Op/Ed: MAGA Behavior by Council Majority at Reed Park Rally Major Reason City Can’t Work with County on Harm Reduction

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On Tuesday I went to Reed Park to observe the anti-needle-exchange rally hosted by the Santa Monica Coalition, co-founded by Pacific Palisades resident Jessica Rogers and Trump supporter John Alle, who also doesn’t live in Santa Monica. As noted in Damien’s coverage of the rally, the group is best known for the large signs such as “Santa Methica” posted on Alle’s Promenade property. Tampering with these signs was the basis for Mayor Phil Brock picking a fight with a homeless person and the ensuing bizarre spectacle of Santa Monica police officers allowing Brock to continue to manhandle the individual and “help arrest him” even after they were on the scene and in the process of arresting him themselves, an experience which Brock was eager to discuss on Fox News. That’s the national Fox News that got sued by Dominion Voting Systems for claiming they stole the 2020 presidential election from Donald Trump, not the local Fox 11 station that came out to cover this rally.

However, Mayor Pro Tem Lana Negrete decided that she was going to pull her own Donald Trump move and tried to sic the rally’s audience on me when it was her turn to speak. So while I do have thoughts about the rally, I first want to share my experience with trying to cover it.

Covering the Rally

While I was sitting waiting for the rally to start, I noticed Negrete talking to Tricia Crane, a local Santa Monica NIMBY and Change Slate (the name that Brock, Negrete, and their allied council members Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra gave to themselves) supporter.

Tricia Crane (left) and Santa Monica Mayor Pro Tem Lana (right)

Shortly after talking with Negrete, Crane walked up to inform me that I’m hated, and that I should leave and if I don’t she’ll call the police to have them remove me. I’d be disturbed if I was actually liked by people whose politics include pushing the Howard Jarvis Association “repeal the death tax” ballot proposition, so on the whole I was pleased to receive this compliment from Crane. I was not however clear on how she thought she could get the police to remove me from a public park, but based on what happened later on during the rally I have some suspicion that the threat to have me removed and even the claim that I’m hated were actually coming from Negrete.

Jumping to Negrete’s turn with the microphone, she makes a statement that removing the needle exchange should not be a political issue (let’s ignore for a moment the absurdity of saying this while standing directly in front of a sign calling for voting out councilmember Gleam Davis and firing city manager David White) and then points at me and calls me out by name. 

“Let’s stop making things political”—Negrete points her finger at me at this point–”back there, Jason Mast-a-baum” (n.b. there are only eight letters and two syllables in my last name). “Let’s stop making things political. You’re filming from the back of the room to make this a political issue” and then, turning to someone next to her, “I look forward to seeing myself on Twitter later.” As she pointed at me, the crowd followed her finger to look at me, and then began jeering my name. My vantage point on this is in the video below; here’s an alternate view taken from the front row.

Up until this point I had been standing in the back minding my own business while filming. As I’ve previously covered, these “Change Slaters” seem to have a problem with being recorded while speaking at public events, although this time it was particularly notable that Negrete was objecting to this given that other news media present included two local TV stations with camera crews, a writer for the Santa Monica Mirror, and at least two other individuals who later put their recordings up on YouTube. So I’m thinking the actual problem they have is with being recorded by people who won’t give them sycophantic or at least softball coverage, like Scott Snowden from the Santa Monica Daily Press did by pulling a Sean Spicer and inflating the crowd size for them. I personally estimated the crowd at 40 people; the Santa Monica Lookout estimate of 50 people seems a little high but is plausible if this is based on people filtering in and out for only part of the rally. The 100 people claimed in the opening line of Snowden’s article is a clear fabrication:

As happens to the reporters Trump does this to at his rallies, it wasn’t long until I got mobbed by a hostile crowd. As captured in the first video below, one of them even threatened to physically assault me shortly after engaging in a one-on-one conversation with Negrete. Negrete’s actions are no different than Trump getting his crowds to shove the press, trying to smack their phones out of their hands (which also happened to me while trying to take some final pictures before leaving), and even physically assaulting reporters, all of which is directly fueled by Trump engaging in the exact same kind of political behavior Negrete chose to engage in toward me

Thoughts on the Rally Itself

The first speaker was Roxanne Hoge. I didn’t know until after the event that she’s a registered Republican who previously ran for LA County Supervisor, but I wasn’t surprised to find this out given her comments were heavy on the kind of vitriol toward Director of Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Barbara Ferrer that you’d see from all the rightwing anti-vaxxers back in 2020 and 2021. In fact, the reason she ran for county supervisor in the first place was MAGA anger over pandemic public health measures. Her comments overall were basically what you’d expect from somebody with this profile.

On Brock’s turn to speak, he spoke about “poison” ruining our communities, which sounded like it came right out of Michael Shellenberger’s mouth, whom Brock is a big fan of. Shellenberger ran in the 2022 recall election against governor Gavin Newsom; he spews a lot of made-up “science” about addiction and homelessness that appeals to Fox News viewers like Brock, who’s on the record as making decisions without any data and solely based on what he sees and feels. Shellenberger also got in on Elon Musk’s “Twitter Files” fiasco with other rightwing media personalities like Bari Weiss to push conspiracy theories about Twitter’s alleged scheming to ban Donald Trump, Matt Gaetz, and other far-right lunatics.

The others’ comments were not much better. One of Negrete’s objections to the needle exchange program was “we don’t have a hepatitis epidemic”, which is the same level of sophistication you see from people who refuse to get their kids vaccinated for measles because they don’t remember ever seeing anyone get measles. De la Torre repeated his objectively wrong analogy from a recent council meeting that needle exchange programs are like handing a suicidal person a gun. Parra told the crowd about two cases where, as she quickly slipped in and just as quickly moved past, allegedly lost their lives in the vicinity of Reed Park as a result of an overdose. As usual with these council members, no actual evidence, only “just something I heard”.

They were there to demagogue, so there was no room for facts such as “the majority of [syringe services programs (SSPs)] offer referrals to medication-assisted treatment, and new users of SSPs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment and three times more likely to stop using drugs than those who don’t use the program” (CDC SSP factsheet). Nor were there any real solutions offered for how to get the needle exchange and drug use (the presence of which in Reed Park long predates the needle exchange program) indoors, such as using the currently closed Miles Playhouse building as a temporary location for the exchange and an indoor injection location while working on a better long-term arrangement than simply having it take over the park. Instead the status quo will continue until we elect a better council, because the county is the entity in control of this program, and it’s clear that the county is freezing out our current council majority because they know that these aren’t serious people interested in engaging in a productive working relationship with the county.

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