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One far-right leader ousted. Another barely hangs on. Is Shasta rejecting MAGA politics?

A Demonstrators calling for the recall of Shasta County Supervisor Kevin Crye, rally in Redding, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Crye is one of the board members who voted to get rid of the county's ballot-counting machines in favor of counting ballots by hand. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Demonstrators call for the recall of Shasta County Supervisor Kevin Crye at a February rally. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Shasta County voters have booted from office a key figure in the county's hard-right shift, even as the fate of a second far-right crusader on the powerful Board of Supervisors still hangs in the balance.

Patrick Jones, a former chair of the five-member board, was soundly defeated in the Super Tuesday election, according to results released by the county registrar Friday afternoon. With 98% of the vote counted, Jones' opponent, Matt Plummer, a nonprofit advisor, was winning outright with nearly 60% of the vote.

It was a stunning turn for Jones, a gun store manager who in his one term in office has emerged as a leading voice in an ultraconservative insurgence that transformed this largely rural Northern California county into a national symbol of hard-right governance and election denialism.

In recent months, Jones led the conspiracy-laden charge to dump Dominion voting machines and return the county to hand-counting its ballots. He helped push through a county resolution pledging fealty to the 2nd Amendment and a measure to allow concealed weapons in local government buildings, in defiance of state law.

More broadly, he worked with militia members and secessionists on campaign efforts that dramatically reshaped governance in a county long run by mainstream Republicans.

In another closely watched primary race, Jones' political ally, Supervisor Kevin Crye, was surviving a recall election by just 46 votes. Crye made headlines last year when he enlisted support for nixing Dominion machines from Mike Lindell, the MyPillow chief executive and pro-Trump election denier.

Meanwhile, Allen Long, a retired Redding police lieutenant and relative moderate, was the front-runner in a race to fill an open board seat representing western Shasta County. In a four-way race, Long had 50.3% of the vote on Friday and was narrowly avoiding a runoff.

On the campaign trail, Long said, many voters shared his horror at what they heard coming out of supervisors' meetings and felt "a desperation for change." The county government, he said, should focus on issues like homelessness and making local communities safer from wildfires.

"I was watching the politics here in our county, and I thought, 'Wow, this has really become extreme,'" he said. "I wanted to guide us back to the middle."

Running a distant second, with 19% of the vote, was Laura Hobbs, who said in her candidate statement that she is a stay-at-home mom who is "100% MAGA and America First." She recently accused incumbent Supervisor Mary Rickert — a moderate Republican who regularly opposes Jones and Crye — of worshiping Satan because her license plate has the number "666" on it.

In her own reelection bid, Rickert led with 40.4% of the vote, but appears to be headed for a runoff against quarry owner Corkey Harmon. Win Carpenter, a prominent far-right voice in the State of Jefferson secessionist movement, was running third.

Taken as a whole, the election results could signal a shift toward the political center in Shasta County — or at least a desire for a local government more focused on day-to-day life and operations.

"The last couple of years have been exhausting. And difficult," said Jenny O'Connell, a Redding resident who voted in favor of Crye's recall. "People are saying, 'I just need this to stop. I need just sanity and normalcy.'"

"Part of the problem of dealing with constant insanity," she added, "is that after a while you forget how crazy it is."

Even if Crye survives the recall, Jones' loss is expected to upend leadership on the board, where ultraconservatives currently have a 3-2 majority.

Shasta County Supervisor Patrick Jones at his family's Redding gun store
Shasta County Supervisor Patrick Jones, shown here at his family's Redding gun store, has helped spearhead a far-right shift in local governance. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

In an interview Friday, Jones took his loss in stride. He has about nine months left in his current term and said the conservative bloc still has time to carry out its agenda.

"I'm real happy," he said. "We got a lot of stuff done last year. This year, we still have all year to continue with our policies."

The registrar's office said 1,208 ballots were still unprocessed, including some that are damaged and others that need further review.

As the votes were being counted, questions swirled about Jones' connection to a controversial radio ad, aired a week before the election, that claimed a large number of incorrect ballots, including some for dead people, had been mailed to residents. The ad, aired on news radio station KQMS, provided listeners with a phone number to call if they received voting materials that did not belong to them.

The county administrative office quickly put out a statement saying that the ad had not been approved by elections officials or the Board of Supervisors and that the phone number provided was registered to a private citizen.

Read more: 'Flying syringes' and conspiracies: The far-right battle for a mosquito control board

In a news report, KQMS said Jones and Bev Gray — Jones' appointee to a newly created citizens' elections commission — were responsible for the ad. Jones said that Gray wrote the ad but that he took her to the radio station to show her how to record it. The radio station said an invoice showed it was billed to Jones Fort, his family's Redding gun store.

Jones dismissed concerns about the propriety of the ad, accusing his opponents of "trying to make something out of nothing."

The Shasta County district attorney's office said in a statement that the incident had been referred to it for investigation, but offered no details.

Jones told The Times that Dist. Atty. Stephanie Bridgett, "to try to intimidate" him, sent two detectives to the radio station. "Of course, that stuff doesn't work, and she should know better," Jones said. "If she has that much time on her hands, we may want to take a look at her budget, come June."

Jones, a former Redding mayor, was the first hard-right figure elected to the board, as conservative backlash over COVID-19-related lockdowns, masks and vaccines coalesced with rage over President Trump losing the 2020 election. (Shasta County overwhelmingly supported his reelection bid.)

Jones' introductory meeting was Jan. 5, 2021 — the day before the deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol. Jones showed up to what was supposed to be a virtual meeting, unlocked the supervisor chambers and let an angry crowd into the county building.

Residents poured in, unmasked, and some threatened supervisors over their so-called government tyranny. “When the ballot box is gone, there is only the cartridge box," one audience member snarled. "You have made bullets expensive. But luckily for you, ropes are reusable.”

In early 2022, ultraconservatives — bankrolled by Reverge Anselmo, a former Hollywood filmmaker who left the county after a land dispute — shocked the state’s political establishment by pushing the successful recall of Supervisor Leonard Moty, a Republican former police chief, in part because he abided by state coronavirus mandates.

Crye, the current board chair, and Supervisor Chris Kelstrom were elected to the board later that year.

Shasta County Supervisor Kevin Crye poses on a Redding bridge.
Shasta County Supervisor Kevin Crye poses for a photo on the Sundial Bridge in Redding. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

For the local vector control board, the board majority appointed a right-wing political activist who warned of mosquitoes being used as "flying syringes" for mass vaccination. And they named an outspoken critic of COVID-19 vaccine mandates to be the county's new health officer.

And then there were the voting machines.

Last year, the Board of Supervisors upended the county's elections process, canceling its contract with Dominion Voting Systems because of unfounded voter fraud claims pushed by Trump. The supervisors opted to pursue hand-counting ballots for the county's more than 112,000 registered voters, making Shasta the largest government entity in the U.S. to employ hand counts. Voters’ rights organizations were aghast. In October, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law — which Jones vowed to challenge — that limited counties from hand-counting votes.

Read more: Shasta County ditched its Dominion voting machines. Now, residents are braced for turmoil on Nov. 7

For years, Jones directed his ire at the longtime registrar-recorder, Cathy Darling Allen, the only Democrat elected to countywide office, publicly accusing her of lying about voting machines.

Elections staffers have been harassed, and during a June 2022 election, someone hung a trail camera — the kind hunters use to track wildlife — in the alley behind the registrar's office. Darling Allen, 55, recently announced that she will retire this spring because she has been diagnosed with heart failure and needs to reduce her stress level.

Jones' opponent, Plummer, told The Times that he had knocked on nearly 9,000 doors while campaigning and that people didn't want to talk about partisan politics but preferred to discuss issues integral to their daily lives such as crime and roads.

"We disassociated politics from those everyday issues, because a lot of politics has become about rhetoric and ideology instead of the core issues," Plummer said.

Many residents have grown tired of the drama.

A man carrying an American flag holds a sign calling for the recall of Shasta County Supervisor Kevin Crye.
John Deaton joins a February demonstration in Redding calling for the recall of Shasta County Supervisor Kevin Crye. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Last spring, after the Dominion vote, residents in Crye’s district launched a recall — just months after he took office in an election he won by 90 votes. Organizers said they were angered by his decision to upend the voting system, as well as his exploring the idea of hiring a California secessionist leader as the county's chief executive.

“He hadn’t told us that he was going to do all these things,” said retired public defender Jeff Gorder, a leader of the recall effort. “In our view, he lied about what he was going to do and he started pursuing this extremist agenda.”

Crye did not respond to requests for comment. But he did talk about the recall on his radio show last month, saying the attacks on him have been painful. He called the people behind the recall “flat-out liars.”

Supervisor Kelstrom, a local chamber of commerce director whose 2022 campaign platform included a desire “to bring the ‘punishment’ back to crime and punishment,” remains on the board as an ultraconservative member. He was not up for reelection and could not be reached for comment.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.