Column: “Go Brandon” joke shows law enforcement extremism

The deputies from the scandal-plagued Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department are probably the last public employees I would single out to spread international goodwill.

But that’s exactly what happened Thursday morning with the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. The decades-old initiative seeks to spread democracy by bringing people together from around the world to learn from American institutions and officials.

Photos on social media Posted by the Sheriff Office for Community Partnerships showed staff conversing with a delegation from different African countries while children from the local Youth Activity League listened. The current topic according to the Presidency: “Preventing radicalization”.

At the same time, President Biden was in LA for the Summit of the Americas. Federal authorities issued a no-fly zone until 10 p.m. that even prevented law enforcement from using helicopters without a permit.

A memo describing the no-fly rules was sent to sheriff’s department patrol units and station dispatchers in the afternoon. Sources tell me someone then appended a new ending: “Go Brandon Go Brandon Go Brandon!!!!!!!!” – a weak salsa slur Conservatives use as substitute vulgarity against Biden – and the changed message passed on to other MPs.

I tweeted a photo of it, and it quickly went viral. Hours later, the Sheriff’s Department Twitter account chimed in: The last line was a “joke.”

While I disputed my initial claim that the fabricated “Go Brandon” memo was circulated across the department, the tweet did not deny that it was circulated among employees and stated, “We will be conducting a follow-up investigation into this matter.” In response to my colleague Alene Tchekmedyian repeated Lt. Oscar A. Martinez of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau, despite her pointed questions, delivered the reassuring line.

The department also didn’t respond to my question in my tweet, “Are these the far-right staff Sheriff Alex Villanueva spoke to me about?”

Earlier this year, I spoke to Villanueva in an hour-long interview that was meant to focus on the Latino essence of his government but instead delved into all sorts of troublesome areas, including the political makeup of his staff.

When I asked why he wasn’t requiring his MPs to take the COVID-19 vaccine, Villanueva replied, “If you’re going to mandate your workforce, you should know damn well who your workforce is. Because as soon as you commission something, government suspects in particular believe in all these conspiracy theories.

“They know they’re out there, especially on the right — the far right conservative crowd,” he continued. “And what is 80% of my workforce? Conservative and far right.”

Law enforcement has never exactly recruited from the liberal crowd. But actions like mocking a policy designed to protect the president are another indication of how far too many officers and lawmakers have fallen into the polarization hole. They are to be the impartial defenders of all, regardless of their beliefs. Instead, we see more and more members of the “Big Lie” swearing allegiance. What was once hidden is now evident.

The African delegation checked in with MPs and “Go Brandon!” The prank came on the same day that a special committee of the House of Representatives opened hearings on the Jan. 6 uprising, waving Blue Lives Matter flags, themselves as protesters attacked the Capitol police.

A USA Today investigation found that at least 19 current or former officers have been charged for their actions during the coup attempt. Six have pleaded guilty and two have been convicted. Dozens more were there but have not yet been charged, including Monica Alston, a former special agent with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. FBI agents searched her home in February 2021, shortly after which she was placed on administrative leave. She quit her job in January this year.

Law enforcement officials know that right-wing radicalization is an issue in their profession. None other than former Houston Police Commissioner Art Acevedo told the Times last year.

“It is the first time in modern history that we have officials involved in acts of incitement,” he said. “We, as police departments, must do everything we can to weed out extremists who support violence, be it far right or far left.”

Locally, some sheriffs don’t seem to care.

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco is a former member of the Oath Keepers, an anti-government militia made up of hundreds of former and current law enforcement officers. As news of his story emerged, Bianco tried to portray the Oath Keepers as just a club of patriotic, law-abiding Americans.

“Except for a few fringe groups [the Jan. 6 insurrection] is not really what they stand for,” he told KPCC reporter Frank Stoltze. “They certainly do not encourage violence and overthrow of the government. They stand for the protection of the constitution.”

More than a dozen Oath Keepers are being charged for their role in the January 6 riot, including the group’s founder, Stewart Rhodes. Prosecutors allege Rhodes committed a “seditious conspiracy” by being part of the hell that descended on Capitol Hill. A federal filing said he spoke to someone close to Trump and “repeatedly pleaded[d] the individual to tell President Trump to call on groups like the Oath Keepers to use force to oppose the transfer of power.”

In Orange County, Deputy Russell Sison was caught on camera during a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Costa Mesa wearing a patch from the Oath Keepers and another extremist militia, the Three Percenters, alongside his badge. Sheriff Don Barnes initially placed the 13-year veteran on administrative leave, saying that “the implication of his association with an extremist group is unacceptable and deeply concerning to me.”

Sison’s punishment? Compulsory training together with his colleagues about extremist groups. He left the OC Sheriff’s Department in October of last year.

LA County’s big extremist law enforcement problem, of course, is support gangs. Villanueva has alternately denied they are still around, downplaying their existence, claiming they pose a threat that has been neutralized or attacked as racist when called “gangs”. It’s no surprise that the “far-right” lawmakers, who say they dominate his department, feel emboldened to relay anti-Biden messages among themselves or post pro-Trump paraphernalia in the Men’s Central Jail.

The sheriff who remains a registered Democrat either shuts down the rhetorical rottenness in his ranks or is afraid of alienating his deputies. Actually it’s the latter. In our interview earlier this spring, Villanueva admitted that if he imposed a COVID-19 vaccination mandate, “I’ll lose credibility within the workforce and people will just go to the exits.”

That’s just cowardice that doesn’t become the LA County Sheriff. Did his deputies tell the African delegation about this?

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-06-13/radicalization-law-enforcement Column: “Go Brandon” joke shows law enforcement extremism

Alley Einstein

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