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In this rural California county, GOP members are moving radically right


A recall election in a rural California county initiated by a local militia leader shows how far to the right some Republicans in the state have moved. Supporters say they're making a blueprint for conservatives in other states. From member station KQED, Scott Shafer reports.

SCOTT SHAFER, BYLINE: Turn on local talk radio in Redding, Calif., on any given morning, and you might hear the pandemic discussed like this on KCNR's "Carl And Linda Bott" show.


CARL BOTT: I haven't worn a mask in a long time, and I don't...

LINDA BOTT: And I'm not going to.

SHAFER: In a state Joe Biden carried in a landslide, Donald Trump won 65% of the vote in this county. Like residents of many rural areas, people in Shasta are strongly Republican, many suspicious of government. The pandemic has created a firestorm of controversy here, with residents packing county supervisors' meetings.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Welcome to the regular meeting of the board of supervisors.

SHAFER: At this one in the summer of 2020, Carlos Zapata, a former marine and member of a local militia group, warned supervisors not to enforce pandemic mandates, which he said were hurting businesses and schoolchildren.


CARLOS ZAPATA: It's not going to be peaceful much longer. And this isn't a threat. I'm not a criminal. I've never been a criminal. But I'm telling you that good citizens are going to turn into real concerned and revolutionary citizens real soon.

SHAFER: Zapata slammed the board for not representing local values.


ZAPATA: Take your mask off. Quit muzzling yourself. Join us. Fight with us against what's going on in Sacramento.

SHAFER: Zapata and other volunteers collected enough signatures to force a recall election for District 2 supervisor, Leonard Moty. This lifelong Republican and former Redding police chief said he hardly recognizes the community he's lived in his whole life.

LEONARD MOTY: It's very alarming and shocking to me. They try to shout you down and beat you up with their lies and information until subsequently you just give up.

SHAFER: The soft-spoken Moty has faced personal threats aimed at him, his family and his supporters. The recall campaign is flushed with cash. One donor alone kicked in almost a half-million dollars, a shocking amount for a rural county board seat. Another key figure in the recall is Woody Clendenen, owner of the Cottonwood Barber Shop. He's also leader of the local militia chapter headquartered across the street. Clipper in hand, Clendenen says part of what fueled the recall is the feeling Supervisor Moty doesn't support the Second Amendment enough.

WOODY CLENDENEN: Right now, any time you're in my barbershop, probably half the guys in here are armed.

SHAFER: The way he sees it, recalling Moty would likely shift this all-Republican board even further to the right.

CLENDENEN: We can do all kinds of things. Like, we'll work on getting rid of the head of the Shasta County schools.

SHAFER: But GOP consultant Mike Madrid, a strong critic of the party's drift to the right, says the recall shows just how extreme the Republican Party in California has become.

MIKE MADRID: And we're witnessing really what is probably the first attempt in the nation for a militia-backed organization to unseat Trump-supporting Republicans simply because they're trying to make government work and government function.

SHAFER: The recall election was not on the radar of many voters I talked to here. But to longtime resident Sharon Jens, the recall is a big waste of money.

SHARON JENS: I think it's just very sad that we all can't work together to keep our community safe. It's like a mob mentality at this point.

SHAFER: The recall will cost the county about $400,000, says Registrar of Voters Cathy Allen Darling (ph). And she's feeling the heat, knowing that Republicans are screaming about election fraud everywhere.

CATHY DARLING ALLEN: It doesn't really matter which way this election goes. The losers are going to be very much interested in making sure that we got it right. And we, of course, are always interested in making sure we got it right.

SHAFER: Supporters of the recall have a podcast called "Red White And Blueprint" for disaffected conservatives across the country. For NPR News, I'm Scott Shafer in Redding, Calif.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Shafer