Patrick Henry Jones has worked at his family-owned gun shop Jones’ Fort in Redding since he was 4 years old. And while it is his day job, Jones keeps himself busy with more than dealing firearms.
This year, the former Redding mayor is running for the Shasta County Board of Supervisors out of what he says is an immense frustration with his current representatives — and statewide politics.
“We have no big cities here. We do not understand those people,” Jones said of Sacramento politics. “And they do not understand us.”
That feeling of not having representation is why Jones has worked with regional efforts to secede from California and create the country’s 51st state.
This year, the so-called State of Jefferson has turned some of its attention to local elections with candidates like Jones, in hopes of getting more like-minded people in office to advance their secession of the country’s most populous state.
“We're not asking people in Sacramento to change. We're not asking people in the Bay Area or Southern California to change,” Jones said. “What we're asking is just leave us alone. Let us govern ourselves.”
But despite their vocal complaints about California politics, which have only amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jones and others involved with the State of Jefferson said they do believe in representative politics.
Many want lower taxes, stronger gun rights, and oppose abortion — and they believe that representative government is fundamental to securing those rights.
But in California, a liberal stronghold that maintains a Democratic supermajority in the legislature, Jones and others with the movement say the interests and needs of their part of the state too often get overlooked.
“I value government, and I believe in government, but I believe that it is here to help people be successful,” Jones said. “And that's not what we're seeing here.”
The Shasta County Candidates
Jones is hoping to unseat Shasta County Supervisor Steve Morgan, a Vietnam War veteran who was elected to the district 4 seat in 2016.
Jones, who previously served as mayor and city councilmember in Redding, is running a campaign arguing for responsible fiscal management and an easing of regulations for small businesses. He says he is particularly frustrated by the millions of dollars in liabilities Shasta County owes towards public employees pension funds.
This problem extends across California, and Jones says it’s having a big impact on the quality of life in Shasta County.
“The decisions that were made by our elected officials are bad decisions,” Jones said. “They're not thinking about the taxpayer, they didn't seem to care about the taxpayer.”
CapRadio’s requests for comment from the Morgan campaign went unanswered. According to the campaign’s website, Morgan’s main focuses are crime and public safety, as well as adding more support for tourism and recreation in the area.
Jones has raised significantly more money than his opponent — nearly $150,000 — thanks in large part to Reverge Anselmo, the son of an early leader of the Spanish-language television network that would become Univision. Anselmo contributed $100,000 to the campaign.
In an interview with the Redding Record Searchlight, Morgan said he was not concerned about Jones’ challenge, and criticized his opponent for taking such a large donation.
Anselmo worked as a Hollywood producer before moving to Shasta County in hopes of opening a vineyard and restaurant.
Jones said he struck up a friendship with Anselmo while the former producer lived in the area, and bonded over a mutual frustration with county government. Anselmo went through years of back and forth with the county, and even took them to court before eventually abandoning his vineyard and restaurant project. When he found out Jones was running for the Board of Supervisors, he offered to send him a check.
Jones said he sees Anselmo’s experience as indicative of a government that fails to serve people’s interest and instead hinders growth and development. He said he wants to bring a pro-growth mentality to the board of supervisors, and make it easier for small, independent businesses to thrive.
Uncertain Future For The State of Jefferson
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the relationship between government and private business into sharp relief. Shasta County has been ground zero for vocal resistance to the statewide public health guidelines, and many of the complaints echo the tenets of the Jefferson movement.
But not everyone who lives in Shasta County and surrounding areas support the idea of secession. Some have organized their efforts to halt the process under the Keep It California banner.
The push to create a separate state in the west dates back to an uprising in 1941, but efforts from this part of the state to separate from the rest of California have existed since the state’s foundation in 1850.
Over the past several years, so-called Jeffersonians have deployed a number of strategies to make their case, both at the county and state levels. Still, significant roadblocks to their ultimate goal of secession remain.
Mark Baird, the spokesperson for the State of Jefferson movement in California, says electing sympathetic representatives into local and regional offices is essential for the movement to achieve its goals.
“We need a lot more Patricks, and I don't care what letter is behind his name,” Baird said of political affiliations “That's how you regain control of those who are supposed to serve you.”
Both Baird and Jones say they’ve seen more interest in the movement as well as in county-level politics over the past several months.
Dr. Lawrence Rosenthal, chair of the Center for Right Wing Studies at UC Berkeley, said that the increase of interest isn’t surprising. Demonstrations against public health measures to mitigate virus spread and protests against police violence inspired far-right groups with a range of beliefs and motivations to action, he said.
Rosenthal identified two major movements of far-right populism in America: white nationalists groups and anti-government groups.
“Both of these currents were electrified by the events of the spring and summer,” Rosenthal said of the pandemic and racial justice protests.
Jones and Baird both distinguish the goals of the State of Jefferson from far-right, white nationalist groups like the Proud Boys. So, too, does Rosenthal, who instead places their efforts squarely within the anti-government current of populism.
But he warns there is often crossover between white nationalist and anti-government groups, so such distinctions can grow hazy. Still, Rosenthal said he’s concerned about the kind of anti-Democrat rhetoric and frustration with “liberal” society that the State of Jefferson espouses, because it’s often used to disguise anti-Semitic and racist beliefs.
“This anti-cosmopolitan, anti-urban, point of view is very strong,” Rosenthal said.
Despite their disdain for Sacramento politics, Baird and Jones see the ballot box — not a resort to violence — as fundamental to establishing the State of Jefferson. The movement does not have a militia group of its own, nor does it plan to, though many if its members are gun-owners.
“We solve things at the ballot box,” Jones said. “And that's how you fix things you run, you take an interest, and you dedicate a part of your life to fixing these problems.”
Jones said he supports the rights of individuals to form independent militias. He even sells guns to many of the people in groups active in the Redding-area at his store, Jones’ Fort. He said there has been an unprecedented increase in sales these past few months — the busiest summer he can remember.
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