Commentary: A Wake Up Call

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

This year in a lot of ways has been a wake up call for many in our community believing that we lived safely within what some still call the Davis bubble.  But if anything, that bubble has popped as we are starting to see the rise of extremist elements in our local community.

As one letter writer in the Enterprise put it: “The city of Davis is being bullied. All year, Moms For Liberty has harassed our residents, following a national playbook of intimidation.”

She added, “Moms For Liberty has been labeled a hate group. Their Yolo Chair has doxed and harassed our teachers (despite a restraining order blocking her from school grounds), public servants, and nonprofit leaders.”

The Davis Phoenix Coalition recently published a piece in the Vanguard that noted, “We first became aware of a campaign against the rights of trans students in the Davis school district at a DJUSD Board of Education meeting in December 2022. Since then, a handful of members of the Yolo County Moms for Liberty chapter have continuously attacked the LGBTQ+ community at every level: in Davis and Woodland schools, at the Yolo County library, and at the Davis City Council.”

It would be easy to write this off as the work of a small minority of people in our community—which it very well might be.

However, these local activities easily connect with national right-wing groups.

As the Phoenix Coalition noted, “In light of how the event was portrayed by conservative national media such as Tucker Carlson’s show and on social media, we are not surprised that threats to the library and to staff followed.”

Indeed, on August 21, after the library incident, the local leader for Moms for Liberty, who still identifies as a “liberal Democrat” sent links to the media from right-wing sites: Fox News, Outkick, and the Washington Examiner.

It is a demonstration once again that what was once local is now easily connected to national movements.

But while some residents are complaining about their free speech rights—we have had multiple incidents of bomb threats which catch our attention, it is the smaller acts of intimidation and fear that we don’t see that may be more pernicious.

I’m not sure I expected to write an article on book bannings in California in 2023—let alone weekly updates to those articles.

It’s not just here.

Sacramento Councilmember Katie Valenzuela authored an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee this week.

Valenzuela noted, “In recent weeks, swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti have appeared on multiple campuses in our region, including Del Dayo Elementary School in Carmichael.”

It’s not just there, on Monday, the Bee reported, “An investigation is underway by the River Delta Unified School District into antisemitic gestures allegedly made by four students at a Yolo County high school.

“The district was made aware Monday night of four Delta High School students reportedly making hateful gestures at an outside location, according to Superintendent Kathy Wright. She said the investigation began “first thing” Tuesday morning.”

The investigation came roughly 16 hours after a picture of four students performing a Nazi salute circulated on social media and garnered thousands of likes.

“We absolutely will not tolerate such horrific behaviors, and actions and appropriate disciplinary actions will be assigned immediately as these behaviors are in direct opposition to the values, beliefs and goals of our schools and the district as a whole,” Wright said in a statement.

Yes of course, but it’s not clear what local districts can do about this rising problem.

Valenzuela notes that in November, a known Proud Boy received 21 percent of the vote in a school board seat, and “a school board member within the same district, Tanya Kravchuk, has rejected funding for anti-bias training. Her reason? She’s worried the state’s curriculum will create bias against people with ‘deeply held religious beliefs,’ insisting that sections on gender do not ‘force teachers to violate their conscience.’”

These incidents occurred in San Juan Unified.

Valenzuela cites a recent series of articles from ProPublica, “Chaos at the School Board,” which she believes show a “scary trend.”

“Once considered tame, even boring, school board meetings have become culture-war battlegrounds in recent years,” the ProPublica series states. “On dozens of occasions, tensions have escalated into not just shouting matches and threats but also arrests and criminal charges.”

Indeed, Valenzuela argues, “What’s happening at San Juan is a warning bell for our region that we should all be taking very seriously.”

I don’t think I have to add to Davis readers that what’s happening in town is no isolated incident.  It is a rise in extremist forces turned loose by the recent occupant of the White House that spilled over into what happened in Washington on January 6, 2021.

They are not just targeting the LGBTQ and trans communities, they are targeting the Jewish community, and really all of us.

As Valenzuela puts it, “We cannot allow hate and bigotry to go unanswered.”

This year has been a wake-up call in our community—we can no longer count on the Davis bubble to protect us and our kids from hate.

Martin Niemoller in Nazi Germany belatedly recognized the danger, failing to speak out when the Nazis came for “homosexuals” and eventually socialists, trade unionists and Jews.

“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me,” he warned.

We have tended to dismiss references to fascism and totalitarianism, believing they are hyperbole, but watch a video of January 6 again and ask yourself how far fetched it really would have been for it to have been worse.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Kendra Smith

    “who still identifies as a “liberal Democrat” 

    No “liberal Democrat” supports the positions the local Moms for Liberty Chair espouses and supports. No “liberal Democrat” supports harassing vulnerable LGBTQ+ students and making trans students in particular feel sub-human. No “liberal Democrat” supports removing books from the library because they object to the content. No “liberal Democrat” would dox teachers and school officials and put their information up on rabid right wing extremist websites for the mob to potentially come after.

    She can claim she’s a “liberal Democrat” all she wants (just like some commenters here claim they are “independents,” while espousing hard right perspectives), but she is a right wing extremist, fullstop.

    What all of the examples outlined in this article tell us is that people need to wake up to this neo-fascist/authoritarian takeover that seems to be in the works by a *minority* of loud bigots (usually of the evangelical Christian religious stripe).

    Once again I urge people to read up on Karl Poppers “paradox of tolerance.” A multicultural, pluralistic, diverse democracy can’t tolerate this type of hatred.

    And it’s not just at school boards or Moms for Liberty meetings that this hatred and potential violence is rearing its ugly head. Just look at discussions on Nextdoor and you will see racism, homophobia, transphobia and veiled and not-so-veiled threats of violence to decent human beings who stand against those abhorrent perspectives.

    Just this week a Jewish commenter was threatened by a long-time commenter on this site (who I think was either kicked off of here or for whatever reason doesn’t visit this site anymore). This Jewish man was invited to tell the other commenter where he lived so they could “take care of the matter” (clearly an invitation to violence which was on some level based on racial discrimination, since the original poster was spouting typical antisemitic dog whistles).

    I, myself, have been threatened twice by hard right wingers on Nextdoor for merely pointing out that their views on “free speech” (i.e. the ability to spout–unchallenged–any vile racist/homophobic/transphobic thing that crosses their mind) do not pertain to a privately-owned social media platform, the terms of service (including guidelines on community standards) they agreed to at the time of creating their account.

    This hatred and simmering threat of violence is everywhere now, it seems, and much more troubling with many incidents in this article that I hadn’t even heard of.

    People need to wake up. Especially here in Davis, where I would expect such an educated populace to be able to recognize creeping neo-fascism when it’s staring them in the face.

    Do your reading. Read material by Timothy Snyder (an expert on fascist movements), as well as things like “Rising Fascism in America: It Can Happen Here” by Anthony DiMaggio.

    It *is* happening here, as evidence by the information in this article and news stories we here every day. Proud Nazis flying their disgusting swastika flags and heil Hitlering outside of Disney World and proud supporters of Ron DeSantis.

    There is no equivalent on the Democratic/liberal side. None. The violence and threats of violence are *all* coming from the right, and I have seen no “moderate” Republicans speaking out against this garbage to any appreciable extent.

    Wake up, people.

  2. Walter Shwe

    The Moms for Liberty and the KKK are a Republican front organizations that espouse hardline radical authoritarian and anti-democracy hateful views. They seek to impose their minority views on the majority. Make no mistake. They will do almost anything to get their way including but not limited to trampling over the civil and human rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and peoples of color.

    I laughed when I saw the 2 blue hate signs propped up on public garbage cans. That’s exactly where those signs richly belong.

    There are 2 conservatives on that other site that have expressed vile and hateful views in support of the Moms for Liberty. This directly contradicts the supposed personal opinions of the owner of that site.

    1. Kendra Smith

      Some of the people over there apparently also have pretty lax critical reading skills. I was just accused of claiming that anyone over there is a “blanket representation” of the site, which I most certainly did not.

      In fact, my comments below carefully carve out exactly who I was talking about, and there was no blanket statement about anything.

      It looks like it’s not worth commenting over there. There are a few that are disgruntled over something and have an axe to grind and I’ve found people like that are not worth my time or attention to engage with.

      Let them continue whingeing over there. No one cares.

  3. Don Shor

    I appreciate this commentary and those who are pushing back on these issues locally. Unfortunately, as you know if you’re following along on social media, it is escalating here.

    1. Kendra Smith

      I’m not on any social media anymore, other than Nextdoor (which is increasingly becoming a pit). Thank you for that info.

      I did check in on the “other site” that Walter refers to. I had previously only checked in there 2-3 times a year, and it seemed pretty banal.

      Now, there are what I can only refer to as malevolent actors (some who either comment here or apparently used to comment here) engaging in stone throwing directed at this site, as well as cutting and pasting comments from here with their lame comedic stylings and attempts to poke fun at decent people here (and elsewhere; they’re having a go at the Davis Phoenix Coalition over there, too) who are rightfully concerned about the authoritarian trends happening not only nationwide, but here in Davis increasingly.

      I find it hilarious that they have a go at people who aren’t there to defend themselves. And I’m apparently “a problem” (one of them described me as such) when I think I comment here less than once a month. Whatever, guy.

      Much of the content there that I saw over the past few posts (the “Al’s Whatever” thing) is concerned with what is happening on this blog, and the comments, and how many comments people make, etc. It’s petty and hilarious.

      I stand by my comments that they are crapping all over. We are experiencing creeping neo-fascism, and if they don’t recognize it, they either have their heads buried in the sand (It can’t happen here!!!!!) or they are OK with it.

      And judging from the right-wing nature of their comments and perspectives, I’m going with the latter.

      1. Kendra Smith

        “Cowards” and “cowardly” is also apt for what is going on over there with a core cluster of particular commenters who seem disgruntled at this site and at decent liberal human beings just because we don’t march in lockstep to their narrow views. (I guess there’s no “edit” function anymore?)

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