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Hospital leaders, officials distance themselves from gun-waving, anti-mask O.C. doctor seen in video

Newport Beach physician Jeff Barke
Newport Beach physician Jeff Barke, left, waves a 9-millimeter handgun during a Sept. 16 interview recorded for his website, Rx for Liberty.
(Screenshot by Sara Cardine)

Some Orange County officials are rebuking the recent actions of a local physician who appeared in a video interview last week waving a handgun and saying he’d rather people carry concealed weapons than wear face masks to guard against the coronavirus.

Dr. Jeff Barke, a Newport Beach family medicine physician who serves as board chair of a public charter school in the city of Orange, has been a vocal opponent of mask wearing and has appeared at rallies demanding schools and businesses reopen.

The physician made big waves, however, when he posted a video interview recorded on Sept. 16, featuring a virtual sit-down talk with Peggy Hall, a devout anti-masker who started the website “The Healthy American,” in May to educate people about what she believes is their right to remain unmasked.

In the 38-minute split-screen conversation — which has been subsequently removed from Barke’s website “Rx For Liberty” and on YouTube — the pair discuss their views on mask wearing (and shaming), police protests and a “spiritual battle” being waged in America.

About 25 minutes into the interview, Barke describes treating COVID-19 patients with the controversial antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine — a treatment regimen touted by President Trump that has drawn criticism from at least one scientific study published by the medical journal Lancet — when he pulls out a 9-millimeter handgun.

“I live in Orange County, so I carry this wherever I go,” he says, identifying the weapon as a SIG Sauer P365 and touting his training as an Orange County Sheriff’s reserve deputy. “This is what I carry when I’m out in public to protect others and protect the public.

“I’d rather see somebody carrying a concealed [weapon] than masking up,” the physician continues. “I think that’s better for the public than anything.”

Institutions and officials with whom Barke has associated in the past wasted no time backing away from the physician’s controversial statements and claims, including Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, to which Barke has claimed having admitting privileges.

In a Sept. 18 statement made via Twitter, Hoag Hospital officials admonished what they called “radical” views expressed by Barke regarding the coronavirus, mask wearing and use of hydroxychloroquine.

The statement indicated the physician was not an employee of the Newport Beach facility and did not hold admitting privileges there.

“His personal views in no way represent the views of Hoag or Hoag medical staff and are inconsistent with those of all recognized medical and scientific organizations,” it read. “We are deeply disturbed that his views could mistakenly be associated with ours, because they are so diametrically opposite.”

Officials further indicated the facility actively promotes masking and other CDC recommendations.

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel — who appointed Barke in March 2019 to serve on the board’s Emergency Medical Care Committee responsible for reviewing ambulance services and first-aid practices — on Thursday distanced herself from the video and the physician’s mask-wearing stance.

“I believe he exercised poor judgment in showing a weapon like that in one of his videos,” Steel said in a media briefing. “I don’t agree with Dr. Barke’s comments about wearing masks — this board doesn’t agree with those comments.”

Steel endorsed and supported the physician in his 2006 run for the Los Alamitos Unified School Board, where he served until 2018 and has had close associations with his wife, Mari, who serves as vice president on the Orange County Board of Education.

In May 2019, the supervisor recommended Barke for a seat on the Rossmoor Community Services District, a community council for his unincorporated Orange County neighborhood, praising him as a “bright and innovative thinker and a team player.”

Sgt. Dennis Breckner of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, where Barke has served as a reserve deputy since 2011, said volunteers often receive concealed weapons permits from the department when they sign up.

“In general, we’d issue a [concealed-carry permit] to a reserve deputy, because it’s likely they could run into a situation where they’d need to exercise either some defense or some powers,” Breckner said.

Barke currently serves as board chair for Orange County Classical Academy, a new public charter school that barely won approval from the Orange Unified School District Board of Education and opened Aug. 20.

It’s unclear whether Barke carries a concealed weapon with him while on the school campus — he declined Thursday to comment on the video or its repercussions.

Breckner said he had no problem with a concealed-carry permit holder bringing a weapon onto a school campus.

“My personal opinion is, if my kids are going to a private school and I’m a person who’s morally and ethically sound, and a guy with an AK-47 starts blasting away at kids, it would sure be nice for that concealed weapon guy to put one in his head,” he said.

A more definitive statement on the importance of face masks as protection during a pandemic came from CDC Director Robert Redfield Sept. 16 — the same day Barke recorded his interview with Hall — who declared before a U.S. Senate panel face masks are “the most powerful public health tool we have.”

“We have clear scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense,” Redfield said. “I may even go so far as to say this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.”

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