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Pay No Mind to Hyperpartisan Trolls

Hate Speech

I watched the Jan. 9 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting. What I saw was one-sided, hyperbolic and capricious partisanship aimed directly at one left-leaning board member.

On the first item of their meeting agenda, the board voted 3-2 to reappoint District 1 Supervisor John Peschong as chair and District 5 Supervisor Debbie Arnold as vice-chair. The vote came after public comment overwhelmingly opposed District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill for incoming chair.

Despite Peschong prefacing public comment by requesting no personal attacks from speakers, his fervent base went the opposite direction — and Peschong let them.

Starting off public comment was Los Osos resident Julie Tacker. She was one of the public commenters who opposed Hill’s chairmanship. After listening to Hill’s remarks, she asked, “Where is his responsibility in all of this?” The same question can be asked of Tacker, who was one of the earliest backers of an anonymous Facebook page called “Fire Adam Hill.” Page administrators bragged about spending thousands on an advertising campaign that accused Hill of paying his supporters and critics, including myself, to “troll” his critics. They plastered the faces of private citizens and critics on flyers and called for their arrest while notifying their employers and associations they belonged to.

Tacker called on the board to investigate Hill’s alleged misuse of county resources to “harass private citizens,” though she had no problem with one of her colleagues using county resources to harass me under the faulty guise that I “trolled” for Hill. No irony lost there.

One of the public comment speakers was T. Keith Gurnee, former principal of RRM design group, who used the board to appoint a chair out of merit, not habit. But for Gurnee, old habits die hard. Gurnee developed a reputation for penning critical editorials about Hill, at times openly bragging about his obsession with the supervisor and yearning for a confrontation. When that confrontation came and Hill accused him of having a homoerotic obsession, Gurnee wrote several editorials about that particular incident. I found it disingenuous for Gurnee to portray himself as the mild-mannered, garden variety victim of Hill’s behavior, given his own behavior and conflicts of interest. Gurnee’s wave of critical editorials appeared after Hill voted against one of his development projects in South County.

Following Tacker were several citizens who’ve historically issued politically charged public comment against liberals, progressives and their ideals — or what they assume their ideals are. That’s not to say their criticism against Hill’s behavior is unfounded, but the foundation for their dissent is undoubtedly cradled in partisanship. Many of these speakers promote ideologies, opinions and expressions often touted by President Donald Trump. It’s difficult to reconcile their tacit approval for a president who’s erratic behavior has reduced our country’s standing in the world while they express moral indignation over Hill complaining about the “bloviating foolishness” of a conservative political lobbyist.

Some of the commenters are active, vocal members of the North County Tea Party while others support the legislative agenda of Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business (COLAB). So it was a curious sight to behold when San Luis Obispo resident and CalCoastNews contributor Dr. C. Hite — a self-proclaimed liberal — juxtaposed Hill’s remarks about COLAB’s lobbyist to Chinese anti-censorship protests. It’s definitely a stretch to compare a county supervisor’s critical remarks about a deeply partisan, public figure to a foreign government’s draconian censorship measures, but it’s certainly theatrical if not misguided.

From there, public comment speakers criticized the supervisor for “negative behavior,” but that criticism appears disingenuous when the same speakers took aim at “smoking wreckage of his personal life” or his mental state. Many of the speakers held the supervisor to a higher standard than they hold for themselves. While public officials should be setting the gold standard for decorum, there’s nothing to stop private citizens from striving to meet that standard.

There were speakers who opposed Hill because of his behavior toward women. This is a talking point commonly seen on CalCoastNews/Cal Coast Times, a website co-founded by Karen Velie, a conspiracy theorist who believes Hill is part of an elaborate effort to shut down her “investigative reporting.” Though she’s routinely failed to disclose that she’s suing Hill over her unsubstantiated conspiracy theory, Velie has alleged that Hill’s conduct is rooted in sexism.

To demonstrate this sexism, Velie pointed to Hill using the word “Svengali” to describe Peschong in a social media post, insinuating Hill used that term specifically in a misogynistic context. Velie apparently lifted that portion of her article and the screenshot of Hill’s post from COLAB’s Weekly Update newsletter, which was uploaded one day before she published her piece. On top of the pseudonymous comments she continues to leave on The Tribune, Velie’s obsessive and psychotic bias is well-known.

People should be free to criticize the conduct of people they elected to serve as their representatives, but that criticism should be a teaching moment for them and their own uncivil shortcomings. Prioritizing politics over personal accountability leads to one inevitable conclusion: our public process is being infected with poisonous, hyperpartisan trolling.

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