — are backed by Right-wing millionaire Reverge Anselmo and Mike Lindell, a leading Trump associate. And now that lockdown is over, this militant faction has even bigger targets: their goal is to return Shasta to traditional ballot-box voting, to abolish what some consider to be California’s unconstitutional gun laws, and to secede from Sacramento and become part of a new breakaway State of Jefferson.

High on mutinous ambition, residents of Shasta County (population: 182,139) find themselves at the confluence of several distinct American forces, each with its unique worldview and a disregard for ideological enemies. There is little consensus to be found beyond a shared sense of American crisis. There is also fierce resistance from Rickert and her equally odd coalition of progressives, liberals, moderates, conservatives, public worker unions and local media outlets; the rare Democrats and liberals who reside this far outside the Bay Area have to work closely with Republicans.

Yet no matter what side of the conflict they occupy, the people here are keen to describe how the state of California has abandoned its rural peripheries, exporting state-wide problems around drug abuse, homelessness, farming, land use, water access, forest fires and property prices.

Another element to consider, whose presence is felt everywhere in Redding, is the powerful Bethel Church, led by pastor Bill Johnson; it espouses an overtly political theology and counts many local politicians among its flock. Almost everyone I stayed with was a member of this megachurch, which espouses an extreme form of Pentecostalism. One host, with a beard of biblical proportions, prayed over me in tongues while a taxi driver offered to cast out my demons. Yet when I asked about the church, people often went silent, perhaps fearful of the last time they were dragged into the media. In 2019, members of the church — which practises grave-soaking, whereby the energy of deceased Christian leaders is “sucked” from tombs — attempted to resurrect a dead toddler. Since then, however, Bethel’s influence has continued to grow: its music division still racks up millions of views on YouTube. And yet, Bethel was the only organisation in Shasta to decline my request for an interview.

I arrive in Redding by train after dark and look for somewhere to see out the night, but the station’s main building is locked up and surrounded by a large spiked fence. A torch flicks on, and a security guard asks where I’m heading and where I’m from. He tells me the station was closed because of homelessness: “They shit everywhere and ruin the place. They’re coming up from San Francisco and LA, or they’re being sent
 Who knows?” Instead, I find a bench beneath a poster warning against fentanyl use.

The next day, I walk to my hotel across town and amble past a roadside rally of MAGA flags, libertarian regalia, and what look like old Tea Party signs from the 2010s. A huge truck blasts its horn in support as it speeds down the freeway. An old man standing behind a stall filled with Trump leaflets gives me a nod as families and individuals stop to talk.

Later, I join the open session of the local Board of Supervisors, which, in 2020, was the focus of tense protests and debate over lockdowns. The hall slowly fills up; the majority are retired hippies or conservative ranchers from out of town. What starts as a regular local government meeting dealing with the prosaic business of water reservoirs and local art foundations quickly escalates into a debate about Trump, Covid and voting fraud.

Speakers from the floor discuss the pros and cons of Dominion voting machines, whose manufacturer was recently paid $787.5 million by Fox Corp to settle a defamation case involving cable news pundits and conspiracy theories. The conversation soon spirals out into stolen elections, national corruption, drug addiction and the “lies” of the media class. One local stands up and claims she had seen buses run by the San Francisco government dropping scores of homeless people in Redding at night. Another man in a trucker hat points to the serried ranks of local journalists and shouts: “I’m watching you. You don’t intimidate us anymore.” Yet the tenor of today’s political debate is comparatively anodyne; three years ago, amid lockdown controversy, one constituent told the board that “you have made bullets expensive ­— but, luckily for you, ropes are reusable”.

Although the recall efforts have a large civic element, they have also been bolstered by the Cottonwood Militia, one of several active groups across California. It was started by local barber Woody Clendenen in his barn back in 2008 and counts around 1,000 local business owners and ranchers among its ranks. Indeed, Cottonwood Militia members often intersect with other organisations such as “the Jefferson Movement”, “Red, White and Blueprint” and local evangelical churches.

“They’re different legs of the same spider,” Carlos Zapata, a Cottonwood militia member and restaurant owner tells me over a drink in the local saloon of the nearby town of Palo Cedro. For Carlos Zapata, the militia “is here with a message that we’re not going anywhere
we’re here to fight [government overreach]. We want to take this project into rural America and the nation in general.” Zapata, like many others in Shasta, was drawn to the militia during the pandemic. He tells me: “Covid was like this Great Awakening. People started showing up to protest in droves — they wanted to join something because they thought we were going to civil war against the opposition. Do we need a civil war? I’d hate to think we’d need a civil war, but how do we get past this?”

“I had heard about a militia my whole adult life in Shasta,” says Doni Chamberlain, a local reporter. “And I kind of thought: ‘It’s just a bunch of guys out in the woods with paintball guns.’ I had no idea until George Floyd’s death. During the 2020 riots in Portland, there were all these crazy stories about Antifa coming down with truckloads of bricks. We had a protest here in Shasta. That was the militia’s coming-out party in Redding. There were more militia members than there were protesters. There was a mix of open and closed carry guns.”

“They’re faux-cowboys,” she says. “Most of them, I would say, are from average California towns. I think they’ve just embraced the whole gun culture because they believe that a civil war is coming — us against them.” She later describes how one resident told her that she “should be publicly executed
 that the only way people like me learn is to be dragged behind a car”. And yet, she argues that many people in the county are acting in good faith, even if they are fundamentally misguided: “I understand there are some people who joined the militia for what they thought were good, valid reasons. What’s more American — or manly — than protecting your city from riots?”

A few days later, I meet Patrick Jones at the family shop, Jones’s Fort. (“Come to my gun store,” he says, “you’re English — you probably don’t get to see many.”) The shop is a large building on the edge of town where the heads of elk and bison hang beside the racks of rifles and shotguns. In a back room adorned with two massive buffalo heads, he leans up against a chair in a pair of old cowboy boots.

“I’ve been in local politics a while,” he tells me, “but when I won my [Board of Supervisors] primary in 2020, that’s when a lot of the excitement started. I’m a traditional, small-state conservative”, emphasising that his political vision is regional rather than federal. Indeed, much of what he and others argue is in step not with contemporary protectionist Trumpism, but with the earlier Tea Party movement. During the 2010s, the Tea Party was concerned with fiscal conservatism, national debt reduction, lower taxes and a small state. “This area is conservative, and it should have a government that reflects that,” Jones continues. “We rose up and did something about it. It’s our job to push back.”

Indeed, Jones has long been associated with the State of Jefferson (SoJ), a movement that opposes the cultural and political dominance of Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The SoJ is a group with roots in the 19th century when the remote north became a natural resources hub for the cities. By 1941, SoJ activists had set up armed roadblocks around Northern California and Southern Oregon, unilaterally declaring succession before the Second World War interrupted.

Jones maintains that a break from California and the creation of the SoJ — from the northernmost counties of California and parts of neighbouring Oregon — will take an uprising. “There have been hundreds of attempts to split the state. But there’s no way, legally, for us to break away,” he says. “The only real way, if it’s ever going to happen, is for the people here to rise up and make it happen. Rural parts of California have no representation today. So splitting the state would allow us to form a more conservative government where you are paying less tax and are more free. We’re setting a trend. We have five counties in California watching what we’re doing here right now.”

Leaving Jones, I head to the Shasta County office to talk to Supervisor Mary Rickert. I’m joined by her husband Jim. Both are long-time cattle ranchers whose families have farmed in Shasta County for five generations. Neither believes that a libertarian SoJ would solve any of Shasta’s problems. “Some 85% of our funding comes from state and federal dollars,” Rickert says. “We’re a taker, not a giver. We couldn’t survive.”

However, she shares Jones’s distrust of Sacramento’s ability to effectively govern Northern California. “Gavin Newsom is not agriculture-friendly,” she says, giving a stark example. Under Californian law, she can’t shoot the wolves that threaten her cattle. “But why is a wolf’s life more valuable than a cow’s?” She maintains this isn’t really a priority for the militia. “I’ll be very clear, I believe they’re using Shasta County to elevate themselves. To his followers, Jones talks about not working with the government,” Rickert argues. “But behind the scenes, he’s for his personal gain through government grants to promote a new gun range.”

Before I leave Redding, I call Mark Baird, the leader of the SoJ movement. When he picks up the phone, the line is hazy; he’s under the wing of a small aeroplane in remote Siskiyou County, where he works as an aerial firefighter.

Baird identifies two flashpoints in Northern California history. The first is the 19th-century discovery of gold, which transformed the region into a resource hub with less settled urban populations than the powerful South. For Baird, second in importance are the constitutional reforms of liberal Republican governor Earl Warren during the Fifties that reduced rural representation at the state level. “We have a model in California, where the northern third of California has six state-level representatives and the other two-thirds has 114,” Baird tells me. “As you can see, the natural resource counties, and the rural counties, never win. We never get anything we want [and then] all of this lunatic bullshit comes up from Sacramento. The State of Jefferson is really about ‘Rule of Law and Liberty.’ As Thomas Paine said in his funny little pamphlet, oddly enough called Common Sense, all parts of the colony need to remain representative.”

For Baird, state and national politics, across all parties, have fundamentally betrayed these principles and grown distant from their voters. “It’s time for the people to take back the government that they formed to represent them,” he tells me. “They’re not doing anything for anybody — except lining someone’s pocket and I guarantee you that someone lives in Sacramento.”

In some sense, America has always looked back to its early leaders for political prototypes. At the national level, the current arena seems to be dominated by a contest between Biden’s technocratic and institutionally focused Hamiltonianism and the plutocratic Jacksonian populism of Trump. On the open frontier, however, far from centralised power, a third model appears to be re-emerging: that of Jeffersonian yeoman democracy. Whether this very American brand of folk libertarianism will survive a 2024 national election year remains to be seen — especially if the race becomes defined, as seems likely, by the need for an economically interventionist policy in the face of mounting competition with China.

Despite all this, many in Shasta County seem determined to mount political resistance against a changing world. Much like the cowboys of old, they’ve barricaded the saloon, and they’re waiting, guns drawn, for a showdown at dawn. From this distance, however, it’s hard to tell whether the pistols and hats are even real.


Samuel McIlhagga is a British writer and journalist. He works on political thought and theory, culture and foreign affairs.

McilhaggaSamuel

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

40 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
J Bryant
J Bryant
11 months ago

An interesting article about a very real problem that seems to have no solution: the disenfranchisement of much of rural America.
The author seems much stronger on political theory than on the details of California politics or even California geography. His description of Shasta County politics harking back to “Jeffersonian yeoman democracy” is interesting, although I suspect his description of the Shasta residents as having “barricaded the salon” was meant to be “barricaded the saloon” (unless the author is unintentionally revealing his urban roots).
The author might also consider doing his research more thoroughly if he hopes to be taken seriously. For example, the article opens with this assertion:
“Shasta County has always attracted American outliers, a laboratory for both success and failure. These are the valleys and mountains where John Steinbeck sent his characters in Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, …”
Steinbeck’s stories, and certainly Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath, were almost all set in the Salinas Valley which is about 250 miles south of Shasta County.
Nonetheless, this is an interesting article about how disenfranchised Americans try to reassert political power in a nation dominated by postmodern elites. It’s easy to ridicule such Americans but, short of rebellion and secession, how are they to once again find a political voice and assert their desire to live in communities that reflect their values?

June Davis
June Davis
11 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I really stumbled on the Steinbeck part thinking this person has no idea where he is or anything about the difference between the Salinas Valley where a lot of US produce is grown and the more mountainous area of Shasta. I felt like the author saw the trunk of the proverbial elephant and failed to realize that there was a lot more to it.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  June Davis

I’m 45-year California resident, and yes to your comment and J Bryant’s above. Even so, I thought it was an interesting portrait of one part of a large, very populous state that people some people don’t associate with anything beyond Hollywood, Silicon Valley, or San Francisco.

Alan Elgey
Alan Elgey
11 months ago
Reply to  June Davis

Yes, I stumbled over Steinbeck as well. Even as a British national who has only visited California as a ‘legal alien’, it seemed a very strange thought.
But at least it has motivated me to go back and re-read some of his books to see if I can find even a trace of Jefferson in there.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  June Davis

I’m 45-year California resident, and yes to your comment and J Bryant’s above. Even so, I thought it was an interesting portrait of one part of a large, very populous state that people some people don’t associate with anything beyond Hollywood, Silicon Valley, or San Francisco.

Alan Elgey
Alan Elgey
11 months ago
Reply to  June Davis

Yes, I stumbled over Steinbeck as well. Even as a British national who has only visited California as a ‘legal alien’, it seemed a very strange thought.
But at least it has motivated me to go back and re-read some of his books to see if I can find even a trace of Jefferson in there.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Right. I respect a community’s right to take their politics in any voter-supported direction they choose, as long as the basic personal, lawful liberties of residents with divergent views are protected, and (I hope) respected in principle and practice. Compared to some factions, libertarians should have no problem doing a decent job of that. Just hold back from firing the first shots from your stockpiled bunkers, and please don’t try to secede.
Salon! Quite silly, intentional or not.

Alan Elgey
Alan Elgey
11 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Salon: they read this; it’s now fixed.
However, there is also an unfortunate ‘succession’ which makes no sense; surely the author meant ‘secession’.

Last edited 11 months ago by Alan Elgey
Katalin Kish
Katalin Kish
10 months ago
Reply to  Alan Elgey

As a non-native English speaker I had to look up whether ‘succession’ has a meaning like ‘secession’ 🙂

Katalin Kish
Katalin Kish
10 months ago
Reply to  Alan Elgey

As a non-native English speaker I had to look up whether ‘succession’ has a meaning like ‘secession’ 🙂

Alan Elgey
Alan Elgey
11 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Salon: they read this; it’s now fixed.
However, there is also an unfortunate ‘succession’ which makes no sense; surely the author meant ‘secession’.

Last edited 11 months ago by Alan Elgey
Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
11 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Yes, what we learn most of all from this article is how an outsider views rural America.

Alan Gore
Alan Gore
11 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I grew up in California. Wasn’t the 1941 barricading by Shasta County separatists an attempt to keep out the detested “Okies” or migrants from the poorest parts of the Dust Bowl Midwest? It took Steinbeck’s sympathetic novels set in the San Joaquin Valley to change the general public’s mind about those migrants.

Last edited 11 months ago by Alan Gore
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Alan Gore

Thanks for that historical context. I was unaware of the Shasta Co. part. While there may be an exception or two in Steinbeck’s large body of work, most of his fiction is set in the Salinas (not San Joaquin) Valley, and on the Pacific Coast in or near Monterey.
Your comment also points to a time when “white-on-white” ethnic or class-based bigotry was more common–or at least more open in these yoo-nited states. Many well-heeled or heavily-schooled Americans of today view rural folk, especially if they have Southern accents, with contempt or disgust, brandishing the same kind of prejudicial broad brush they attribute to those of a “rural mindset”.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Alan Gore

Thanks for that historical context. I was unaware of the Shasta Co. part. While there may be an exception or two in Steinbeck’s large body of work, most of his fiction is set in the Salinas (not San Joaquin) Valley, and on the Pacific Coast in or near Monterey.
Your comment also points to a time when “white-on-white” ethnic or class-based bigotry was more common–or at least more open in these yoo-nited states. Many well-heeled or heavily-schooled Americans of today view rural folk, especially if they have Southern accents, with contempt or disgust, brandishing the same kind of prejudicial broad brush they attribute to those of a “rural mindset”.

Katalin Kish
Katalin Kish
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

From Melbourne Australia this article fills me with envy about the power the US public have. Count your blessings US citizens.

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Steinbeck was a Commie

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

The Redcoats are coming the Redcoats are coming !!
Kill an overpaid cop — Join the Tea Party.
     They dont call them PIGS for nothing;
      first to the trough. 
After the Revolution read your Whiskey Rebellion history,
where GW & Alexander(central bank)Hamilton
slammed a federal excise tax on the poor corn farmers
& backed it up personally with the military force !They are not patriots they are revolutionaries.
As was the case the first time , this time also the Tea Party will lead to the destruction of the nation.
 Though both the latter & the present were not against their mother country they naively thought
 that they could have a revolution without separation, killing bloodshed, violence, war.
 If you do not know history it will repeat itself. 
NO THE TEA PARTY DOES NOT LIKE AMERIKA It is a sick bird; AN ILL EAGLE !!!

June Davis
June Davis
11 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I really stumbled on the Steinbeck part thinking this person has no idea where he is or anything about the difference between the Salinas Valley where a lot of US produce is grown and the more mountainous area of Shasta. I felt like the author saw the trunk of the proverbial elephant and failed to realize that there was a lot more to it.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Right. I respect a community’s right to take their politics in any voter-supported direction they choose, as long as the basic personal, lawful liberties of residents with divergent views are protected, and (I hope) respected in principle and practice. Compared to some factions, libertarians should have no problem doing a decent job of that. Just hold back from firing the first shots from your stockpiled bunkers, and please don’t try to secede.
Salon! Quite silly, intentional or not.

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
11 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Yes, what we learn most of all from this article is how an outsider views rural America.

Alan Gore
Alan Gore
11 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I grew up in California. Wasn’t the 1941 barricading by Shasta County separatists an attempt to keep out the detested “Okies” or migrants from the poorest parts of the Dust Bowl Midwest? It took Steinbeck’s sympathetic novels set in the San Joaquin Valley to change the general public’s mind about those migrants.

Last edited 11 months ago by Alan Gore
Katalin Kish
Katalin Kish
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

From Melbourne Australia this article fills me with envy about the power the US public have. Count your blessings US citizens.

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Steinbeck was a Commie

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

The Redcoats are coming the Redcoats are coming !!
Kill an overpaid cop — Join the Tea Party.
     They dont call them PIGS for nothing;
      first to the trough. 
After the Revolution read your Whiskey Rebellion history,
where GW & Alexander(central bank)Hamilton
slammed a federal excise tax on the poor corn farmers
& backed it up personally with the military force !They are not patriots they are revolutionaries.
As was the case the first time , this time also the Tea Party will lead to the destruction of the nation.
 Though both the latter & the present were not against their mother country they naively thought
 that they could have a revolution without separation, killing bloodshed, violence, war.
 If you do not know history it will repeat itself. 
NO THE TEA PARTY DOES NOT LIKE AMERIKA It is a sick bird; AN ILL EAGLE !!!

J Bryant
J Bryant
11 months ago

An interesting article about a very real problem that seems to have no solution: the disenfranchisement of much of rural America.
The author seems much stronger on political theory than on the details of California politics or even California geography. His description of Shasta County politics harking back to “Jeffersonian yeoman democracy” is interesting, although I suspect his description of the Shasta residents as having “barricaded the salon” was meant to be “barricaded the saloon” (unless the author is unintentionally revealing his urban roots).
The author might also consider doing his research more thoroughly if he hopes to be taken seriously. For example, the article opens with this assertion:
“Shasta County has always attracted American outliers, a laboratory for both success and failure. These are the valleys and mountains where John Steinbeck sent his characters in Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, …”
Steinbeck’s stories, and certainly Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath, were almost all set in the Salinas Valley which is about 250 miles south of Shasta County.
Nonetheless, this is an interesting article about how disenfranchised Americans try to reassert political power in a nation dominated by postmodern elites. It’s easy to ridicule such Americans but, short of rebellion and secession, how are they to once again find a political voice and assert their desire to live in communities that reflect their values?

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
11 months ago

“Speakers from the floor discuss the pros and cons of Dominion voting machines”
Anyone who thinks there are pros to voting machines needs to come to the UK. Old fashioned paper & pencil with results available within hours of polls closing, despite manual counts.

Lillian Fry
Lillian Fry
11 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

This is true. I was visiting Wales during an election and went with my Brit friend to vote. Paper ballots in a neighbor’s barn. She served us tea too and yes, results were available the same day.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
11 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Canada as well – all paper. I don’t understand why anyone would use voting machines.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Perhaps because our levels and state and county autonomy allow for a thousand different standards or election rigor, fairness, and poll-worker competence, some of which seem to make things take way too long in our instant-click, microwave world. Also, remember the “hanging chads”?
(*Has anyone else found that sometimes their comment(s) can’t be edited?)

Last edited 11 months ago by AJ Mac
Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
10 months ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

The machines only tabulate the marks on a paper ballot. While that seems simple enough, mis-calibration or reading errors can happen. The tabulated counts then go into a database that can be manipulated. In principle, machines can be more accurate than humans except they also can be misused.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
11 months ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Perhaps because our levels and state and county autonomy allow for a thousand different standards or election rigor, fairness, and poll-worker competence, some of which seem to make things take way too long in our instant-click, microwave world. Also, remember the “hanging chads”?
(*Has anyone else found that sometimes their comment(s) can’t be edited?)

Last edited 11 months ago by AJ Mac
Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
10 months ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

The machines only tabulate the marks on a paper ballot. While that seems simple enough, mis-calibration or reading errors can happen. The tabulated counts then go into a database that can be manipulated. In principle, machines can be more accurate than humans except they also can be misused.

Lillian Fry
Lillian Fry
11 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

This is true. I was visiting Wales during an election and went with my Brit friend to vote. Paper ballots in a neighbor’s barn. She served us tea too and yes, results were available the same day.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
11 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Canada as well – all paper. I don’t understand why anyone would use voting machines.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
11 months ago

“Speakers from the floor discuss the pros and cons of Dominion voting machines”
Anyone who thinks there are pros to voting machines needs to come to the UK. Old fashioned paper & pencil with results available within hours of polls closing, despite manual counts.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
11 months ago

“vaccine mandates were viewed as a further infringement on their personal liberties”
viewed as ?!

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
11 months ago

“vaccine mandates were viewed as a further infringement on their personal liberties”
viewed as ?!

Ralph Wade
Ralph Wade
11 months ago

The rural folks in California have legitimate gripes but the solution is not so easy. I live in Northern California and a few times a year drive up into Shasta and Trinity Counties. I’ve read local accounts that correspond with what the author reports here. But Shasta county accounts for less that one half of one percent of the entire population of California. The five counties discussed here might be around two percent of the State’s population. How much should they drive the State’s priorities? They could break away and form their “State of Jefferson”, but as the author states, 85% of their funding comes from State and Federal funds. They are takers not givers. Shasta County’s population density is 10 people per square mile. If those 10 people (which includes non wage earners) had to pay the entire bill for their roads, schools, and other services, they would scream even louder than now. Also, the problem would just be transferred. In the new State, the rural folks would be wailing that Redding, or what ever other capital gets designated, are not prioritizing their concerns. This is not to say that they don’t have real issues that need to be addressed by Sacramento. I just don’t think these militias and separatist movements are solutions.

Marissa M
Marissa M
11 months ago
Reply to  Ralph Wade

Exactly. A very, very small minority that would not survive without the funding from the rest of the state.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
11 months ago
Reply to  Ralph Wade

The 85% is funding for what exactly? I suspect a whole lot of compulsory government programmes the SoJ don’t want.

Ralph Wade
Ralph Wade
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Your comment made me curious and sent me looking. I found the County of Shasta Budget document for FY 2022/2023. It was 650 pages of details on the expenditures. I didn’t read it but did scan it. The funding goes for government services such as public safety (police, sheriffs, jails, courts judges, juvenile services, etc.), public works (roads infrastructure, water, etc), health services, general government administration, and on and on. When I looked over the document it appeared to cover the services that a reasonably advanced democratic government would supply to its members. Can you find programs that certain segments don’t value? Of course, but they are not a major driver for the budget.

justin fisher
justin fisher
11 months ago
Reply to  Ralph Wade

You left out schools. Generally, conservatives are fine with small town public schools. Some of them move there for that very reason. But the Libertarians will find a problem with the taxes and the more religious they are the more they’ll have a problem with the cultural stuff and more likely choose to home school, which makes them even madder about the taxes.

Property taxes tend to be the thing that pays for schools. Those taxes are calculated by the county based on the value of houses and property. The county assesses that value. Those values keep going up. Housing prices inflate. People become cynical and resentful about the whole system because of this.

justin fisher
justin fisher
11 months ago
Reply to  Ralph Wade

You left out schools. Generally, conservatives are fine with small town public schools. Some of them move there for that very reason. But the Libertarians will find a problem with the taxes and the more religious they are the more they’ll have a problem with the cultural stuff and more likely choose to home school, which makes them even madder about the taxes.

Property taxes tend to be the thing that pays for schools. Those taxes are calculated by the county based on the value of houses and property. The county assesses that value. Those values keep going up. Housing prices inflate. People become cynical and resentful about the whole system because of this.

Ralph Wade
Ralph Wade
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Your comment made me curious and sent me looking. I found the County of Shasta Budget document for FY 2022/2023. It was 650 pages of details on the expenditures. I didn’t read it but did scan it. The funding goes for government services such as public safety (police, sheriffs, jails, courts judges, juvenile services, etc.), public works (roads infrastructure, water, etc), health services, general government administration, and on and on. When I looked over the document it appeared to cover the services that a reasonably advanced democratic government would supply to its members. Can you find programs that certain segments don’t value? Of course, but they are not a major driver for the budget.

Marissa M
Marissa M
11 months ago
Reply to  Ralph Wade

Exactly. A very, very small minority that would not survive without the funding from the rest of the state.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
11 months ago
Reply to  Ralph Wade

The 85% is funding for what exactly? I suspect a whole lot of compulsory government programmes the SoJ don’t want.

Ralph Wade
Ralph Wade
11 months ago

The rural folks in California have legitimate gripes but the solution is not so easy. I live in Northern California and a few times a year drive up into Shasta and Trinity Counties. I’ve read local accounts that correspond with what the author reports here. But Shasta county accounts for less that one half of one percent of the entire population of California. The five counties discussed here might be around two percent of the State’s population. How much should they drive the State’s priorities? They could break away and form their “State of Jefferson”, but as the author states, 85% of their funding comes from State and Federal funds. They are takers not givers. Shasta County’s population density is 10 people per square mile. If those 10 people (which includes non wage earners) had to pay the entire bill for their roads, schools, and other services, they would scream even louder than now. Also, the problem would just be transferred. In the new State, the rural folks would be wailing that Redding, or what ever other capital gets designated, are not prioritizing their concerns. This is not to say that they don’t have real issues that need to be addressed by Sacramento. I just don’t think these militias and separatist movements are solutions.

mike otter
mike otter
11 months ago

Poor old militias – they never learn NOT to talk to journalists like the creep that wrote this article. As for journos and others trying to stir up civil war in USA: remember its only in your gated rainbow flagged communities that true segregation survives. Poverty, homelessness and addiction are great levelllers. Big corps and even much of the third sector have realised hiring on merit NOT ethnicity raises performance. When we celebrate our annual 4th July shindig (on the 3rd this year) you will see a wide range of class, colour and age worshipping various gods or none at all. What you will not see are hacks from “left foot forward” or any other outfit dedicated to a closed society drowning in its own hate.

mike otter
mike otter
11 months ago

Poor old militias – they never learn NOT to talk to journalists like the creep that wrote this article. As for journos and others trying to stir up civil war in USA: remember its only in your gated rainbow flagged communities that true segregation survives. Poverty, homelessness and addiction are great levelllers. Big corps and even much of the third sector have realised hiring on merit NOT ethnicity raises performance. When we celebrate our annual 4th July shindig (on the 3rd this year) you will see a wide range of class, colour and age worshipping various gods or none at all. What you will not see are hacks from “left foot forward” or any other outfit dedicated to a closed society drowning in its own hate.

N T
N T
11 months ago

As long as we’re complaining about the spelling issues, “secession”, not “succession”, and “RINO”, not “rhino”. Both are unnecessary distractions from this interesting piece.

N T
N T
11 months ago

As long as we’re complaining about the spelling issues, “secession”, not “succession”, and “RINO”, not “rhino”. Both are unnecessary distractions from this interesting piece.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
11 months ago

Ingenious essay. “Jeffersonian yeoman democracy” hits the nail squarely on the head. Most of the media here in the States can’t bring themselves to treat these people seriously. But they actually have a valid perspective on the most fundamental question: What is the United States?
It’s undeniable that our form of self government has changed radically since the Founding. Thankfully, the form we put up with now (captured by the two party/uni-party system) is not necessarily the last word on the matter. We should all want to understand what other citizens are thinking. Somewhere in all of that is our likely future.
So my thanks to Mr. Mcilhagga. He should shop this one around for the sake of a wider circulation. This is real journalism; when I got to the end I knew something about the people of Shasta County and almost nothing about Mr. McIlhagga’s opinions. Let’s hear more from him.
But UnHerd really needs to do something about copy editing! A live, fresh, human would be best, but a robot would be better than nothing.

Last edited 11 months ago by laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
11 months ago

Ingenious essay. “Jeffersonian yeoman democracy” hits the nail squarely on the head. Most of the media here in the States can’t bring themselves to treat these people seriously. But they actually have a valid perspective on the most fundamental question: What is the United States?
It’s undeniable that our form of self government has changed radically since the Founding. Thankfully, the form we put up with now (captured by the two party/uni-party system) is not necessarily the last word on the matter. We should all want to understand what other citizens are thinking. Somewhere in all of that is our likely future.
So my thanks to Mr. Mcilhagga. He should shop this one around for the sake of a wider circulation. This is real journalism; when I got to the end I knew something about the people of Shasta County and almost nothing about Mr. McIlhagga’s opinions. Let’s hear more from him.
But UnHerd really needs to do something about copy editing! A live, fresh, human would be best, but a robot would be better than nothing.

Last edited 11 months ago by laurence scaduto
Samuel McIlhagga
Samuel McIlhagga
11 months ago

Of Mice and Men — a large section is set in the town of Weed, where the main characters are chased out after a misunderstanding.
Weed, albeit in Siskiyou County — is still very much part of the Jefferson project’s larger zone that finds its current political heart in Shasta and Redding.
Yes, Grapes of Wrath is mostly set in Salinas — I was referring here to the broader rural primary extractive resource areas in contrast to urban California — and the difference these material priorities provoke. That Steinbeck sends his characters to flawed but promising ‘Edenic’ areas ‘like’ Shasta.
But, yes. This distinction could have been a bit clearer!

Last edited 11 months ago by Samuel McIlhagga
Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
11 months ago

Since you’re here, Republicans In Name Only are RINOs, not “rhinos”.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
11 months ago

Since you’re here, Republicans In Name Only are RINOs, not “rhinos”.

Samuel McIlhagga
Samuel McIlhagga
11 months ago

Of Mice and Men — a large section is set in the town of Weed, where the main characters are chased out after a misunderstanding.
Weed, albeit in Siskiyou County — is still very much part of the Jefferson project’s larger zone that finds its current political heart in Shasta and Redding.
Yes, Grapes of Wrath is mostly set in Salinas — I was referring here to the broader rural primary extractive resource areas in contrast to urban California — and the difference these material priorities provoke. That Steinbeck sends his characters to flawed but promising ‘Edenic’ areas ‘like’ Shasta.
But, yes. This distinction could have been a bit clearer!

Last edited 11 months ago by Samuel McIlhagga
Marissa M
Marissa M
11 months ago

Of course there is a massive and influential Pentecoastal Church in the area.
Of course there is. 

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
11 months ago
Reply to  Marissa M

One wonders about a missed elephant in the room.

It is now widely reported that Shasta County is inundated with illegal marijuana grow facilities. If reports are to be believed (there are pictures, mind you), they number quite literally in the thousands, all in the shadow of Mount Shasta. Three groups are responsible for them, the Mungs, the Russians, and the Mexican cartels. They use slave labor, steal water, dispose of chemicals in open pits, hire their own private armies, register thousands of non-existing persons to vote, vastly out gun local law enforcement, and murder at will.

None of this would be possible were there not a vacuum of political authority. Sacramento appears not to care. And as they look north, they may very well see their own future.

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
11 months ago
Reply to  Marissa M

One wonders about a missed elephant in the room.

It is now widely reported that Shasta County is inundated with illegal marijuana grow facilities. If reports are to be believed (there are pictures, mind you), they number quite literally in the thousands, all in the shadow of Mount Shasta. Three groups are responsible for them, the Mungs, the Russians, and the Mexican cartels. They use slave labor, steal water, dispose of chemicals in open pits, hire their own private armies, register thousands of non-existing persons to vote, vastly out gun local law enforcement, and murder at will.

None of this would be possible were there not a vacuum of political authority. Sacramento appears not to care. And as they look north, they may very well see their own future.

Marissa M
Marissa M
11 months ago

Of course there is a massive and influential Pentecoastal Church in the area.
Of course there is. 

Perry de Havilland
Perry de Havilland
11 months ago

“As Thomas Paine said in his funny little pamphlet, oddly enough called Common Sense,”
Why ‘oddly enough’?

Perry de Havilland
Perry de Havilland
11 months ago

“As Thomas Paine said in his funny little pamphlet, oddly enough called Common Sense,”
Why ‘oddly enough’?

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
11 months ago

What little hope there is for peaceful populist reform relies on states and localities simply ignoring and opposing the federal government, which has no enforcement mechanism with enough manpower to do the actual work of enforcing the laws. If a state wants to ignore federal immigration or marijuana laws, there’s very little the government can do in the short term other than send in the military, which no sane leader would do because that would be tantamount to declaring civil war, and I have serious doubts whether the military itself would carry out such orders. Such an order might well divide the military itself, as it did during the first civil war. The biggest stick they have is to withhold federal dollars, which may or may not work depending on the location. It matters, for example, what the dollars are being spent on. Some places would love to see the EPA, for example, pull up stakes and leave, so they could handle problems, or not handle them, in their own probably cheaper and less corrupt way. And cancelling all federal spending in an area is a bluff. Again, no sane president is going to cancel social security benefits or medicare or anything of the sort to any place. They’ll simply cancel grants for construction or development and all the other things that matter to local liberals and technocrats that want ‘economic development’, but the local residents may or may not in fact give a shit. A county declining in population doesn’t really need ‘new jobs’. They probably want fewer jobs because they like living in a rural area and don’t want or need an influx of people who are probably immigrants. Who does want new jobs, the very wealthy who profit off the pork barrel construction and development projects most likely to be cancelled, such as the cattle rancher accused of being a RINO (not a rhino) in the article. This is the only future the globalists and technocrats of the world have to look forward to, one in which they have to spend increasing amounts of money and energy to drag everyone along into their deluded vision of the future based on a flawed understanding of human nature. If they ever truly do set off a local uprising somewhere, they’ll find out pretty much nobody is going to side with Washington over their neighbors. They’ll be occupiers just like they were in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ultimately suffer the same fate. One hopes they’ll realize this is a worst case scenario for all concerned and make whatever changes and compromises are necessary to avoid it. One hopes for many things.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
11 months ago

What little hope there is for peaceful populist reform relies on states and localities simply ignoring and opposing the federal government, which has no enforcement mechanism with enough manpower to do the actual work of enforcing the laws. If a state wants to ignore federal immigration or marijuana laws, there’s very little the government can do in the short term other than send in the military, which no sane leader would do because that would be tantamount to declaring civil war, and I have serious doubts whether the military itself would carry out such orders. Such an order might well divide the military itself, as it did during the first civil war. The biggest stick they have is to withhold federal dollars, which may or may not work depending on the location. It matters, for example, what the dollars are being spent on. Some places would love to see the EPA, for example, pull up stakes and leave, so they could handle problems, or not handle them, in their own probably cheaper and less corrupt way. And cancelling all federal spending in an area is a bluff. Again, no sane president is going to cancel social security benefits or medicare or anything of the sort to any place. They’ll simply cancel grants for construction or development and all the other things that matter to local liberals and technocrats that want ‘economic development’, but the local residents may or may not in fact give a shit. A county declining in population doesn’t really need ‘new jobs’. They probably want fewer jobs because they like living in a rural area and don’t want or need an influx of people who are probably immigrants. Who does want new jobs, the very wealthy who profit off the pork barrel construction and development projects most likely to be cancelled, such as the cattle rancher accused of being a RINO (not a rhino) in the article. This is the only future the globalists and technocrats of the world have to look forward to, one in which they have to spend increasing amounts of money and energy to drag everyone along into their deluded vision of the future based on a flawed understanding of human nature. If they ever truly do set off a local uprising somewhere, they’ll find out pretty much nobody is going to side with Washington over their neighbors. They’ll be occupiers just like they were in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ultimately suffer the same fate. One hopes they’ll realize this is a worst case scenario for all concerned and make whatever changes and compromises are necessary to avoid it. One hopes for many things.

rick stubbs
rick stubbs
10 months ago

Not a bad take. British status may actually have helped. The NYT would have been shut out. Author Seems to have found the fault lines among the various factions in this arena. I totally agree that these movements are much more like the Jeffersonian yeoman in historical terms than the KKK. The white supremacy label is the favorite characterization of the urban press and, having attached that label, they no longer need to describe the adherents. Except perhaps as low IQ vaccine deniers who enjoy pillaging the environment when not shooting or beating each other with agriculture implements.
The conflict has shifted from tight money, market monopolies and rail transport fees in 19th cent to the enormous regulatory powers of federal and state central governments which impose burdens on small businesses, agricultural production and local schools. Worth noting that Hispanics Americans are over represented in small family businesses particularly in California. Populism happens when the projects of the political elite fail too many people for too long.

rick stubbs
rick stubbs
10 months ago

Not a bad take. British status may actually have helped. The NYT would have been shut out. Author Seems to have found the fault lines among the various factions in this arena. I totally agree that these movements are much more like the Jeffersonian yeoman in historical terms than the KKK. The white supremacy label is the favorite characterization of the urban press and, having attached that label, they no longer need to describe the adherents. Except perhaps as low IQ vaccine deniers who enjoy pillaging the environment when not shooting or beating each other with agriculture implements.
The conflict has shifted from tight money, market monopolies and rail transport fees in 19th cent to the enormous regulatory powers of federal and state central governments which impose burdens on small businesses, agricultural production and local schools. Worth noting that Hispanics Americans are over represented in small family businesses particularly in California. Populism happens when the projects of the political elite fail too many people for too long.

Darwin K Godwin
Darwin K Godwin
11 months ago

When we see the American spirit up close and personal, it can be a bit intimidating. Don’t believe it is confined.

Darwin K Godwin
Darwin K Godwin
11 months ago

When we see the American spirit up close and personal, it can be a bit intimidating. Don’t believe it is confined.

Katalin Kish
Katalin Kish
10 months ago

I must admit I am envious.
How good it must be for everyday citizens to be able to mount a meaningful challenge to government failings. In Australia the public is fair game in an endless open season, while our taxes are paying the hunters. We are not even allowed to carry pepper-spray for self-protection.
Trying to report crimes punishable by 10 years in jail/worse as a public servant witness in Melbourne Australia turned me into an instant and concurrent adversary to Victoria Police and to Australia’s bikie gangs in 2009. Last house break-in on 13 April 2023, last unmissable cyber-crime less than 2 hours ago. There is no point in trying to report any crimes.
Being reduced to surviving crime-to-crime I had to learn
the cynical acceptance of fudged crime-statistics by our authorities, Victoria Police officers openly participating in crimes they block from being reported, andthat in Australia it is crime witnesses and victims who have to fear law-enforcement as well as public opinion: thugs committing heinous crimes grow old without any trouble.And,
thanks to fake crime statistics Melbourne Australia was voted recently the world’s 3rd most liveable city, while people are forced to organise their own security patrols in suburbs of million-dollar homes. I have owned my own home in one of these suburbs since 2001.

Last edited 10 months ago by Katalin Kish
Steven Carr
Steven Carr
11 months ago

‘“Some 85% of our funding comes from state and federal dollars,” Rickert says. “We’re a taker, not a giver. We couldn’t survive.”’
It’s hard to believe that if people make democratic decisions about how they want to be governed, the state would punish them by withdrawing funding.

Peter Kelly
Peter Kelly
11 months ago
Reply to  Steven Carr

Are you suggesting that, should they manage to secede, then the State of California would have a moral responsibility to fund the SoJ?
If not that, then I’m not sure what your point is.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
11 months ago
Reply to  Peter Kelly

Yes, funny is it not? We declare independence but please keep funding us.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
11 months ago
Reply to  Peter Kelly

I’m sure he isn’t suggesting that. I think what he’s actually suggesting is that if there is a point of contention between the local, state, and federal government, that the higher authorities would actually sit down and talk to these people and come to some sort of compromise to heal political divisions that allows everyone to move forward with greater trust in each other and a sense of ownership of the situation rather than simply use the stick of cancelling funding to beat people into abject submission. Treating people in this fashion has consequences that aren’t immediately apparent. Rightly or wrongly, the people of northern California believe that the state government has consistently ignored their economic needs and values for the sake of the people of southern California. It should not have surprised anybody that they would ignore the state government to the greatest extent possible during a crisis like COVID. The simple logic is you ignore us, we ignore you. It’s not an easy problem to fix. More bullying tactics are not going to fix it.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
11 months ago
Reply to  Peter Kelly

Yes, funny is it not? We declare independence but please keep funding us.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
11 months ago
Reply to  Peter Kelly

I’m sure he isn’t suggesting that. I think what he’s actually suggesting is that if there is a point of contention between the local, state, and federal government, that the higher authorities would actually sit down and talk to these people and come to some sort of compromise to heal political divisions that allows everyone to move forward with greater trust in each other and a sense of ownership of the situation rather than simply use the stick of cancelling funding to beat people into abject submission. Treating people in this fashion has consequences that aren’t immediately apparent. Rightly or wrongly, the people of northern California believe that the state government has consistently ignored their economic needs and values for the sake of the people of southern California. It should not have surprised anybody that they would ignore the state government to the greatest extent possible during a crisis like COVID. The simple logic is you ignore us, we ignore you. It’s not an easy problem to fix. More bullying tactics are not going to fix it.

Peter Kelly
Peter Kelly
11 months ago
Reply to  Steven Carr

Are you suggesting that, should they manage to secede, then the State of California would have a moral responsibility to fund the SoJ?
If not that, then I’m not sure what your point is.

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
11 months ago

‘“Some 85% of our funding comes from state and federal dollars,” Rickert says. “We’re a taker, not a giver. We couldn’t survive.”’
It’s hard to believe that if people make democratic decisions about how they want to be governed, the state would punish them by withdrawing funding.