Essential California: What’s going on with the National Guard?

A jet flies over the ground
An F-15C Eagle from the California Air National Guard flies over Death Valley National Park.
(AP Photo)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, May 5. I’m Shelby Grad.

For more than two years, Times reporters Paul Pringle and Alene Tchekmedyian have been uncovering a series of troubling scandals at the California National Guard that involve allegations of coverups, retaliation and the use of military planes during Black Lives Matter protests. The situation reached a head last week when they reported the firing of the general who commanded its air branch, the suspension of a second key general and new limits placed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on the organization’s use of fighter jets for civilian missions.

We asked Paul and Alene about what is going on.

Q: What is this organization?


The California National Guard consists of army and air branches with more than 20,000 members combined. The Guard reports to Newsom through its adjutant general, Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, who also heads the California Military Department.

The Guard supports state and local authorities in their response to earthquakes, wildfires and other natural disasters, as well as to civil disturbances and health emergencies such as the coronavirus.

The Pentagon regularly federalizes Guard units to assist in national defense operations on these shores and in military missions overseas. Fighter jets stationed at the Guard’s Fresno base serve a federal mission to immediately respond to any foreign threats from the skies.

Q: How did you start digging into it?

In 2018, The Times began investigating the Guard after receiving a tip that its leadership mishandled and later covered up an internal complaint that someone had urinated in the boots of an airwoman at the Fresno base. The newspaper also examined allegations that Guard members faced retaliation if they reported wrongdoing by their superiors. The Times reports led to the dismissal two years ago of the top general in the Air Guard and the commander of the Fresno base.


Last October, The Times reported that the Guard sent a spy plane to monitor George Floyd protests in the Sacramento suburb of El Dorado Hills, where Baldwin lived, even though the demonstrations were small and peaceful. A Newsom spokesman told the paper that the mission by the RC-26B aircraft should have never happened. Baldwin said the fact that he lived in El Dorado Hills had nothing to do with the mission.

Q: Your latest story suggests some significant problems at the top of the organization. Where do we see this going?

The Times’ reporting on the RC-26B led to the discovery of ongoing controversy involving an F-15C fighter jet. Starting with the outbreak of the coronavirus, Guard members feared that commanders had placed the jet on an alert status for a possible mission to fly low over civilian protesters to terrify them, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter. Baldwin denied that such a mission was ever contemplated.

In the meantime, he fired a top general and suspended another in the Air Guard but gave no reason other than to state that the organization “is committed to facilitating a positive working environment for all of its members, regardless of gender and ethnicity.” Baldwin said the shakeup was not prompted by the “F-15C narrative,” which he labeled a “fictional event.”

The Guard and Newsom’s office have yet to release numerous documents that The Times first requested two months ago under the California Public Records Act. They also have not answered several questions submitted by the newspaper, including routine queries about the size and basic mission of the Guard.

Here is full coverage of their running investigation:

Someone urinated in a female sergeant’s boots. Now the California Air National Guard faces coverup allegations

Head of California Air National Guard removed amid allegations of cover-up and retaliation

California Air National Guard removes commander over threats against whistleblowers

In California National Guard, whistleblower claims of retaliation go beyond Fresno

California National Guard members tell lawmakers of misconduct, retaliation for whistleblowing

Spy plane was sent to monitor protest in affluent suburb, home to head of California National Guard

California Guard members feared fighter jet would be ordered to frighten protesters

Turmoil shakes California National Guard with firing, suspension of top generals

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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There are growing hopes the Los Angeles economy can get back into overdrive this summer. Los Angeles County’s remarkable COVID-19 recovery has hit a new milestone as the region progresses into the least restrictive category of California’s reopening system. Moving into the yellow tier clears the way for the nation’s most populous county to unshackle its economy to the widest extent currently possible, meaning a swath of businesses and venues — including gyms, movie theaters, amusement parks, stadiums and museums — can start operating at higher capacity later this week. But will tourists return? (Los Angeles Times)

Why STD cases fell during the pandemic. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Mandatory vaccine to get back into the office? (Mercury News)

The U.S. earthquake early warning system will now be able to issue alerts to cellphone users anywhere on the West Coast of the continental U.S. beginning this morning. It’s a major achievement years in the making. (Los Angeles Times)

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A mother and son separated by the Trump administration meet again, finally. “It’s a miracle that I cannot believe.” (Los Angeles Times)

The sinking of a trawler-like boat loaded with people in search of a better life in the United States was the latest evidence that tougher border security is driving smugglers into the ocean. Smugglers increasingly employ boats like the one that broke up on a Point Loma reef Sunday to get people and drugs into the U.S. undetected, according to border officials. The accident sent 32 people into the cold, rough waters, killing four. (San Diego Union-Tribune)


California is a much different place than it was in 2003. That is good news for Gavin Newsom. (Los Angeles Times)

Plus: A strange day on the recall campaign trial, with Caitlyn Jenner on the air and a very large bear serving as a campaign surrogate. (Los Angeles Times)

John Cox
John Cox, Republican recall candidate for California governor, begins his statewide “Meet the Beast” bus tour Tuesday with Tag, a trained Kodiak bear, at Miller Regional Park in Sacramento.
(Renee C. Beyer / Sacramento Bee, via Associated Press)

Demographic shifts and increasingly diverse voters are not the disaster to Republicans that some expected. (New York Times)


Plans have been filed with the city for a complex called Echelon Studios, which could help meet growing demand for facilities as the industry starts to ease COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Once production is back to full speed, companies are expected to ramp up to satisfy the need for content in theaters and on new streaming services. (Los Angeles Times)

The Black Lives Matter movement in El Segundo is the focus of a new movie called “Black Mayberry.” (Orange County Register)

Earthquake concerns close Pasadena’s historic central library. (LAist)


A 57-year-old man has been charged with arson in a fire that tore through the historic San Gabriel Mission last summer. But the motive remains not fully clear. (Los Angeles Times)

Reports of anti-Asian hate crimes jumped 223% in New York, 140% in San Francisco and 80% in Los Angeles in the first quarter. (Los Angeles Times)


Great white sharks were thought to be somewhat rare in Southern California waters, wandering now and then from the wilder coast up north. Most surfers considered it supremely improbable that one of these apex predators was hunting for food at their break. The advent of drone photography has devoured that notion. (This article is exclusive to Los Angeles Times subscribers.)

Critics say Kaiser needs to improve its mental health services. (Capital and Main)


Not even Dodgers fans can hate Willie Mays. (San Francisco Chronicle)

A graphic novel shows Sacramento’s Japanese American life during World War II. (Sacramento Bee)

It’s a great time to sell a used car. Here is why. (Los Angeles Times)

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Los Angeles: mostly sunny, 83. San Diego: partly cloudy, 73. San Francisco: mostly sunny, 63. San Jose: sunny, 82. Fresno: sunny, 98. Sacramento: sunny, 94.


Today’s California memory comes from Steven R. Hansen:

In the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, our gang of little rascals turned into tadpoles. We ran around the neighborhood barefoot and wearing shorts and we never missed an opportunity to go swimming. The San Gabriel city pool was just a couple of blocks away, and a trip to the Almansor pool in Alhambra was a real treat. It’s high diving board was perfect for making the most magnificent cannonballs ever. Then came the polio scare. Swimming was out, and shoes went on. Then came Dr. Salk. I remember lining up at school for my pink sugar cube. Back in the pool. Life was good again. And life will be good again. I promise.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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