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By Rebecca Jefferis Williamson

(Photos by Rebecca Jefferis Williamson)

May 27, 2020 (Santee) -- A Santee community group known as Santee Loves organized “Demonstrate Love,” a vehicle rally held today to counter the two racially charged incidents at a Santee Vons store on May 2 and at  Food 4 Less five days later. 

(Left: a participant standing next to his car.)

Those incidents, which went viral on social media and made international headlines, involved a man wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood and a couple, who live in unincorporated El Cajon, with Nazi swastikas on their COVID-19 face masks. 

The vehicle rally was designed to promote tolerance and inclusiveness. Though planned over the past two weeks, the event ironically occurred on the same night that national protests erupted over the brutal killing of George Floyd, an African-American man, by a Minneapolis police officer. 

“Santee Loves is a group that started a year ago,” said Dan Bickford one of the members of Santee Loves. “We formed to celebrate Santee’s 40th birthday but that went by the wayside when COVID came along.” 

Why did he help organize today’s rally? “We had two incidents that garnered us international notoriety,” said Bickford, who noted that the masked individuals told the Sheriff they were demonstrating against the county’s requirements to wear masks, and lockdowns, in stores due to COVID-19. The SDSO did not press charges in either incident.

The man wearing the Swastika mask was later documented to be a resident of the unincorporated El Cajon area  with a history of white supremacist ties.

Despite racial incidents in Santee’s past that the city has tried hard to overcome, even funding a rebranding campaign,  Bickford said today, “I don’t know of any KKK or hate group in the city. I’ve considered myself a Santee resident for over 15 years.” He lived just on the outskirts for several years before he moved to a Santee mobile home park. 

Bickford estimated the turnout at around 50. “We have local business leaders,  Chamber of Commerce members, Rotarians, and Kiwanis participating,” he added.

“I was devastated when I saw the photos,” said Santee resident Justin Schlaefli, who participated in the rally.  “I realized why the photo on social media grabbed me so much---because I had been in that exact spot (Vons) with my 3-year-old daughter. This is not what I want for my children.” 

The parking lot turn-out included Santee Mayor John Minto and City Councilmember Rob McNelis. 

(Photo on the right: Mayor John Minto with members of the media.)

One participant voiced his opinion on the event and the image of Santee.

“Why does the media focus on three idiots?” asked a man who wished to remain anonymous but said he had lived in Santee when he went to SDSU. 

“Santee has changed so much in the last two decades,” he said. “I’m really excited to see the community coming together.”  His car was decorated with a “Mexican Gay Republican – Santee (hearts) me” sign.

The  rally began at the Town Center Community Park’s east parking lot. It  A bus festooned with anti-hate messages and other vehicles, including TV news crews and individuals planning on driving in the rally, gathered at 4-4:30 p.m. and readied for the 5:00 p.m. departure that ended at Santee City Hall.

Organizers wanted city enthusiasts to make their own way through the city with their decorated cars while honking and shouting positive affirmations. There was no planned route, but the rally ended at city hall, where Rabbi Rafi Andrusier with Chabad of East County and others addressed the attendees.

(Photo on the left: Dan Bickford - one of the organizers of "Demonstrate Love.")

Rabbi Andrusier encouraged people to do good deeds and acts of kindness, showing respect to one another “to increase light,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. “Love your fellow as yourself and that’s what we’re doing here,” the Rabbi concluded. “Goodness and kindness will vanish all those negative things, all the hate.”

Rebecca Jefferis Williamson  Is an award-winning freelance journalist and photographer who has covered a wide-variety of subjects ranging from civil protests, community news and features to health issues including Covid-19, PFAS toxins, and Newcastle disease. Besides being a part of the East County Magazine team, she has freelanced for the San Diego Community Newspaper Group, Local Web Media, the Chula Vista Star News, San Diego Family Magazine, Military Press, and a number of other newspapers.

East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the Facebook Journalism Project for its COVID-19 Relief Fund grant to support our local news reporting including impacts on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more: #FacebookJournalismProject and

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