Is Donald Trump a new King David? Ask California's right-wing Sons of Liberty


Before the 1776 Sons of Liberty meeting got underway at the Elks Lodge, Adam Medeiros, a hairdresser for 44 years, sat in a folding chair and referred to the Bible to explain his politics: “I don’t think I’d have liked King David,” he said. “He was an adulterer and a murderer, but God chose him to rule a nation. “

Medeiros paused and added: “I believe Donald Trump was anointed by God to save this country.”

The man across the table, Brian Gogue, a pest control advisor for farms in the Central Valley, nodded. “Sometimes,” he said, “God uses imperfect people for his perfect work.” Both men smiled. It was almost 7 p.m. Men in ball caps and jeans, including veterans and at least one pastor, filed into the lodge, where they, along with Medeiros and Gogue, stood in a circle and pledged allegiance to the flag. They prayed and the meeting commenced.

“The California GOP is crooked,” one man said.

“America is not ready for a woman president,” another said.

“Our hospitals have half the number of doctors and nurses we’re supposed to have,” a third said. “It’s a problem.”

Another night in rural America. Stars in the sky, snow on the mountains. Homeless people in the alleys. Migrants at the borders. A feeling of unease in a restless nation of splintered identities and conflicting creeds. The Sons of Liberty — 28 men and seven women — felt this foreboding as they shared grievances about who would protect the Constitution from what they see as progressive wackos, Marxist democrats, storytime drag queens, globalist provocateurs and a Biden White House that has weaponized the Justice Department against Trump, the only man who, despite the 91 criminal charges he’s facing, can fix what’s wrong.

“I’m a huge Trump supporter,“ said Medeiros, a neatly pressed man who cuts 15 to 20 heads of hair a day, some of them graying classmates from his days at Hanford High School. “Back in 2016, I thought he was a little too brash and talked like a conceited New Yorker. I wasn’t going to vote for Hillary [Clinton], though. I voted for Trump and saw that, yes, this is how it’s supposed to be. Run the country like a business. Put America first. That’s when I became a true believer.”

The 1776 Sons of Liberty — named for the colonists who helped instigate the American Revolution — was founded in Kings County in 2020 as a protest to Trump’s first impeachment. Most of its members, including John Darpli, an alfalfa broker and softball coach, and Jeff Mora, a DJ and podcaster, are conservative constitutionalists who argue that the government is perverting the ideals of the Founding Fathers.

Calling themselves “warriors of liberty and seekers of truth,” the Sons believe they are representative of disaffected Americans opposed to gun restrictions, open borders, “liberally indoctrinated schools,” foreign wars and what they see as the overreach of the state and federal governments into the lives of citizens. They support Trump, but it’s their disdain for Democrats and President Biden that fuels much of their passion.

For the Sons, most Republicans are sellouts, except for the ultra-right Freedom Caucus, a band of congressional disrupters that has wreaked legislative havoc and forced then-Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) from his post as speaker of the House last year. But their concerns go deeper. They center on a political establishment they see as undermining patriotism, hard work and Christian ethos at a time when identity politics, rising immigration and technology are reshaping an America that they no longer recognize.

“They’ve taken God out of schools,” Darpli said the day after the meeting, eating breakfast with Mora at the Green Valley Cafe, where waitresses hurried with refills and political chatter veered well into the morning. “They’re mutilating teens with gender conversions. They’re threatening the Constitution. There’s no moral structure anymore. No sense of a shared American identity.

“The immigrants coming now are not proud to fly the American flag. They’re coming here and raising the flag of where they came from. It’s somehow racist these days to be a proud, white patriotic citizen.”

Mora sensed other designs at work. “It’s part of a globalist plan for a one world government.” he said. “Billions of dollars spent on Ukraine when more could be done here to help Americans.”

He believes — despite court evidence and the convictions of hundreds of perpetrators — that the Jan. 6 insurrection “was orchestrated by the FBI to get rid of Trump and make us look like a crazed group of extremists. The whole thing was a farce, a tourist attraction gone awry.”

When asked how a group that reveres the Constitution could support a man who said that if reelected he’d act like a dictator on his first day in office, Darpli laughed and said, “He just says stuff. He doesn’t mean it. If Trump tried to become a dictator, I’d be the first one to boot him out. I started watching him years ago on his TV show, ‘The Apprentice,’ I liked the way he just fired people. He has common sense. That’s why I want him to be president.”

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The November election is certain to further inflame the country’s divisions and distort its realities. In a time of lies, misinformation and growing suspicion of institutions — including colleges, Congress and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — confidence in democracy has been shaken by extremist political elements on the right and left.

Like many Sons of Liberty members, Gogue leans on his faith to cope with the disarray. He was raised a Catholic but at the urging of his wife, he switched to a nondenominational church, where, he said, God penetrated his heart and changed him completely. But he worries about what will come in the autumn.

“If Trump wins, riots will break out across the country,” he said. “There are guys on the right [militias] who will lose it if Biden wins. There will be fireworks on both sides.”

“It could get ugly,” said Medeiros, a trustee for the county’s board of education.

California is a stronghold of liberalism, but the Central Valley, where the scent of manure rims the highways and cattle ranchers tend winter grass, is a redoubt of conservatism. In 2008, 73.7% of Kings County — one of the state’s highest percentages — voted against same-sex marriages. Sixty-four percent of voters in Kings County, which has a population of about 153,000, voted to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, in 2021. Trump had won 55% of the county’s vote in the presidential election a year earlier.

Ultraconservatives in this town about 80 miles north of Bakersfield see the former president as an antidote to the liberal forces that have forsaken them, a billionaire chaos agent who has upended the system with nationalist fervor and a showman’s entourage. He is a vessel for their anger, the talisman of their grievances. He is flawed, they say, but who isn’t, and his threats to bend the government to his whims, which have alarmed Democrats and world leaders alike, are to his supporters the stuff of a robust, uncontainable personality.

The Sons have grown to about 100 members. They are more hard-line and politically active — sponsoring debates and candidate nights — than many Republicans. A number of them said they would vote for Trump, who recently was ordered to pay more than $450 million in a civil fraud case, even if he were convicted of charges related to the Jan. 6 uprising and other criminal counts against him.

“Love him or hate him, Trump brought results,” said Larry Faria, 47, a public safety worker and former Sons president. “The economy was strong. He didn’t get us in any wars. He’s brutally honest and speaks plainly. His abrasiveness got him elected. The Democrats have gone for too many niche issues. They forgot about the working class. … Trump spoke to them. If he’s elected he’ll halt the immigrant invasion, cut inflation and stop sending money to other countries.”

A few hours before the Sons meeting at the Elks Lodge, Faria drove his pickup around Hanford, which is the county seat with a population of about 58,500. He pointed to where he hunted doves and rabbits as a boy. The fields are now home to Walmart, Target and other big-box stores that lend an air of sameness in countless communities across the U.S. It’s a corporate imagining of national identity, which to Faria amounts to a kind of loss: “We’re in the industrial machine, losing the small town touch,” he said. “It’s the story of America.”

He grew up on a dairy farm that survived the Great Depression but shut down about 10 years ago when milk prices fell. Big farms, government jobs and six prisons within an hour of Hanford propel much of its economy today. The county’s median household income is $68,540 — compared with the state median of $91,905 — and about 18% of people are poor. The official poverty level for a family of four is an income below $29,678.

Faria said the high cost of living in California has spurred a “mass migration of the middle class out of the state to Texas, Tennessee, Utah and other places. They’re taking their knowledge and tax base with them and we’re getting back-filled with people not of the same caliber.”

The state’s population fell by more than 117,000 between 2021 and 2022. On the other hand, nearly two-thirds of those moving to California from another state in 2022 — and more than half of those emigrating from others countries — had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Faria turned toward downtown, mentioning that business owners are trying to hang on but that the old granary by the railroad tracks closed not long ago. This land is accustomed to hard times and competing interests, he said, noting that there was trouble when the railroad first arrived. In 1880, five ranchers and two deputy U.S. marshals were killed in a battle between settlers and the Southern Pacific Railroad over land rights.

Faria made a left. A homeless man rummaged around a trash can across the street from the old stone and brick jail, known as “The Bastille.”

“We’ve got 400 homeless people in this county,” he said. “Twenty years ago, we had one homeless person — the lady in the park everybody knew.”

Faria said immigration, mainly from Spanish-speaking countries — Kings County’s Latino population jumped from 43% in 2000 to 57% today — is changing the country. The scenes of migrants at the Texas border with Mexico, he said, amount to “an invasion that neither party wants to fix. The Republicans want cheap labor and the Democrats want to import the next generation of Democrat voters. It’s the people like us who lose.”

“I’m not against immigration,” he said, “but it’s got to be done right.”

He passed a church and drove along open land. The farmers in this region have long contended with drought and falling groundwater tables from over-pumping. When he was younger, he said, he’d drive past the farms in a valley layered in fog. The mist is not so thick anymore; he didn’t know exactly why, only that things never stay the same.

He accelerated.

“If Biden gets elected,” he said, “it will be a tragedy.”

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Cars arrived at the Elks Lodge at nightfall. A couple sat at the bar in low light, and the place, for a moment, carried the feel of another time, like a scene in an old black-and-white movie. The Sons of Liberty dispatched to a meeting room. A woman noted attendance and sold ball caps. Members thumbed through ballots and talked local politics and how tough it was being a conservative in California.

Medeiros, who was a child when his family emigrated to the U.S. from the Azores, said these days he’s troubled by liberal attitudes around homelessness. “We’re becoming a community of enablers. A lot of the homeless are posers. They smoke pot and charge their cellphones at their moms’ houses. We’ll help the legitimate homeless, but we can’t get to them through the cloud of abusers.”

The members sat in a circle. Trump challenger Nikki Haley’s name came up.

“Older men my age will not vote for her,” one man said.

Others politely suggested that such thinking was out of date and that it didn’t matter whether a candidate was a man or a woman so long as they’d protect the Constitution.

Heads nodded.

Talk veered to McCarthy, whose district included part of Kings County. McCarthy was never conservative enough for the Sons; to their mind he did not focus enough on Central Valley issues and was too enamored with appearing on Fox News. But they acknowledged that McCarthy’s resignation from Congress last year cost the region a direct connection to Trump.

“We don’t have an insider anymore,” one man said.

The conversation went on for a while, a small group calculating the odds of who might win in November, a chorus moving toward a nation’s political reckoning. When the last bit of business was done, the parking lot emptied and the Sons drove home, past a closed-up downtown and fields that stretched quietly to the mountains.



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