California county abuzz after far-right figure appointed for mosquito control

Ever since the far-right movement in California’s Shasta county gained control of local government, they have sought to throw out voting machines in favor of hand counting and pledged to defend the second amendment using all “lawful means”.

This week they focused their efforts on a new target: mosquitoes.

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The Shasta county board of supervisors appointed Jon Knight, a hydroponics store owner and prominent figure in the local far-right movement, to serve on the board of the public health agency responsible for managing the insects, instead of the county’s former public health director, an epidemiologist.

The move showcased the ultra-conservative movement’s growing foothold in local government. An appointment to a local government board typically attracts little attention, but in Shasta county, which became a hotbed for far-right politics and fringe-thinking in the pandemic years, it was the subject of extensive discussion at a recent meeting of the county’s governing board.

Some supporters of Knight’s shared mosquito conspiracy theories at the meeting, implying US officials planned to forcibly vaccinate people with the insects. “I don’t trust our government,” one woman said. “Bill Gates is a part of this … These mosquitoes are going to be flying syringes.”

The Gates Foundation has funded research into attempts to create mosquitoes that can deliver a malaria vaccine into humans, efforts that fringe groups have sought to paint as a nefarious campaign to inoculate people against their will.

Shasta county has been the center of controversy in recent years over its forceful defiance of Covid restrictions and resulting threats against public officials who followed state health rules and the election of the powerful far-right coalition to the area’s highest office.

This year, the board of supervisors, the region’s governing body, did away with the county voting system over lies about election fraud. County meetings have become dysfunctional, hours-long shouting matches in which speakers have been threatened with arrest and in some cases the public was ordered to leave. At a meeting earlier this year, a speaker used a racial slur, drawing outrage from a man in the audience who was then himself forced to leave.

At this week’s meeting, tensions were evident over the appointment to the Shasta mosquito and vector control district board. Donnell Ewert, the county’s former public health director, had sought the seat, but the board chair rejected his application.

Some residents, who espoused conspiracy theories about mosquitoes and were critical of Ewert, voiced support for the appointment. The board chair, Patrick Jones, echoed some of their sentiments.

“I would put my health in Jon Knight’s hands over Donnell Ewert’s any day of the week,” he said.

In his remarks to the board, Knight highlighted his background and knowledge of pesticides and mosquitoes, arguing that he was a good candidate for the volunteer position.

“I don’t know if anyone else in the room has been selling pesticides for 18 years,” he said. “I know a lot about this stuff. I know a lot about some of these Bill Gates programs. This is not a conspiracy, this is a fact. There’s Japanese scientists who have created flying syringes that will mass-vaccinate populations.

“We live in an interesting sci-fi time. With my understanding of what’s going on with mosquitoes and my knowledge of pesticides, I think I could do a pretty darn good job.”

To the dismay of some officials and residents, the board appointed Knight, who co-founded Red, White and Blueprint, a local media company started by far-right activists, and was reportedly at the US Capitol on January 6.

“It’s almost laughable that you would disregard the application from probably the most qualified person in this county and basically try to appoint someone who got his education about mosquitoes on the internet,” said Mary Rickert, a moderate who voted against the appointment.

“Do you know how that makes us look as a county? It makes us look like idiots.”

In the same meeting, the board voted to pre-emptively oppose any new Covid restrictions.