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Column: After a week of guns, abortion and insurrection, California’s resistance matters more than ever

Protesters in the North Texas March for Life.
Protesters march in Dallas during the North Texas March for Life, celebrating the passage and court rulings upholding the Texas law known as Senate Bill 8.
(Shafkat Anowar / Associated Press)

An editor at this paper recently posed the question: What holds Los Angeles together? Is there any unifying force in this city of angels and demons that we can all agree on?

The image that came to my mind was driving west in the winter on the 10, when the low sun shoots through the windshield like a laser, making sight all but impossible. And yet, none of us slows down. None of us stops the journey or exits the freeway to wait for better conditions. We all keep going where we’re going, undeterred by blindness.

To me, that brazen indifference to adversity, even when it stuns our senses, is what unites Angelenos, and Californians.

And California, we are stunned. Five black-robed jurists are gleefully dismantling an America we took for granted — crushing our ability to keep guns off streets and government out of uteruses. At the same time, the Jan. 6 hearings pounded home just how close we came to a coup.

While each of those blows has grabbed our attention individually, we can’t lose sight that they are all part of one insidious effort. It is creeping out of our political sewers like roaches braving daylight, betting we won’t see it until it’s too late or will remain unwilling to confront it for what it is: White Christian nationalism.

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“That’s the card they are pushing and they’re not backing down,” Monty Marshall told me Friday, laying out in stark terms how various factions of white supremacist ideologies are coalescing in an endgame that we have ignored at our peril for far too long.

Marshall is a political scholar who has spent decades studying democracies and their downfalls. Until his government funding was cut in 2020, he created an annual ranking of how nations worldwide were trending toward democracy or autocracy.

California’s governor clearly embraces his rise as a dominant, resonating voice for Democratic states nationwide

By the end of 2020, the United States fell to a five on his scale (10 being a strong democracy) — making us an anocracy tilting toward authoritarianism in part because then-President Trump refused to abide by the checks and balances of government. Biden’s election has bumped us back up to an eight, Marshall said, but a tenuous and unstable eight.

That’s because certain blocs of right-wingers have been plotting a long game of racial and religious repression for decades, fearful as white America loses its majority, and waiting for someone like Trump to legitimize that angst. Roe isn’t the start of that. And it isn’t the end.

What’s happening now “certainly doesn’t have to do with Roe vs. Wade. That’s just a log on the fire,” Marshall said. The bigger story is the “push to polarize and insist that white Christianity is the nature of this country and that white Christians should rule.”

Trump, said Jared Holt, an extremism researcher with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, a nonpartisan think tank, “wasn’t the perfect guy” in the eyes of conservatives, far-right or mainstream. But he made a “very convenient wrecking ball.”

Those white supremacist forces have more to wreck, even without Trump. And they are shrewd and slippery at hiding their true nature.

Take the idea of “grooming,” that far-right trope that anyone not cisgender is out to harm our children, and which is currently a favorite topic of right-wing media and influencers. It was predated by “save our children,” a wormhole conspiracy theory adopted by QAnon, that actually prompted vast numbers of people to believe that Democratic leaders were running a child sex ring in the basement of a D.C. pizza joint.

The goal of both propaganda campaigns is to demonize anyone who believes in LGBTQ rights, and enlist foot soldiers in the battle for “family values” by using the false specter of pedophiles.

“Who doesn’t want to be told, ‘Oh, you are protecting a way of life. You are protecting a legacy,’” points out Jessica Reaves, the editorial director of the Anti-Defamation League.

It feels good to be righteous. That’s the secret sauce of authoritarianism, being poured on our school boards, our elections and even our Supreme Court. Proud Boys stormed a San Leandro library a few weeks ago as a well-known drag queen held a story hour. They were threatening and yelled slurs, and yet it was barely a blip on our radar, though it happened in California.

Far-right groups have relentlessly pounded on abortion in preparation for Roe, latching on to that fight because it provided another entry into mainstream Republicanism. Their participation in abortion-related events jumped a shocking 150% between 2020 and 2021, and are up 90% this year on top of that, according to a study by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

What comes next are more campaigns of misogyny, racism and alarmism under the guise of patriotism and wholesomeness, attempts to polarize us to the point where no compromise is possible — only the victory of one side over the other.

Same-sex marriage will probably come under attack next, Holt said. It’s part of the plan.

Which brings me to Los Angeles, where the sun always shines and few care what anyone else does.

In California, it can be hard to wrap our minds around the idea that white Christian nationalism is a real and growing force. And certainly, there are plenty of people who oppose abortion, believe government should be more tolerant of religion, hold traditional ideas about gender and still aren’t far-right extremists. There are also plenty of white Christian men who believe in equality and democracy.

But there is no stopping this factionalism, and no room to ignore it any longer. As L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell told me, we no longer have the comfort of complacency. We need to “figure out how to be warriors.”

Many Californians are oblivious to the dumb but dangerous opinions of the far right (and yes, I mean dumb, because hate is always rooted in ignorance) or feel confident we can ride it out as an autonomous nation-state. We’re not giving up our rights, and in fact, we are doubling down on protecting them not just for ourselves, but for anyone else who comes west.

There will be thousands. According to estimates by the UCLA Center on Reproductive Health, Law and Policy, the striking down of Roe will probably prompt some 8,000 to 16,000 more women to travel to California for abortion care — 6,200 to 9,400 will probably to come to L.A. County.

A 22-year-old woman and an abortion doctor from California played key roles in the legal fight that led to Roe vs. Wade, now struck down.

Even if there was a national ban on abortions, as Mike Pence and others have called for, California would probably ignore it. That brazen indifference to the rest of the country will probably carry us through the curtailing of other rights. No same-sex marriages are going to be invalidated under Gov. Newsom, who one month into his term as San Francisco’s mayor in 2004 began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

What happens in our bedrooms consensually will remain no one’s business except for those involved. We are unlikely to stop selling the Plan B pill.

And with 5% of Californians identifying as mixed race — about double the national average — we are not going to take kindly to challenges to 1967’s Loving vs. Virginia decision, which legalized mixed race marriage.

Our politics are in a no small part a reaction to the anti-immigrant, “great replacement” fright that former Gov. Pete Wilson tried to peddle decades ago. Who and what we are as a state, how we ultimately reacted to that prejudice, is a rebuke to everything white supremacy is pushing for, said Barbara F. Walter, a UC San Diego professor and author of “How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them.”

California’s largest city, and the state as a whole, are now bastions of democracy, bulwarks for fundamental rights that are disappearing in MAGA states. Yes, we have plenty of problems: Great inequities in wealth, a crippling shortage of affordable housing, homelessness and a lack of mental health care that fills our jails and prisons with people who need treatment, not incarceration.

But still, our values are the values of democracy and inclusion.

Walter thinks California is an “example of the future,” what a successful multi-ethnic, multi-religious America looks and acts like — even with our many imperfections. She points to the old saying: Where California goes, the country follows.

But we can’t win this fight with brazen indifference. Protecting what we have isn’t enough — we have to call out the white supremacy that is counting on us being sidetracked by the individual fights, the rights lost one by one, the gas prices and inflation and the doubts that something so grotesque could actually be at play.

The loss of democracy “happens incrementally, it happens as people are distracted by other things,” warns Walter.

By the time opposition forces realize they’ve been disempowered, with the political system too broken and rights too curtailed for a fair fight, it’s often too late to save the democracy.

“That’s what really worries me,” she said. “This is what keeps me up at night.”


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