On April 17, a Santa Rosa home was vandalized with splattered pig’s blood and a pig’s head. Soon after, a large white sculpture of a hand in front of Santa Rosa Plaza mall was also covered with animal blood.
Santa Rosa Police Department (SRPD) issued a press release explaining that they believe the home was targeted because it is a past residence of Barry Brodd, a former SRPD training officer who, days before, had testified in defense of Derek Chauvin, the Minnesota police officer who killed George Floyd.
Brodd stated that he felt that Derek Chauvin was justified and acting with objective reasonableness and within policy when he knelt on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, killing him in the process.
This stance infuriated many civilians and was an unpopular perspective even among police departments throughout the U.S., which have spent the year following Floyd’s murder under increasing public scrutiny, amid calls for reform, defunding and abolition. The day Brodd testified, SRPD Chief Rainer Navarro issued a statement saying that Brodd’s comments do not reflect the department’s values and beliefs.
Twelve days after the blood vandalism took place, with no arrests made in the case, ABC7 News journalist Dan Noyes published a video report titled “EXCLUSIVE: Trump supporter shares what he uncovered after infiltrating anti-fascist group in Sonoma Co.”
The news piece featured an interview with a man wearing polarized sunglasses, a black face mask and a black cap emblazoned with the words “Golden State.” The man, whom Noyes identifies only as a Sonoma County business owner and Trump supporter, sits in front of a conference table as Noyes listens to his claims that he has “infiltrated” a local group calling itself “SoCo Radical Action.”
Social media accounts describe the “radical group” as focused on “antifascist, antiracist, anticapitalist direct action.”
“I read their manifesto. And I could tell they were a threat to the community. Somebody needed to do something about this,” the anonymous man tells Noyes in the video.
The source later plays Noyes’ recordings from calls and displays screenshots from private conversations with the group’s members. Two voices are heard, mentioning that they decided against naming their group “SoCo antifa” out of concern the name might land them on an FBI watch list. In a different recording played during the segment, viewers hear the same voices say, “Let’s kill some cops.” Although Noyes says it’s hard to tell whether the comments are a “twisted joke or a serious proposal,” the speakers are both heard laughing.
Noyes says that the members of the group declined to be interviewed for the story.
The same day the ABC7 clip aired, an Instagram user going by the name Golden State Nationalist posted a flashily-edited video montage containing news coverage of Santa Rosa racial justice protests, the cover of an issue of the Bohemian, images pulled from SoCo Radical Action’s social media page and posts from other Sonoma County activists. The post was captioned, “Who the hell are these #antifa people that keep terrorizing our community? Why won’t anybody speak out against them? Maybe it’s about time somebody did. #subscribe to find out more.”
On Gab, a hard right-wing alternative to Twitter that explicitly permits hate speech, the Golden State Nationalist’s page promised a “Full video exposing my local antifa soon.”
Online response to Noyes’ story was swift. Some right wing Twitter users took the story at face value and decried the recordings as more evidence of society’s downfall at the hands of Antifa. The Golden State Nationalist shared the content about the arrests using the hashtag #DomesticTerrorists.
Meanwhile, other users questioned the journalistic integrity and value of the story. The story amounts to a one-source critique of a group with opposing political beliefs and plays into a well-worn narrative about the much-hyped war between antifa and Donald Trump supporters.
The most prominent Twitter critic of the story was Chad Loder, who quickly began investigating the identity of the anonymous source and Noyes’ history covering right-wing groups, often without offering complete summaries of his subjects’ beliefs. The timing of Noyes’ clip and subsequent Golden State Nationalist post, as well as aesthetic similarities and overlapping interests between the source in the clip and the Golden State Nationalist, led Loder to feel confident that the masked subject was also the person behind those social media accounts.
Instagram and Youtube pages featured posts about Sonoma County racial justice activists as well as a post that read “Fuck your laws” above an image of an assault rifle, an image of a flag design glorifying Capitol insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt and a bio that proclaimed, “the only identity that matters is the American identity.”
All told, the story amounted to an “embarrassing breakdown in journalistic ethics” because Noyes and ABC7 “granted anonymity to a member of a violent hate group so they could run a ludicrous story about ‘antifa,’” Loder wrote.
Loder went on to publicly ask Noyes questions about the story on Twitter. Noyes defended the facts presented in the story but largely side-stepped questions about the story’s importance as a piece of journalism.
“You are NOT saying any of the report is inaccurate. I know the source, checked him out, and found no indication he is part of any extremist group,” Noyes responded to Loder. He later called Loder’s claims outlandish.
The Bohemian spoke to Ed Wasserman, the former dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, to get his perspective on the Noyes piece, especially his use of anonymity.
Wasserman said, “My first question is, ‘Who are these people [on the recording?] Which is of particular concern because, to his credit, Noyes has told his viewers that his source is a Trump supporter; it’s obvious the source is doing this explicitly to disparage and discredit these people. So if there’s editing done—if there’s careful selection of how much of the recording to share—it’s being done by somebody who clearly has an axe to grind.”
Noyes did not respond to a request for comment on the story.
Three activist women arrested
On May 11, SRPD shared a media release announcing they had arrested three women for the pig’s blood incident on charges of conspiracy to commit a crime and two counts of felony vandalism. Amber Lucas, Rowan Dalbey and Kristen Aumoithe are Sonoma County residents who have been active in the Black Lives Matter protests over the past year. Lucas and Dalbey are Black and Aumoithe has Black children.
The Golden State Nationalist accounts shared a video taunting the arrested women.
None of the three have criminal records. All have been candid and public in their criticism of law enforcement, calling for abolition of police and prisons. Lucas, a professional wine influencer on social media, was featured in a San Francisco Chronicle cover story on the “disruptive power of influencers” less than a week before her arrest. She is an appointed member of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women.
An SRPD press release announcing the arrests says the blood and pig’s head were estimated to cost thousands of dollars in damage, meaning the crime exceeds the $400 cost required for felony vandalism charges. On May 26, the SRPD arrested two more people, Colin Metcalfe and Christina Henry, in relation to the vandalism case.
Nearly a month after the three women were arrested, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office has not pressed charges against any of the five suspects. The Bohemian could not reach Metcalfe or Henry for comment.
Brian Staebell, a chief deputy district attorney, said the prosecutor’s office is “in the process of reviewing all of the evidence provided to us by law enforcement regarding these incidents to determine what, if any, criminal charges are appropriate to file against which individuals.” The suspects in the vandalism cases are scheduled to make an initial appearance in court in mid-August.
Although many print media outlets, including the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and San Francisco Chronicle, did not publish the womens’ booking photos with articles about the arrests, the photos were released by law enforcement and soon surfaced online. A few right-wing outrage merchants with large social media followings quickly shared the images, characterizing the womens’ alleged crime as “attempted witness intimidation,” which spurred thousands of hateful—and often racist—comments about the women.
Aumoithe, who asserts her innocence, says that reading the comments after she was released was terrifying, “especially as the mother of Black boys, to know that there are white supremacists who want to do me harm.”
Lucas echoes this. “I have been frightened,” she says. “I have felt deeply troubled at being falsely accused.”
Aumoithe says that after the arrest she was excited to get back to her routine, especially visiting her local gym, Crossfit Proprius, which had been a home away from home for her. Instead, Aumoithe received a message from the gym, which is also known as Sonoma Strength Academy, informing her that her membership had been placed on hold “until the criminal case is resolved,” according to a copy of the exchange reviewed by the Bohemian.
The gym did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on Thursday afternoon. The article will be updated with their response.
Lucas says the professional impact has been positive, with clients and customers coming to her aide. “I’m blessed in that I have clients that know me, and stand with me,” she says.
On May 20, four prominent Bay Area attorneys—Tony Serra, Omar Figueroa, Lauren Mendelsohn and Vincent Barrientos—announced in a statement that they would defend the women for free, stating that they were falsely accused.
“The evidence will show that this is the work of an agent provocateur,” Barrientos says in the statement.
Since then, the women and their attorneys have characterized the arrests and possible charges as an attempt by local law enforcement to discourage them from participating in activism. Despite increased attention and online harassment, the three women have returned to organizing public protests, including leading two public poetry readings.
“I refuse to be forced into silence over false accusations,” Lucas told the Bohemian. “I am proud of the work I have poured into this community, and I understand that I have a responsibility to both myself and my community to continue to speak up.”
Also on May 20, Loder returned to dissecting Noyes’ April 29 news piece. This time, they alleged that Noyes’ anonymous source and the person creating the Golden State Nationalist social media channels is a Petaluma man named Stefan Perez.
Among the information Loder presented to support their theory was the following:
– Perez owns a videography company and possesses the video editing skills necessary to create the videos uploaded by the Golden State Nationalist.
– Through his personal Facebook and Nextdoor accounts, Perez raised concerns about SoCo Radical Action and BLM, the same activist groups the Golden State Nationalist and Noyes’ masked source targeted.
– Weeks before Noyes’ piece aired, when the Golden State Nationalist Instagram had just 45 followers, one of them was Perez’s longtime friend and collaborator Anthony Guzman, a Viking cosplayer and singer who recently appeared on American Idol.
– The masked subject’s hands, which are visible, and voice—when pitch-corrected—appear to match those of Perez.
After Loder presented their evidence online, the Bohemian found a personal YouTube account belonging to Perez under the user name Fettman69. Here, Perez left a comment last August on a years-old video of then-candidate for Petaluma City Council Dr. Dennis Pocekay presenting at a TEDx event about the effects of racism in healthcare. Perez commented, “Despite there being ‘hundreds of studies’, most of his pieces of evidence doesn’t (sic) cite any sources. Hurm.” Four months later, the Golden State Nationalist posted a similar comment to now-Councilmember Pocekay’s Instagram page, challenging a message Pocekay shared about racism.
The Bohemian also found a Bandcamp page that appears to belong to Perez. Although no name is public on the account, the username is Fettman63, which is the same name Perez uses on the film review website Letterboxd. Among the fewer than 10 artists followed by the Bandcamp account, is French music producer Perterbator, whose music is used in a video montage created and shared by the Golden State Nationalist.
Loder presented numerous disturbing images of memes and comments Perez shared on his personal social media pages in the past couple of years. These images mostly traffic in racist humor. In 2018, Perez, who frequently shared images of Hitler and allusions to Nazis, tweeted “Facebook and Twitter took out all the Nazi and Hitler GIFs dammit!!!”
In February 2020, Perez tweeted an image of Isla Vista mass murderer Elliot Rodger grinning in the makeup of the Joker, the infamous Batman-series villain embraced by the alt right and heavily featured in their memes. In 2014, Rodger killed six women and himself after detailing his intentions in a misogynistic manifesto he uploaded to Youtube.
In an emailed statement, Santa Rosa Attorney Roy Miller, who represents Perez, told the Bohemian that Perez does not run the Golden State Nationalist social media accounts.
“It’s incredibly easy to make stuff up and just toss the bombs out onto the net. There’s zero accountability and very little fact checking,” Miller commented. Miller also denied that Perez was the anonymous source in the ABC7 piece.
Asked about Perez’s post using an image of Elliot Rodger as the Joker, Miller said that Perez’s “entire Twitter feed is made up of jokes and dark humor for the most part so the reader shouldn’t necessarily take them seriously.”
Despite Perez’s denial, scrutiny of his social media accounts alarmed Petaluma residents and, seemingly, his employers.
In the wake of Loder’s allegations, Santa Rosa High School’s principal announced that the school had placed Perez on paid administrative leave from his video arts teaching position for the remainder of the academic year. Citing confidentiality rules, a Santa Rosa School District spokesperson declined to state the reason Perez was placed on leave.
Around the same time, Dan Fornace, a video game designer whose company, Aether Studios, often featured Perez’s online content, distanced the company from Perez. “After seeing some of his past social media posts, we have decided to no longer include Stefan in any new official Aether Studios video content. Our community is no place for discrimination or hate speech,” Fornace wrote on Twitter on May 26.
Still, Perez remains associated with one organization formed as part of Petaluma’s reaction to last year’s racial justice protests. At a March 15 meeting, Petaluma City Council appointed Perez to the Ad Hoc Community Advisory Committee (AHCAC), a group of more than 20 community members whose task is to “study and discuss issues contributing to community members not feeling safe or welcome in Petaluma and to develop recommendations to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion,” with the intention that their recommendations will be considered when the city reviews police policies.
Although most members of the committee were suggested by community organizations, Perez was not. Instead, at the March 15 meeting, Perez and several other people speaking on his behalf suggested that he be appointed to the committee. Perez cited that he is a member of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, however the tribal council did not endorse him nor any other member to the AHCAC.
Miller said that Perez joined the AHCAC “to bring an outsider’s perspective onto the committee to address racial animosity that is growing in Petaluma.”
Before his appointment, community members raised concerns to the city council about Perez’s social media posts and direct interactions he had with them and other community members.
Ultimately, Councilmember Dr. Dennis Pocekay agreed to nominate Perez for a seat on the committee after his fellow Councilmember Mike Healy used his single nomination for a different person.
Despite calls from community members to remove Perez from the committee in response to Loder’s allegations, the city council has yet to discuss the issue publicly.
At a Monday, June 7 meeting, the first since the allegations against Perez became public, a discussion of Perez and the AHCAC was not placed on the agenda, but 13 individuals—eight spoken comments and five written comments—respectfully called for Perez’s removal. There were no public comments in support of Perez.
Pocekay was the only council member to speak about Perez during the meeting. He offered a public apology “for being the person who put Stefan’s name out there.” Pocekay said he is available for anyone who wants to talk further about Perez’s appointment to the committee.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The section of this article referring to Kristen Aumoithe’s gym membership was updated on June 10 to more accurately describe the gym’s response to Aumoithe’s arrest.
This is Part 1 of a series on the mystery of the pig’s head vandals and the surrounding intrigue.
Thoughts, tips or comments? You can reach Will Carruthers at firstname.lastname@example.org.