Story and photos by Henri Migala
Photo, left: Maskless rally participants called for all businesses to open now, despite pandemic shutdown orders from the county and state.
December 23, 2020 (El Cajon) – A rally titled “All I Want for Christmas is Freedom” was held on Monday, Dec. 21 at El Cajon Centennial Plaza calling for a lifting of pandemic shutdowns. The timing of the rally coincides with hospital ICU units filled to capacity across Southern California, after 18 million people in the U.S. have contracted COVID-19 and 323,000 Americans have died.
There are legitimate equity questions, such as why big-box retailers have been allowed to stay open while many small businesses have been ordered shut down, particularly after data obtained from San Diego County reveals that many outbreaks have been tied to large stores such as Walmart, Home Depot and Target. Although the event was promoted as an opportunity to support local small businesses adversely affected by restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, any rational discussion of those issues was largely overshadowed at the protest by speakers, including prominent elected officials, who urged attendees to openly and actively defy local and state restrictions. Some used such inflammatory words such as devil, battle, war, evil, Marxist, tyranny, socialism, 2nd Amendment, and even a reference to “killing babies like Planned Parenthood" that seemed largely out of context to a discussion of economic vs. public health concerns.
Eighteen “vendors” were set up, of which about half were small businesses selling products. The others were related to a political cause or agenda, such as recalling Governor Newsom, or opening San Diego. Approximately 150 people attended the event.
This reporter had hoped to interview people at the event, both attendees and vendors, but since practically nobody was wearing a mask, this proved challenging without risking exposure to the virus. One vendor, Colleen Manley, was wearing a mask and spoke to ECM between business transactions.
Manley runs a small Avon business in addition to her fulltime job. She had just started with Avon the week before the first shutdown was announced, so she never really had the opportunity to get her new business running. But although the pandemic restrictions have kept her from growing her business, it has also helped her children. Manley’s youngest of 3 boys, a 7 year-old in 2nd grade, has what she called “reading issues.” She said her son is “very quiet, and fell under the radar at school, and he started getting behind in his reading ability.”
But now, since her son’s classes are on Zoom, her son is able to get more one-on-one time with his teacher because in addition to the regular large class session, the students also break into small groups and have more intimate time with the teacher. As a result of this more individualized time, Manley has noticed her son’s reading is improving.
The main program was the speakers, and their message: a public call to defy local, county and state restrictions implemented to minimize the spread and impact of the COVID pandemic.
Minister Rita, also known as the “Compton Conservative.”
During her opening benediction, Minister Rita invoked God’s intervention. “Father, help every speaker that comes up here. Use them for your glory, Father, as we push against an evil system Father, that the devil is running.”
Minister Rita was called back later in the program to share additional comments. “I wanna say this, coming from the community of Compton, the Black and Brown community has been attacked in LA County by Gavin Newsom, LAPD, [and] has been attacked by this party we know belongs to the devil….. My church remains open. All of the people that don’t wanna come, that’s because they serve the devil’s puppet, Gavin Newsom. Gavin Newsom doesn’t have any power. The devil runs him, just as he runs the rest of the people that are for this pandemic. It’s true that people are getting sick, but I know more people who are getting through this pandemic than have died… The corona virus ain’t our problem. We are in a spiritual warfare people. As Christians, we have no business bowing down to nobody that thinks they’re a king.”
Congressman Darrel Issa:
“I’m here to celebrate the reopening of our state, reopening of this great city.” He introduced El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, stating,“This is the man I’m most proud of. He just happens to run this city. Because he stood up and said, ‘My city is not closing!’… I want you to know, this is my hero. And this is our city’s hero, and as long as I can breathe, this man is going to have a special place in my heart, but also in this community.”
Mayor Wells received backlash from other cities in San Diego County in addition to public health officials and various state departments for refusing to enforce the recent quarantine measures.
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells
“Listen, there is something I want to tell you. There are more important things in life than being afraid to die. And there are people that are really focused on making your afraid right now…. We need to stand up and keep life as normal and American as we possibly can, while we can.”
“Sometimes people say I’m a bad guy because I don’t care about people dying… but I ask them – why do other lives not count? Why do lives lost from suicide not count? Why do lives lost to overdose not count? Why are families ruined by divorce rates that are skyrocketing not count?” asked Wells.
The NY Daily News reported an increase in suicide ideation due to the climate of quarantine and COVID-19 in September, utilizing data from a CDC report that reported an increase in mental health issues and substance abuse compared with data from previous periods.
Mayor Wells then spent the next four minutes, of his six-minute talk, tying the Nativity story which he framed into justifying breaking the law and calling for everyone to stand up against “this evil that has been perpetrated on us.”
“People had to make a decision to follow the government…but there were times when the government went too far, there were times when the government took too much,” said Wells, referring to both the Roman Empire in the times of Christ and present day leadership.
State Senator Brian Jones
“You all have my commitment as we go back to Sacramento after the first of the year to do everything I can to make ensure that Newsom’s power is cut off as much as possible…. We just need to reopen San Diego.”
Alex Pellegrino, former President, Entrepreneur Association of San Diego:
“There are a few things we need to do. We need to support the businesses that have the courage to stay open…. You can’t do this to the ‘small guy.’ What’s good for the ‘big guy’ should be good for the ‘small guy.’ If the ‘big-bucks’ retail shops can stay open, then the hardware store down the street from me can stay open. This is time for us to stand up and fight, because it’s either fight or lose everything. And it’s not just your business you’re losing, it’s everything.”
Jana Whitehead, RN, BSN, Integrative Nurse Coach:
“I’ve always been that nurse that would speak up, and then I would get in trouble. I actually was recently asked to leave my job because I could no longer enforce the mask thing. We’re all healthy. We don’t need to be scaring each other with these masks. I asked my co-workers to back me up, and they all just had this blank stare. It was amazing. Doctors that I had looked up to, and nurses that I admired, are just completely...(waving her hands around her head)…it’s, I think it’s the fear, it’s the emotion. They’re not thinking logically. I also have training as a yoga and meditation teacher, so maybe I was able to, kinda, get above that through my practice…”
Whitehead then read what she said was a statement from the World Health Organization related to false positive PCR tests, but I could find no reference to this statement online or on the WHO site. Whitehead also stated that Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, has also stated that the PCR tests are “unreliable,” although again, I was not able to find any reference to this claim anywhere online.
Whitehead went on to claim, “I spoke up about masks, right away, when they told the public to wear masks, and all my nurse friends, doctor friends, were arguing with me about it. So, that’s why I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone. We don’t wear masks all day.. It’s manipulative. It’s fear-mongering, and I just couldn’t go on with it anymore.”
“I just want to leave you with some empowering things... There are successful prophylactics… You can get outside. Deep breathe. Meditation. Even cold water therapy. Get in a cold shower. It will boost your immune system. There are so many things you can do. You don’t need to be dependent on a system that is trying to manipulate you… The areas where people have the best quality of life and live the longest, are small communities, where they have lots of support and lots of socialization. So, that shows you right there, the manipulation.” Whitehead mentioned other “prophylactics”, but it would be irresponsible for ECM to list unproven opinions related to the prevention of COVID19.
Justin Hart, KUSI News “data expert”
“You have to know that truth and the power of numbers are on your side. Just today we have confirmation of this because the reason we are all masked-up, the reason we’re social distancing, the reason they try to shut down our businesses and keep us indoors is because they’re scared of asymptomatic spread. If that was true, I would be scared too. That is, you have no symptoms, yet you can infect someone next to you. In fact, you probably will. It turns out, that’s not true. Here are the numbers for you. If you have symptoms, there is about an 18% chance you can send them onto someone else…. But guess what? They just found out the numbers of the asymptomatics. 0.7. That is, you are 25 times less likely to pass on. In fact, it is practically nil. So, we are all masked up, we are all just completely locked in our homes, for no apparent reason… You should be mad about that.”
Hart went on to state that “50% of cancer diagnoses have gone undiagnosed because of the lockdown.” What Hart failed to mention was that at the beginning of the pandemic, The American Society of Clinical Oncology recommended decreasing clinic visits and postponing cancer screening to "reduce patient contact with health care facilities." That said, a Los Angeles cancer patient did recently die after surgery was cancelled because a hospital was full. Public health officials urge that people stay home to lower the rate of COVID-19, so that medical facilities will be able to see more non-COVID patients and not be compelled to cancel diagnositc tests or surgeries.
Hart said that fentanyl overdoses have risen 50% during the pandemic. Although deaths due to overdosing did increase, according to the CDC website, “overdose deaths were already increasing in the months preceding the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.”
Hart also mentioned that “in some areas, suicide rates are as high as 135%,” although Hart did not mention among which population (rates of suicide among veterans have been frighteningly high), nor if the ‘areas’ he was referring to were even in the United States. While long quarantining and financial stresses do pose mental health concerns, the only information I could find online about suicide during the time of the pandemic that reflected anywhere near the number referenced by Hart was about ranges in predictive models that applied to different countries internationally. An article published by the Washington Post on November 23, 2020, referenced a CDC study that showed that suicidal thoughts did increase during the pandemic, up to 11% for people of all ages, and up to 25% for young adults (ages 18-24). A significantly lower number than the 135% increase stated by Hart. Again, Hart provided no reference or source for his data.
Hart also stated that “80% of people who died of coronavirus had a lack of vitamin D. So the solution is what? Lock you all in your homes so you don’t see the sun, and you’re all stuck at home. It makes no sense. It’s illogical.” It is not true that 80% of the people who died of COVID19 had a lack of vitamin D. The data suggests that 80% of people who have been hospitalized due to the virus have shown a lack of vitamin D. There are no studies that show that vitamin D will prevent or protect you from being infected by COVID19.
I kept waiting for Hart to share the source, or sources, of his data, but at no point in his presentation did Hart mention the sources of any of the information he was sharing. As a social scientist myself, and having worked with the World Health Orgnaization on humanitarian projects including eradication of polio, not referencing sources is an instant and automatic indicator to be very skeptical about any data or information that is shared, by anyone, and very suspect from someone who self-identifies as a “data expert.”
The issue of being asymptomatic is very important because it has caused significant confusion in the study of, and response to, the pandemic.
According to the World Health Organization website, “Both terms refer to people who do not have symptoms. The difference is that ‘asymptomatic’ refers to people who are infected but never develop any symptoms, while ‘pre-symptomatic’ refers to infected people who have not yet developed symptoms but go on to develop symptoms later.” In other words, asymptomatic people may only be temporarily so, and may in fact be only pre-symptomatic.
According to UTHealtheasttexas.com, “a person who is pre-symptomatic has tested positive for infection but isn’t displaying any signs or symptoms yet. Experts warn that pre-symptomatic COVID-19 carriers are the most contagious, as the virus can spread at least 48 hours before symptoms develop, which according to the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, usually appear two to 14 days after exposure. Without knowledge, a person in this stage can infect others while still feeling healthy.
Regarding asymptomatic infection, UTHealtheasttexas.com, “if a person is asymptomatic, he or she also has the infection without symptoms but, unlike pre-symptomatic carriers, won’t develop them later. This doesn’t mean a person who is asymptomatic is in the clear, as studies now show the virus can cause mild harm to the lungs when in this stage. Experts say it is also unknown at this time if asymptomatic carriers will remain symptom-free the entire time of infection.”
Alondra Ruiz, restaurant owner of The Village, a vegan restaurant in North Park:
“I had to shut down, in March, like most restaurants, and throughout the shutdown, I started seeing a bigger picture. Greater than a virus. I kept seeing inconsistencies, like big corporations thriving while small business owners had to close their doors forever… We can’t look the other way with so much corruption happening…. It is our duty to stand up against oppression… If big corporations can open, and airlines can sit people, elbow to elbow, next to each other, then small businesses can also open and operate.”
Dr. Cordie Williams (chiropractor), Co-Founder 1776 Forever Free:
Williams called forward several people standing behind him waving flags, banners and signs, saying “I need some comfort, because I always get comfort anytime I’m around any movement that wants to get rid of somebody that is the antithesis of demonic terrorism, tyranny, and puts way too much grease in his hair. Adolf Newsom, as I affectionally call him. Can I get an Amen on that one? Can I get an Amen on that one?”
Then he called for a volunteer to be his “devil dog”. A lady from the audience came up saying “I want to be your devil dog.” Referring to her as “gorgeous,” Williams asked her to hold up an American flag, folded in a way the represents a deceased service member.
Williams spoke for longer than the others, recounting various puzzling anecdotes which reflected a lack of understanding of epidemiology, immunology and public health. “It’s the same thing I say about other medical freedom choices we make. If your thing works, then why are you worried about me not wearing my facial condom? Why are you worried about me not wearing it… The one thing we can all agree on under the Constitution is, what? Freedom and choice. Praise God, right?”
Williams then went on to say “this is no longer a ‘Sleepy Joe’-Trump thing. It’s not. It’s not a Red or Blue thing. OK? It’s not. This is “Are you for America, or are you against it!?” We have a demonic snake, and Gavin Newsom is the tail, and Socialism is the head. And what I want everyone out there watching this to understand is, the next tyrant, the next Newsom, is coming to a theatre near you… The time is now. There is no tomorrow. There is no tomorrow people. There is no tomorrow when it comes to freedom. Because these tyrants are socialism. These tyrants are against everything that’s good about America.”
“Then I got my little soldiers,’ Williams said about his children. “My four-year old and my two-year old. The other day we were in the car, and I’m like, I’m training this boy well because he goes “Daddy. Daddy, Trumpy is amazing.” He calls him “Trumpy.” I’m like “why is he amazing son?” He goes, “because he makes everything open. Daddy, we need to take Adolf Newsom and tape him to the garbage can. He needs to go in the garbage can.” We’re doing something right” Williams boasted.
Williams then challenged the audience to action. He challenged people to run for office, to run against “socialists, Marxists and anti-Americans, I don’t even call them Democrats,” to know the Constitution, and “to learn and own the 2nd Amendment… and know how to use a handgun, and a weapon. I’m not saying to use it on somebody. I’m saying ‘protect your home.’”
Peggy Hall, self-identified health and wellness advocate:
Hall claimed in a rant that contradicted advice of federal, state and county health officials, “No Governor can make a law. No Mayor can make a law. No Sheriff can make a law. No Judge can make a law. And certainly, no Health Officer can make a law.”
“When did it become illegal, in the United States of America, to go into a grocery store, breathing oxygen, and you’re going to be handcuffed and arrested for trespassing. I’m not going to stand for it. I’m not going to stand for it. They’re trying to take away the United States of America, and they’re trying to make the United States of Costco. Are you going to stand for it? Are you going to stand for Trader Joes making the laws for this country? “Traitor” Joes!”
“No Governor has any authority to tell you what to do," she stated. Bizarrely ignoring the fact that COVID has killed more people than any war in U.S. history, she insisted, "There’s no evidence of any emergency. There never has been any evidence of an emergency. People get sick. People die. It’s very tragic. That’s the cycle of life. There’s no emergency. And if even there was an emergency, no emergency goes in front of your rights. That’s why I don’t care about the science. I don’t care about the numbers.”
“So, listen. Take off the mask! There is no law that says you have to wear a mask. No person makes a law in this country. If you want to wear a mask, that’s your business. And if I don’t, that’s my business.”
“Just stay open, and run your business the way you want to…There is no law that requires you to close your business. There is no law that requires you or your employees to wear a mask. There is no law that requires you to require your patrons to wear a mask. There is no law that requires you to limit your patrons to 25%. There is no law to make you serve outdoors, or indoors, or on the roof. I’m sorry to say, these powers that shouldn’t be, are starting to ridicule you.”
“The #1 thing the government wants to do is to oppress you. And the way they do that is through isolation. So, the #1 thing you’re going to do, just like you’re doing here, you’re going to stay connected with people, you’re going to find these businesses, you’re going to go, in person, face to face, no mask, and enjoy yourself the way the life is designed to be…. If you’re a hair salon, just open your doors! Forget the paper. Just open your doors, fill your salon. Nail salons, open!”
“I’m going to tell you 3 things you can do. These are 3 things everyone can do, right now. #1, please, TAKE OFF THE MASKS!. Just take off the masks. Friends, the mask doesn’t work. OK. It actually, doesn’t… It is a symbol of oppression. It is a symbol of squelching your freedom of speech, and it’s visible. And as other speakers have said, and you know it as well. This is a battle, this is a war, this is a spiritual battle, and that is the uniform of the enemy.”
Hall then encouraged people to not only take off their masks, but to walk into a store, without a mask, without any intention to purchase anything, and then just walk out. And then, “the next time you walk in and go down one aisle, you turn around and walk up the other aisle, and, you know what ‘I wasn’t going to buy anything, anyway.’” Then the next time, “just buy a pack of gum.”
“I do understand that our society has told you that you’re doing the right thing by wearing a mask. That it’s the compassionate thing to do. It is not compassionate to appear in society, looking like a robber, rapist, thug and criminal! Because they’re the ones who wear masks! I don’t like dealing with bandits. OK… In our society, we don’t deal with our facial identity concealed. It’s actually a crime.”
County Medical Association CEO, Supervisor Dianne Jacob react to statements made at rally:
The following day, ECM contacted the San Diego County Medical Society, The County Health and Human Services Department, and the office of County Supervisor Dianne Jacob. I shared with them what I had heard at the “Freedom” event and asked them for their comments.
The following is the written statement ECM received from Paul Hegyi, CEO of San Diego County Medical Society:
“We understand people’s frustrations with the pandemic. The reality is that ICUs are overwhelmed and we are in a particularly difficult and dangerous period in dealing with COVID-19. No one is more exhausted than health care workers after dealing with this nine-month long pandemic. We ask everyone to help us get through this together by isolating at home and limiting travel in order to protect yourself and your loved ones. With the beginning arrival of vaccines, there is good cause for real hope for the near future. We need your help to get us all through this very tough time.”
ECM received the following written statement from the office of Supervisor Dianne Jacob:
“There are certainly several things with the state’s public health order that I find unfair, and I sympathize with the tremendous burden this is having on businesses and employees. Although I have advocated for total local control, the state still hasn’t relinquished its authority. Regardless of any objection with a public health order, the significant flareup of cases and the impact on our hospitals is alarming right now and we should all be taking this seriously.”
No response was received from the office of Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego county’s public health officer.
Indoctrination vs. information
Many of the speakers at the event referred to being in the Twilight Zone. They talked of being in a ‘spiritual war,’ and energetically called for people to “learn and own the 2nd Amendment… and know how to use a handgun, and a weapon,” demanding everyone “take off your masks.”The stated intent of many of the speakers was to channel rhetoric to action.
Particularly chilling, a young child called the Governor “Adolf Newsom” adding “He needs to go in the garbage can,” after which the youngster's proud parent said “Can I get an Amen?,” and “Praise God,” practically after every other sentence, This was reminiscent of religious Madrasas in the Middle East which radicalize children towards violence at a very early age.
Despite the many such bizarre moments, some underlying and legitimate issues remain unresolved, such as whether some shutdown orders on small businesses go too far, including banning outdoor dining at restaurants and shuttering salons and gyms completely.
These are tough decisions for public officials striving to balance economic concerns ono one hand against a public health crisis on the other hand.
The comments of restaurant owner Alondra Ruiz seem to sum up the event amid a raging pandemic.
“If big corporations can open and airlines can sit people elbow-to-elbow next to each other, then small businesses can also open and operate,” said Ruiz.
Ruiz concluded, “Every action I will continue to take regarding liberty will be with the famous words in mind of Patrick Henry, “Give me liberty, or give me death.””
If the speakers get their demands, they run a very good chance of getting both.
View videos of speakers:
Cordie Williams, 1776 Forever Free
El Cajon Maor Bill Wells
Minister Rita, the "Compton Conservative"
Justin Hart, KUSI "data expert"
Jana Whitehead, RN