Over the past month, and with growing intensity, protests are cropping up in California against the pandemic shutdown. And as stay-at-home orders are gradually lifted, populist pressure continues to build, because the long term economic consequences have just begun. Rising prices in the stores just as households have spent what remained of their savings. Businesses fitfully coming back to life, but too late, with limited hours. Millions of jobs and businesses still lost, many lost forever.
History will judge whether or not this disease posed such an apocalyptic threat that choosing an economic depression was the preferable option. But at least half of all Americans today are completely alienated from the mainstream press. They view the totality of its product as nothing more than agenda-driven, self-contradictory, sanctimonious propaganda. For these Americans, the destruction of their liberty and livelihoods is a tough sell. And now in California, that feeling of alienation and mistrust has spread across ideologies and become a populist movement.
It may surprise many in the other 49 states, but even before the pandemic struck, California had its share of alienated citizens. In 2016, more than 4.7 million Californians voted for Donald Trump for president, and their support hasn’t wavered. These Californians are alienated from their state government, in most cases from their local governments as well, and they are grossly underrepresented by their congressional delegation.
Along with being politically disenfranchised, these millions of conservative Californians are belittled and dismissed in their own state by a liberal culture dominated by Silicon Valley and Hollywood. They try to make a living in the most hostile business environment in America. They cope with the highest cost-of-living, almost all of it politically contrived. They pay the highest taxes and fees. They contend with the most byzantine, punitive codes and regulations. They have no voice, no hope to change anything, in this deepest blue of blue states.
Along with the hindsight of knowing how the COVID-19 pandemic could have been perfectly handled, history will also judge how well, in the aftermath, Americans navigated their way back to guaranteeing the individual rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Will 2020 have been the turning point, the year when America’s constitutional republic became a complete façade, and a plutocratic police state emerged, brazen and omnipotent? Plenty of pessimists, not without reason, claim we’re at that point.
Rather than trying to peer into that crystal ball, here is a report on the latest happenings in the heart of the beast, the epicenter of California’s political power, the capitol building in Sacramento. On May 1, according to multiple sources including police observers speaking off the record, over 5,000 protesters swarmed the capitol grounds, the sidewalk around the grounds, and the streets surrounding the grounds. There are conflicting accounts of why 32 arrests were made on that day; one version is that protesters were arrested when they tried to enter the capitol rotunda. Other accounts claim the police abruptly began pushing protesters off the lawn and sidewalks close to the capitol, making arrests in the process.
Whatever happened on May 1, by Saturday, May 9, there were barricades in place across the entire capitol grounds, restricting access to any areas apart from the surrounding sidewalk. Wearing riot gear, there were police in skirmish lines, positioned every few yards, along the perimeter. There were also police in formations of one or two dozen each, stationed in strategic spots such as on the capitol steps. There were smaller groups of police on bikes and riding horses. Outside, on the streets, there were dozens of police on motorcycles, and there were police vehicles blocking access to 10th street, which runs along the west side of the capitol building’s main entrance. There must have been at least a few hundred police stationed around the capitol that day.
And facing these police were members of the California State Militia. Unlike the week before, this was not a huge and eclectic swarm of protesters. This was a handful of committed activists who have felt marginalized in California politics for a very long time. Holding American Flags, along with the Gadsden Flag (“Don’t Tread on Me”), and many, many signs, about 100 members stood on the sidewalk side of the barricades on 10th Street. Their leader, Major D. Pague, agreed to be interviewed. In the verbatim transcript to follow, he had plenty to say to Governor Newsom, who, regrettably, was not on hand at the time.
Edward Ring: Why are you all here today?
Major D. Pague: The significance of why we’re here is that the people are attempting right now and over the last few weekends to come down here and exercise their First Amendment rights by standing here and peacefully assembling and redressing their grievances to the governor and instead of either sending somebody or coming out himself and saying hey, who is the leader of this, come in and talk to me, they’re shutting them down, they’re telling them you can’t do that, but the Constitution and even the attorney general of the U.S. Bill Barr are saying you’re walking a thin line of violating everybody’s civil rights and they can’t do that.
We all understand the COVID thing and all that, although it’s not as bad as they made it sound at the beginning. It’s bad if you’re elderly and have underlying conditions, but if you’re healthy, it’s no worse than the flu. They don’t need to crush the American economy by shutting everything down, just have everybody be smart and do the right thing. I think everybody is going to be smart and do the right thing, I don’t think anybody wants to jeopardize their families and all that.
We are here this weekend, not to protest because we’re not a protest organization. We are demonstrating to them that whether they know we exist or not, we’ve been watching them. They’ve done many things over the years, under Brown, attacking our amendments and our constitutional rights, and we’ve stayed fast and just been quiet. But last weekend, when they arrested 32 people for exercising their rights, they weren’t being rowdy, they [the police] actually got in their faces. That’s not right. You don’t do that. But today they have a fence up, you can’t even get close. And do they send out a representative to talk about what they can do to fix it? No.
So they shut all the businesses down, then they say the churches can’t open up for up to six months. What’s up with that? Those are our constitutional God-given rights. He does not have the right to do that. He needs to loosen up his heart a little bit. You listen to his language on the news, even though he’s saying he’s going to open some things up, he’s saying it like ‘I’m going to allow you to do this, I’m going to allow you to do that.’ But you [Newsom] don’t allow us to do anything, alright? You work for us, we pay your salary, we pay all their salaries [the police], we own that building. Ok? We are here peacefully today. But if things don’t change, and get better, we might not be peaceful next time.
This is just a small contingent of my men. You check us out. We have thousands of us in the state, we train every single month, we’re here to take care of our community, and what you’re doing [Newsom] is wrong, and if you want to stay in office you need to fix yourself and get yourself right. I don’t know, you must be cheating to get into office, because I can’t believe, with how many people are upset with you, that you are staying in office. But you should be addressing your people.
You should come out here and ask what you can do to fix things and make things better for people. Don’t put people on unemployment and then they don’t get the money. What about the federal money that the federal government is giving you, and now, four weeks later, people just now starting to get the six hundred dollars that they were supposed to get? And that’s not going to go anywhere. You can’t even go to the store now and spend a hundred dollars and feed a family of four. Kids aren’t in school, they aren’t learning, but that’s OK? Kids need to go to school. Families need to go to church and get preached to by their pastors so they can feel God in their heart, but you’re telling them no. That is wrong. That is tyranny, just like that man’s sign says down there.
Tyranny is why the militia was created in the first place. To stop tyranny. What you [Newsom] are doing is wrong, and you better stop it now. Our president, our attorney general, they’re telling everybody, you need to stop this, let everybody get back to their lives, and let them use common sense, and protect themselves.
ER: How many of your men are veterans?
DP: I don’t have an exact number, but we have a lot of veterans. I won’t point them out, but they served our country, many of them have gone over and fought for many years. We’ve been at war now for what, 19 years—since 9/11? And they come back home, and they’ve pretty much got dumped off by our own VA, they don’t even get help. And so they feel this need that they need to help their communities. Once you’ve taken that oath—even these guys here, they took that oath. The same as these gentlemen here [points to the police], the same as the governor, they’ve all taken the same oath, to uphold the Constitution, and they are here because they love this country, they love this state, and they want to see everything get back together.
You can’t sit there and keep the economy down and expect it’s going to bounce back. What’s going to happen is they’re going to bring it all the way down until it’s crumbling to nothing, and then we are not going to be able to get it back up. Throughout history, many civilizations have made the same mistakes, and they’ve lost their civilizations. The great Roman Empire ruled more than half the world and they crumbled. The Ottoman Empire ruled half the world, and they made mistakes, and they crumbled.
ER: Do you have retired members of law enforcement in your ranks?
DP: I would say there is a possibility of that.
ER: It’s interesting that you have taken the same oath.
DP: Well it’s the oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. When everybody comes into this organization and joins, after they’ve come to a few trainings, they get asked to stand up and hold up their right hand, whether they’re a veteran or whatever their job was, they get asked to take the oath again. It’s called the citizen’s pledge.
ER: What is your role in the organization?
DP: I’m the regiment commander. I hold the rank of major. We have nine companies currently under our regiment.
ER: Is it one regiment in California, or are there more than one?
DP: I have enough to worry about what these guys are doing, not to worry about what other guys are doing. We are the 2nd Regiment of the California State Militia and that’s all I care about.
ER: Do you want to be quoted by name or do you want to be quoted anonymously?
DP: I’m Major Pague. I’ve done interviews in newspapers, I’ve been on TV.
ER: What’s your first name?
DP: Just D. [motions to his name tag ‘D. Pague’]
ER: Is there anything else that you want me to make sure I record?
DP: That we are here and we are pleading to Governor Newsom, open up your heart a little bit. I’m a Christian, so I refer to you as our modern-day pharaoh, with a hardened heart. Soften it. Let people go back to work. Let people get money so they can feed their families. Let the kids go back to school. I was so blown away when I was driving down here, a seven-hour drive on the freeway, so many flashing signs saying “save lives, stay home.” Don’t do anything. Who is paying for all that? We can’t afford that. We really can’t. And it’s sad that everybody looks to the federal government to bail them out. If the states have sovereignty, then do the right thing. Show us that you can do the job. If you can’t do the job then let’s put somebody in there that can do the job. That’s the whole problem.
ER: Where do you think this came from?
DP: The virus? Well, they say it came from China. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. And like everybody else, when it first happened, I was scared, I had no idea. But throughout history—back in the 1960s they had the Hong Kong flu—they didn’t shut down the whole world.
ER: Why do you think there’s such an overreaction?
DP: I think some of it’s political. They despise the president so much that they’ll try to do anything to ruin what he’s done. He’s not perfect. None of us are. Sometimes I get mad when he opens his mouth and says something he shouldn’t. But that’s a New Yorker. You ever been to New York? That’s the way they are, OK? We put him in office to do business and he at least tells you what’s on his mind and he does what he says he’s going to do. He’s not like these other politicians that make empty promises when they’re running for office and once they get in there they don’t do anything. He at least does what he says. He’s got the economy doing the best it’s ever done, or it was. And it’s already bounced back quite a bit from where it dropped down to, and if we open up and let him do what he’s supposed to do it will do even better later on.