Buffoons on Parade
By Nicholas Schou
When a group of right-wing extremists and Q-Anon-influenced conspiracy enthusiasts invaded the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, a Trump administration lawyer named John Eastman was there to urge on the crowd. Darkly rambling about the supposed existence of "secret folders" full of fake ballots, Eastman, formerly the Dean of Chapman University Law School, asserted that President-elect Joe Biden had "stolen" the election. "We know there was fraud," claimed Eastman, adding that "dead people voted."
Eastman's participation in the violent assault wasn't the first time he had raised eyebrows in national politics. Two years ago, he penned an opinion piece in Newsweek pushing the debunked notion that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was ineligible for the role because her parents were not U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
And in 2010, Eastman popped up in OC Weekly's annual list of Scariest People for encouraging "a crowd of conservative California Republican activists to overthrow the government if it permits the 'insufferable,' allowing gay citizens to marry."
Eastman now is under investigation for his January 6 remarks by the California State Bar Association, which may revoke his law license on ethical grounds. Facing a wave of internal pressure by faculty calling for his termination, he also resigned his position at Chapman.
Of course, Eastman is only the latest nutcase to be spawned by Orange County and foisted on America's national political scene. Long the bastion of the far-right John Birch Society, which saw everything from the Democratic Party to The Beatles as evidence of an international "commie" conspiracy, Orange County in the 1960s and '70s was also home to Richard Nixon's "Western White House" in San Clemente, as well as Nixon's chief dirty tricks campaign expert Donald Segretti, who went to prison in the wake of the Watergate scandal. In other words, the polluted mindset that led to the paranoid politics of the Nixon era were partly birthed in Orange County's particularly noxious political laboratory.
If the 1970s were bad, the '80s were even worse. In that decade, Orange County's primary contribution to American politics were a pair of almost comically deranged Congressional Representatives: Republicans Bob Dornan and Dana Rohrabacher.
The two archconservative firebrands used their time on Capitol Hill to lobby against inferred references to homosexuality in publicly funded arts programs and in favor of vastly increased defense spending (appropriately enough, Dornan's nickname was 'B1 Bob') as well as support for Reagan-backed death squad regimes and their various resultant bloodbaths in Central America and Southern Africa.
Although Orange County voters pushed Dornan out of office in 1996, replacing him with Latina Democrat Loretta Sanchez, Rohrabacher, who managed to survive being charged with election fraud in the mid-90s, didn't lose his seat until 2019. By then, his reliably wacky rants against climate change science (he once blamed global warming on dinosaur farts) and in favor of Vladimir Putin's Russia and Taliban had been obscured by the psychobabble of even weirder OC-bred loonies.
Perhaps the weirdest of these characters (and one who helpfully transitions this tale back to Eastman) was Orly Taitz, a dentist, lawyer and former real estate agent from Laguna Niguel whose claim to fame is sparking the wildly persistent and completely baseless conspiracy theory that Barack Obama wasn't born in Hawaii and thus isn't an American citizen. Her theory, and its strangely successful mixture of xenophobic racism and opportunistic looniness, might have gone viral nationwide, but it originated in good old OC.
Not content with simply voicing her nutty theories on Fox News, Taitz filed an unsuccessful lawsuit seeking to prove her claims. She even claimed that, in May 2011, when Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had just been executed in a US raid on Pakistan, that the Al Qaeda leader had actually been assassinated years earlier and kept on ice so that the news of his death would distract the public from her court case.
Nowadays, Orange County is much like mainstream America; a majority of voters support Democratic candidates and policies. But the extremist strain in county politics, as evidenced when Huntington Beach voters elected MMA fighter and MAGA bro Tito Ortiz as mayor, is still alive and well.
All one can hope is that Eastman's rapidly diminishing career in the wake of the January 6 insurrection, and equally speedy ex-communication from Chapman University, is also evidence that Orange County's long tradition of foisting right-wing nutjobs on the national political landscape may finally be coming to a close.
Nick's editorial note: When OC Weekly used to compile its list of Scariest People each year, each blurb would end with what we called a "mitigating factor," usually some piece of good news to outweigh all the bad. We didn't have one in mind for this story, but after it was submitted, on Monday, March 28, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter ruled that former President Trump “more likely than not” attempted to illegally obstruct Congress with his January 6 speech. Arguing that Eastman also likely engaged in such a conspiracy, Carter, a longtime, no-nonsense federal judge from Orange County, also ordered Eastman to hand over emails to the congressional panel investigating the insurrection.
Nicholas Schou is the former Editor-in-Chief of OC Weekly and an investigative reporter whose work has led to the release from prison of wrongfully convicted individuals as well as the indictment and imprisonment of a Huntington Beach Mayor. Schou's work has appeared in numerous publications including The Atlantic, Newsweek, Salon, and the Los Angeles Times. He is also the author of several books including Kill the Messenger, which was made into a 2014 Hollywood film starring Jeremy Renner, and Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and its Quest to Spread Peace, Love and Acid to the World.