Town Hall Recap: The Pacific Justice Institute and Brad Dacus

Pacific Justice Institute logo September 2012Last night, January 15th, the Eastern Sierra NOW team attended the “Town Hall” meeting with a plan to report the goings-on to the public. We had brought a camera and a phone, intending to film the night’s events for later viewing, as well as live-streaming the entire meeting for those who would like to view the meeting in real time.

However, upon entering the Calvary Baptist Church with a camera, we were told by event organizers that filming or recording of any kind would not be permitted. They restated this at the opening of the meeting, asking the audience to “keep our phones in our pockets.”

While the meeting was advertised as a “Town Hall Meeting,” which is usually a public discussion intended to hear various viewpoints and discuss possibilities for problem-solving and legislation, this didn’t really prove to be the case for this event. Ironically, there was much talk about upholding the Constitution and the laws of our country, specifically the First Amendment. While the meeting was held on private property and they did reserve the right to implement these requirements, it was an interesting choice for a meeting where freedom of speech and freedom of religion were constantly emphasized, but freedom of the press was not included.

About 200+ people were in attendance, and with the exception of very few, none of them wore masks in the large, enclosed space. Entering the building, we heard a small group on the side talking in hushed voices, wondering whether they should risk attending because of the possibility of getting sick.

Jen roeser
4th District Supervisor Jen Roeser

The meeting started off with two rounds of applause (one of which turned into a standing ovation) for District 4 Supervisor Jen Roeser, who happened to be one of the few people in the room wearing a mask. Roeser, who had earlier planned to speak at the event, decided to step down from speaking because community members urged her not to share a platform with the Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit legal defense organization which has also been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBT+ hate group.

Joshua Nicholson
Josh Nicholson

Among the speakers, community members like Joe Vetter (a local member of law enforcement running for Inyo County Sheriff in 2022) and Josh Nicholson (running for District 3 Supervisor in 2022) had messages that urged audience members, and those not in the audience, to have compassion for each other, specifically those with opposing viewpoints.

Vetter spoke about recent anti-police rhetoric and how it has affected him personally, saying that law enforcement has taken a downhill dive. He assured us that he is not racist, that local cops do not belong to hate groups, and that they are just dedicated to doing their job. Vetter also reminded the public that police officers “are not robots . . . we have families and kids, and it’s important to realize law enforcement officers are human.”

When it came to COVID-19, Vetter was very clear on his position, stating that “law enforcement does not enforce mandates, because mandates are not laws.” He emphasized that he would never arrest someone for not complying with a mask or vaccine mandate, and that he was ashamed of police officers who did; that veterans who fought for America’s freedoms are “rolling over in their graves” at these freedoms being violated.

Vetter spoke about his experience in law enforcement during the pandemic, how in the beginning he was asked to set up roadblocks and not allow non-locals into Mammoth, and couldn’t believe he was being asked to deny any American their freedom to travel in their own country. He shared an anecdote in which he had been called to a thrift store in Mammoth Lakes because two customers refused to wear a mask inside the building. He emphasized that he did not arrest them for refusing to wear a mask and that he would never arrest anyone for that, but instead put the two customers on citizens’ arrest for trespassing.

Vetter rounded out his speech by asking the audience again to pray for first responders (but especially law enforcement), and urging the audience to support him in the upcoming 2022 election.

Josh Nicholson then took the stage to say a few words of his own, announcing his upcoming run for District 3 Supervisor. He told the audience to get educated and get involved in politics if they want change, and stated that there’s no such thing as “not being involved in politics” anymore, because everything is political.

Nicholson then introduced the night’s keynote speaker, and the founder of the Pacific Justice Institute, Mr. Brad Dacus.

Brad Dacus Picture OFFICIAL
Brad Dacus, founder of Pacific Justice Institute

Brad Dacus took the stage with a lighthearted air, turning on the charm and making a few jokes, receiving laughs from the audience. He began his speech with talking about recent cases the Pacific Justice Institute has taken on. These included helping refugees fleeing from religious persecution, defending religious groups and their right to gather and worship, and helping parents navigate “wrongful” persecution from Child Protective Services and social workers. At one point, he asked the crowd to raise a hand if they had a child “wrongfully” taken from them, or threatened to be taken from them by CPS. About 20 people in the crowd raised their hand, confirming that they had in fact been investigated at some point by CPS.

Dacus addressed the Pacific Justice Institute’s reputation for being anti-LGBT+, giving examples of his own friends in the LGBT+ community and his own involvement with “progressive” groups and churches, saying that he fully respected them as people and had no intention to spread hate against them. He went on to state that after the accusations he “went out of his way to go on gay podcasts.” In response to the SPLC’s designation of them as an anti-LGBT+ hate group, Dacus stated that hate and division would not fix these problems, saying that the SPLC started out as a “good” group, and now intends to “vilify and silence others.”
Although Dacus claimed to be supportive of the LGBT+ community at the Town Hall, the Pacific Justice Institute does have a history of discrimination and protesting pro-LGBT+ laws. Dacus was quoted at a rally in support of Proposition 8 saying the following:

“There was another time in history when people, when the bell tolled. And the question was whether or not they were going to hear it. The time was during Nazi Germany with Adolf Hitler. You see, he brought crowds of clergy together to assure them that he was going to look after the church. And one of the members, bold and courageous, Reverend Niemöller, made his way to the front and boldly said, ‘Hitler, we are not concerned about the church. Jesus Christ will take care of the church. We are concerned about the soul of Germany.’ Embarrassed and chagrined, his peers quickly shuffled him to the back. And as they did, Adolf Hitler said, ‘The soul of Germany, you can leave that to me.’ And they did, and because they did bombs did not only fall upon the nation of Germany but also upon the church and their testimony to this very day. Let us not make that mistake folks. Let us hear the bell! Vote on Proposition 8!”

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Proposition 8 protestors in 2013

Last night, Dacus stated that this quote was not comparing the LGBT+ community to Nazis, but instead saying that the church’s support of Proposition 8 should be heard, and that “most of California voted on it, by the way.” Proposition 8, for clarification, was a bill on the California 2008 ballot that proposed a ban on same-sex marriage, and was indeed passed with 52% support from Californians.

Dacus did not speak on his previous support for conversion therapy, or “therapy to convert gay minors.” In 2013, he opposed a law passed in California that “prohibits mental health professionals from trying to change a minor’s sexual orientation.” Dacus was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying “This decision is a dark day for those who believe in the 1st Amendment and the rights of parents over the proper upbringing of their children . . . Make no mistake, we are not finished in our efforts to overturn this outrageous legislation.” You can read the full article here.

Dacus also did not address another incident in 2013, in which the PJI claimed a transgender teen in Colorado was harassing her classmates in the girl’s bathroom. In reality, this claim was debunked by the school superintendent, who clarified that no harassment had actually taken place, and instead a few parents had expressed discomfort in knowing that a transgender student was sharing a bathroom with their children. Brad Dacus was quoted saying, “a high school’s decision to give a biological teenage boy full access to teenage girls’ bathrooms is both disturbing and not seriously disputed.” You can read full articles on this event here and here.

Dacus didn’t fully shy away from the topic of LGBT+ controversy at last night’s town hall, though – or the topic of gender-neutral bathrooms. He shared two separate anecdotes in which the Pacific Justice Institute fought for women’s rights not to be “visually violated” by people with “gender identity dysphoria” using their restrooms. One of these cases took place in a Korean spa (you can read the Washington Post’s take on that here) and another of these cases in a border patrol locker room (you can listen to Dacus speak about this on a podcast here).

In a transition into the COVID-19 conversation, Dacus defended parents’ rights to opt out of “new sexual education curriculum” in California, though he did not elaborate on what that curriculum included.

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Vaccine mandate protestors in NYC (NBC News)

The rest of Dacus’s time on stage was dedicated to speaking about COVID-19, specifically mask and vaccine mandates, and giving the audience members loopholes and backdoors to get around the mandates. He gave information on how to get exemption forms accepted, saying to include scripture in religious exemption forms because “scriptures are like kryptonite to an attorney.” He told audience members what not to say in their exemption requests, and reminded us that Biden’s OSHA mandate had recently been struck down by the Supreme Court, so the government at the moment has “nothing in terms of mandating vaccines with employers” at least as of now.

Dacus emphasized that he is not anti-vaccine or pro-vaccine, and he has seen “negative repercussions from both sides.” He added stories of two different people that died from complications after receiving the vaccine, and said that over 18,000 people have died from the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines as reported by the CDC. The CDC has stated that overall, there has been 11,225 “reports of death after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.” Out of 527 million people with at least one dose and 207 million fully vaccinated, that results in a fatality rate of 0.0022%. Access that information directly from the CDC here. Dacus said there were “casualties on both sides” but did not mention the 847,577 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S., and the 5.54 million deaths worldwide. Instead, he said that the CDC has “breached trust in multiple dimensions.”

Dacus informed the people in the room about a “traditional vaccine” in the works called Novavax, which he said is not an mRNA vaccine and could be accepted as an alternative to the current COVID-19 vaccines (Moderna, Pfizer, J&J). He advised the public that the Novavax could be a good alternative, attempting to explain how the Novavax works but concluding, “I don’t know, I’m not a biologist.” Currently, the Novavax is not in use in the United States, but has a high rate of effectiveness against preventing COVID-19 and could be available towards the end of the year. Yale Medicine has a report on the Novavax vaccine containing more information; you can read that here.

Dacus closed out his speech by again reinstating the legalities of getting around vaccine and masking mandates, and how the Pacific Justice Institute can aid parents in that goal. Before leaving the stage, he said that this is not a time for us to be divided, but instead to stand together.

Dacus received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his speech.

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Letter to the Community: Freedom of the Press? • Eastern Sierra Now
2 years ago

[…] Eastern Sierra NOW wrote 2 articles on the meeting, and those can be found here and here. […]

Heather Edwall
Heather Edwall
Guest
2 years ago

I’m curious as to why I originally pulled up a shorter January 15 version of this recap on my phone, but when looking for the same thing on my laptop I got this instead? Ella Boehme (the author of the 1/15 article) should be commended for her concise, objective and accurate account of the event! This one… Has a much more negative bias to it. 🙁

For what my opinion is worth:
The positives of the meeting were that Josh Nicholson encouraged regular folks to get active and involved in local politics. I think that’s a great message! Joe Vetter encouraged people to support law enforcement and gave examples of how he has legally “protected” people who called him asking for help Re: covid issues, even though he and other law enforcers can’t enforce “mandates”. Hmm, also a great message! Finally, although he and I are still light years apart on probably most of our social views, Mr. Dacus encouraged people to utilize available and legal ways to maintain autonomy over their major medical decisions. I support people being able to choose how they treat their own bodies, so again, good message.

I especially appreciated that Mr. Dacus gave examples of his own personal losses due to both covid AND the injections – he did this to illustrate that there is no “right side” and “wrong side”; we are all dealing with some very complicated issues these days and some level of risk exists either way. I felt that this spoke to the divisiveness going on in our community and much to my surprise I was able to interpret it as a powerful statement from Mr. Dacus that we all should respect others even if their points of view are different.

My criticisms for the meeting would be that yes, it probably should have been available via Zoom for those who did not want to risk infection by attending in person. Hopefully Free Eastside will make their recording available after the fact on YouTube. People have also been upset that a secular “Town Hall” would be held in a church. Yes, as an atheist-ish prayer isn’t my favorite thing to sit through, but it didn’t actually hurt me in any way and there were enough chairs for the over 200 people in attendance, so to me it wasn’t THAT big a deal. Where else would they have been able to accommodate a crowd of that size?

Final Answer: Let’s not get carried away, I’m not about to donate any money to the PJI due to their stance on some of the previous cases they have handled. But I also didn’t hear anyone disparaged at this meeting, nobody’s behavior got out of line, and heck, I actually did accomplish my original goal of learning some new things while I was there. So overall I have to say, for a free event that really could have turned into a debacle, well done Free Eastside!

Charles James
Charles James
Guest
2 years ago

Good job, Jesse. Links to additional information and other articles are welcomed. It would have, as you stated, been nice to have actual audio or video of the event. It was promoted as a public meeting.

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