Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do Thursday blamed Supervisor Don Wagner’s rhetoric for fueling threats against the county’s health officer, who has required facial masks as part of the strategy to combat COVID-19.
At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, dozens of opponents of the face mask order railed against it with a group later going to Dr. Nichole Quick’s home to continue objecting to her order, which was issued last weekend.
Orange County sheriff’s deputies have been taking steps to protect Quick following threats on social media as well.
One speaker during Tuesday’s board meeting, Nicole Monteilh Brown of Costa Mesa, said, “You have seen how the people have been forced to exercise their First Amendment. Be wise and do not force the residents of this county into feeling they have no other choice but to exercise their Second Amendment.”
The comment concerned county officials as the reference to the Second Amendment right to bear arms was viewed as a threat.
Some protesters unfurled a banner with a picture of Quick, who is Jewish, with a Hitler mustache and a swastika on it. Brown called Gov. Gavin Newsom “Adolph Newsom” in her statement to the board.
Wagner condemned threats against Quick, but defended the right of protesters to rally outside her home. Do said that just encourages angry protesters to take things to another level.
“We can disagree with it and have a conversation about it and hopefully try to persuade our health officer to see the perspective we want her to see,” Do told City News Service.
“Which is fair, but to incite and invite people to harass and intimidate county employees… is irresponsible.”
Do added, “There’s also a question of liability. If something were to happen and you have a county supervisor basically inviting people to go to our employees’ homes to harass and intimate them then where does that leave the county?”
With residents fearing an economic collapse as well as a deadly novel virus, it’s not the right time to defend the constitutional rights of protesters to rally around someone’s residence, Do said.
It has the same effect as an invitation,” Do said. “You never know what may come out of it.”
Wagner condemned the threats at Tuesday’s board meeting, but Do said it did not matter.
“His facile attempt to say that threats are improper and he, in quotation marks, condemns threatening conduct, but then went on in an angry tone asserting people’s constitutional rights to go there, referring specifically to the statement of a public speaker who gave out Dr. Quick’s home address, the totality of the circumstance has the effect of encouraging just what we saw happen at Dr. Quick’s house.”
Wagner fired back that Do’s “understanding of the law is challenged, his recitation of the acts is false and his comments are ignorant.”
Wagner said he was “surprised” that he and Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel were the only ones to condemn the threats against Quick. At a news conference on Thursday, Steel repeated her condemnation of the threats against Quick.
Wagner opposed a suggestion to take down the Facebook Live video of Tuesday’s board meeting to remove the reference to Quick’s address.
The video drew about 2,000 comments and Wagner said, “We should not censor all of those people when the address was already out there… My position is you can’t unring the bell. Taking it down would only disenfranchise the people or silence the people who commented and it wouldn’t do any good because the information was already out there.”
Wagner had no objection to censoring the comment revealing the address on the county’s website.
UC Irvine associate professor of political science Sara B. Goodman said the debate over masks has become politicized, but a majority of Americans support wearing them. Democrats by a much wider margin support it than Republicans, Goodman said.
But in areas where there are severe outbreaks, “You start to see a convergence between Democrats and Republicans” in support of masks, Goodman said.
President Donald Trump’s aversion to wearing a mask in public has become a “rallying point” for Republicans, Goodman said.
During the H1N1 swine flu epidemic in 2009, public health professionals like Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, were the primary points of information and messaging to the public, Goodman said.
“You still had polarization” then, Goodman said. “But you also had strong messaging that put experts out front. And that is a real difference early on. In times of crisis citizens become anxious and they turn to experts for information, but what was really different in this pandemic is we didn’t see that early on. We saw mixed messaging, delays, and it wasn’t until March 12 until we saw a national response.”
In Orange County, the shutdown of the beaches upped the ante on the political polarization regarding the state’s stay-at-home orders, Goodman said.
“I think a lot of people confuse convenience for rights,” Goodman said of protesters who say their refusal to wear a mask is about liberty.
Wagner’s condemnation of the threats while encouraging the protesters is “a nuance that angry citizens find hard to listen to… Angry people find information that confirms their bias and they’re confirming what they already believe.”
Wagner said “the dissension isn’t coming from this board, the dissension is coming from Dr. Quick’s office.”
Wagner noted that Quick resisted earlier calls, including in early April from Do, to require masks. He said she thrust the order on the county out of the blue.
“I wish she had been there (at Tuesday’s board meeting) to defend it and she decided not to,” Wagner said. “My response is you need to explain that to the public and she failed to do that.”
County CEO Frank Kim said Quick changed her mind on the subject because many more residents would be interacting with each other as the state began allowing more businesses to open and she felt masks would help lessen the spread of the virus.
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