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West Hollywood City Council delays vote on Mayor John Duran’s tenure

An intersection of outrage takes the council by storm

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Lauren Meister requested City Attorney take a look at the situation and provide the Council with options at a special meeting in April. (Screengrab)

About 50 members of the #MeToo Movement/LA joined with protesters from Black Lives Matter and Justice4Gemmel to demand the resignation of Mayor John Duran At a rally on Feb. 19 in front of the West Hollywood City Council Chamber.

The rally occurred before the council meeting that drew intense media attention after 3 councilmembers used social media to call for the mayor to step down.

Duran recently drew the ire of many community activists after it was revealed that a member of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles had accused him of making an unwelcome physical contact by touching the waistband of his underwear. And though a third party investigator found there was no evidence of wrongdoing and the matter was dropped, it served to revive memories of prior instances where the mayor’s behavior had drawn similar scrutiny and unleashed reports of new ones.

Duran finds himself at the intersection of many community flashpoints beyond the allegations of inappropriate behavior.

To shouts of “Duran must go,” the protestors linked Duran to Ed Buck, who is currently being investigated by police surrounding the deaths in his WeHo apartment of two gay African-American men — Gemmel Moore in 2017 and Timothy Dean in 2019. Moore died of an apparent accidental overdose; the County Coroner has not yet released the cause of Dean’s death.

“Duran must resign unequivocally” said protester Rosalind Jones. Council candidate and local lawyer Sepi Shyne agreed, telling the Los Angeles Blade that Duran “absolutely” must resign.

At the council meeting, Duran’s fellow Councilmembers voted unanimously to end his previously-extended term as mayor early, in May instead of September, thus returning the term limit to the standard one year.

Incumbent Councilmembers Lauren Meister, Lindsey Horvath, and John D’Amico were joined by Councilmember John Heilman in calling for Duran to resign his position as mayor. Duran was in Cedars Sinai hospital as doctors monitored blood clots.

“Given John’s current health situation, as well as the controversy, I think it is important for us to move forward with somebody else in charge,” Heilman said to applause from the crowd.

Meister asked City Attorney Mike Jenkins to look at the situation and provide the Council with options at a special meeting in April. The council can vote to strip Duran of his largely ceremonial mayoral position, which ends in two months, but they do not have authority cannot remove him from council.

WeHoTimes.com founder Marco Colantonio read a statement by Duran at the meeting in which he apologized for a comment about the Asian American man who accused him of wrongdoing in the Los Angeles Times. But he did not bow to the intense pressure to resign.

“I flirt. I crack dirty jokes. I often say things that make some cringe. But I do not threaten or physically assault anyone. Not ever. It is not in my DNA. I will own my human flaws for being and saying inappropriate things. But I will never admit conduct that never occurred. That would be dishonest and done for expediency rather than truth,” Duran said in his statement. “Unfortunately, people are now piling on a false narrative that is untrue, misunderstood, and driven by the current mood of the country rather than the rule of law and due process.

Erin Roberts, a member of the “Orange County MeToo Movement,” was among a dozen people who spoke before the council. “A lot of the LGBT community of Orange County comes to West Hollywood to find a safe haven and a welcoming community,” she said. “In order to continue to make it a safe haven it needs to not have people who make the community unsafe, like Ed Buck. One dead black man is a tragedy, two is a pattern.”

She drew a parallel between Duran and Buck. “How many men need to speak up in order for this not to be a rush to judgment? How many complaints need to be filed in order for you to take this seriously?”she asked.

In 2011, Duran provided legal counsel to Buck, a longtime member of Stonewall Democratic Club, but says he “never represented [Buck] in a case.”

Dennis Gleason addresses the City Council. (Photo by Troy Masters)

Others who addressed the council included Dennis Gleason, a policy director for LA Councilman Joe Busciano, who alleged that he was subject to unsolicited messages from Duran on Grindr.

Robert Oliver, who resigned from the WeHo Public Safety Commission in protest against the councilmembers’ unwillingness to speak out about Duran, also called for the mayor’s immediate resignation.

“Any doubt that I have had about the seriousness of this situation has been alleviated by the individuals who have since come to share their interactions with Mayor Duran,” declared Oliver. “What he cannot understand or is unwilling to admit is the fact that many feel like they can’t say ‘No’ to the mayor or to the chair of the board,” adding “or to a pillar in the recovery community.”

“The time for excuses is over,” said former councilmember Steve Martin.

City Council candidate Tom DeMille countered the trend, decrying the “rush to judgment to ruin a man. You don’t ruin men, you don’t ruin women,” he said. “No one is perfect.”

During Councilmember comments, Horvath doubled down on her call for Duran to resign. The Council “cannot focus on the work of the people when we have to address new and numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, including whether our mayor used his title to solicit sexual favors,” she said.

She also linked Duran to Buck, saying the harassment allegations were a “diversion from the gravely serious homicide investigations that are ongoing in our city.”

The LA County Coroner ruled Moore’s death to be an accidental overdose and has not yet announced what caused Dean’s death. The Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau told the Los Angeles Blade that both cases are ongoing “death investigations.” Lt. William Moulde told the council there is no update on the status of the investigations.

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California Politics

Senator Wiener’s No Tax Exemption for Insurrection Act, passes Senate

Senate Bill SB 834 strips state tax-exempt status from organizations that engage in or incite insurrection

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Screenshot/California Legislative TV

SACRAMENTO – Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s Senate Bill 834, the No Tax Exemption for Insurrection Act, passed the Senate by a vote of 28-0 Monday. It will now head to the Assembly for policy committee hearings. 

SB 834 is a first-in-the-nation bill that will revoke the California tax-exempt status of nonprofit organizations that participate in or incite efforts to overthrow the United States government or any state government. Nonprofit organizations have used the “Big Lie” – the fraudulent notion that the 2020 election was stolen – to fundraise for and funnel money to extremist and anti-democratic initiatives like the January 6 insurrection.

Tax-exempt status is a privilege, not a right, and organizations that engage in or incite insurrection or conspiracy to commit insurrection – both of which are illegal – should not be given this special status to help them fundraise. Moreover, non-California nonprofits should not be able to register to raise money in California if they are engaging in or inciting insurrection. 

“On January 6, 2021, the peaceful transfer of power in our democracy was threatened,” said Wiener. “And for the first time since the Civil War, people died as a result. We cannot and will not let organizations that aid and abet insurrection – that break the law by trying to overthrow the U.S. government – operate with tax-exempt status. The people of California should not be subsidizing insurrection.” 

The January 6, 2021 insurrection took place, when pro-Trump extremists – in response to the false narrative that the Democrats “stole” the 2020 election and incited by then-President Donald Trump – breached the United States Capitol. Five people were killed as a result of this insurrection, and hundreds were injured.

Vice President Pence and Speaker Pelosi were specific targets of this violent attack on the nation’s democracy. Many nonprofits that supported the insurrection and continue to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election in hopes of overturning the results still operate with tax-exempt status, both at the federal and state level. 

SB 834 clarifies the Franchise Tax Board’s authority to revoke the California tax-exempt status of a nonprofit organization if the California Attorney General determines that the nonprofit has actively engaged in, or incited: treason, misprision of treason, insurrection, seditious conspiracy, advocating overthrow of the government or the government of any State, or advocating mutiny by members of the military or naval forces of the United States (1.)

Under SB 834, if the Attorney General finds that a nonprofit organization has incited, or actively engaged in actions that are directed to or likely to imminently violate one or more of these crimes, they will notify the FTB, which then will have the ability to revoke the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status. 

For out-of-state nonprofits that engage in or incite insurrection, they will be prohibited from registering to raise money in California. 

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the purpose of charitable organizations claiming tax-exempt status “may not be illegal or contrary to public policy.” Trying to overturn elections and violently attacking our legislators fits the bill. SB 834 will ensure that these organizations no longer claim this financial advantage. 

Tax-exempt nonprofits are not required to pay corporate income taxes and may be exempt from other taxes as well. Additionally, donations to many nonprofits are deductible from income taxes, and private foundations and donor-advised funds can only donate to tax-exempt nonprofits. Private foundations and donor-advised funds represent a major funding source for many nonprofits. 

Authoritarian and anti-democratic organizations have increasingly used the “Big Lie” to fundraise, and this narrative has driven millions of dollars in tax-exempt donations. And many new organizations have cropped up in the past year, hoping to ride the coattails of the insurrection and cash in.

These include California nonprofits and nonprofits registered in other states that fundraise in California. These organizations, which are fundamentally undermining our democracy and cheering for the destruction of free and fair elections in America, should not be allowed to operate with advantages like tax-exempt status. 

For example, the leader of the “Oath Keepers,” a national militia movement, was charged with seditious conspiracy. While the Oath Keepers does not have California tax-exempt status, it has an “educational foundation” with federal exempt status and tax-exempt branches in several states. In the words of one expert, “It can only be presumed that [funds contributed to the Oath Keepers], which [donors were] able to deduct from their federal taxes, went to transporting and lodging members of the group slated to participate in the ensuing riots.” (2.) These organizations should not be allowed, under any circumstances, to use tax write-offs to help fund illegal activities. 

There is precedent for making this distinction in California’s tax code. Under federal and California law, for instance, if a nonprofit organization supports terrorism, its tax-exempt status is suspended. The nonprofit organizations that support insurrection should receive the same treatment. 

Citations:

1. USC §§ 2381-2385, 2387

2. “Dollars against Democracy: Domestic Terrorist Financing in the Aftermath of Insurrection,” Virtual Hearing before the Subcommittee on National Security, International Development and Monetary Policy of the Committee on Financial Services, U.S. House of Representatives, Feb 25, 2021. 

Senators Josh Becker (D-Peninsula), Dave Min (D-Irvine), Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), Tom Umberg (D-Orange County), and Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) are co-authors of this bill. Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) and Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park) are also co-authors of SB 836. Assemblymember Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) is principal co-author.

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California Politics

Assembly passes bill protects patients & providers from anti-choice states

AB 1666 protects patients and providers in California from civil liability judgments for providing reproductive health care to patients

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California State Capitol Dome (Blade file photo)


SACRAMENTO — In a two-thirds vote Monday, the Assembly passed AB 1666, sponsored by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D – Orinda) which creates a legal shield up for California patients and providers from extremist anti-abortion laws from anti-choice states.

The language of the measure reads: “This bill would declare another state’s law authorizing a civil action against a person or entity that receives or seeks, performs or induces, or aids or abets the performance of an abortion, or who attempts or intends to engage in those actions, to be contrary to the public policy of this state. The bill would prohibit the application of that law to a case or controversy heard in state court, and would prohibit the enforcement or satisfaction of a civil judgment received under that law.”

Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California Legislative Director Molly Robson told the Blade in an emailed statement Monday;

“AB 1666 will allow California providers to continue to provide essential and timely health care, like abortion, with decreased risks of potential liability when helping people forced to seek care here in California rather than in their home state due to hostile, extreme, and dangerous restrictions or outright bans. These precautions and protections are necessary given the increased hostility and frequency of abortion bans in other states seeking to target patients and providers. Taking this action now is crucial as we prepare for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade and unleash a flood of hostile bans in more than half the states.”

Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California also noted that AB 1666 protects patients and providers in California from civil liability judgments for providing reproductive health care to patients when the claims are based on laws in other states that are hostile to abortion rights and are contrary to the public policy of California.

AB 1666 builds on a recommendation put forth by the California Future of Abortion Council recommendations released in a December report, in which Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California is a member of its “Steering Committee.”

A spokesperson for Equality California, Jorge Reyes Salinas, told the Blade Monday afternoon;

“LGBTQ+ people are directly impacted by laws that undermine abortion care. The LGBTQ+ community overall often lacks access to inclusive and affirming health care, and in particular transgender men and nonbinary people who become pregnant face significant challenges when seeking reproductive care.  In addition, many of the clinics that provide abortions also provide hormones and reduced-cost reproductive care for transgender and nonbinary people, efforts to undermine these clinics directly harm the LGBTQ+ community.

AB 1666 is a critical safeguard against the wave of proposals that will harm the health and well-being of vulnerable populations across the country. To the extent that California can provide a refuge for people seeking critical care, we have a duty to do so.”

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Religious Extremism/Anti-LGBTQ+ Activism

Right-wing extremist provocateur threatens to ‘hunt’ LGBT supporters

He has a history of right-wing extremist short videos including a harassment campaign against an Arizona wig shop that serves cancer patients

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Ethan Schmidt (Screenshot/Twitter)

PHOENIX – A twenty-four year old right-wing extremist based in the metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona area, Ethan Schmidt, posted a short video of himself accompanied by Kyle Clifton who describes himself as “authoritarian Christian nationalist,” driving in an undisclosed area announcing that he and Clifton will be “hunting ‘LGBT supporters” and people in area Target retail stores.

The video captured by Twitter account Patriot Takes, which describes itself as a group of dedicated researchers monitoring and exposing right-wing extremism and other threats to democracy, first posted the video clip Saturday.

Schmidt has a history of making right-wing extremist short videos including a harassment campaign against an Arizona wig shop that serves cancer patients.

Sunny’s Hair and Wigs, specialize in making wigs for women who have lost hair while getting treated for cancer and the store had implemented coronavirus pandemic protections including strict mask guidelines to ensure safety of their clients who are particularly vulnerable to infection.

Lisa Memberr, the owner of the shop had explained to local media outlets: “My customer base is very diverse,” and she added, “Not only do I have Caucasians, I have Afro-Americans, I have Asians, I have Latin Americans.”

Schmidt, who has ban banned by nearly all social media platforms including Twitter for spreading false and misleading COVID-19 pandemic information had been visiting numerous retail stores in the Phoenix area including Sunny’s Hair and Wigs targeting those businesses that still require customers to wear mask. He invariably creates videos of his encounters which he uploads to right-wing social media and web sites that he hasn’t been banned from.

In addition to his anti-mask campaign he has made videos with extremist conservative lawmakers including one with Arizona U.S. Republican Representative Paul Gosar telling antivaxxers “to stay the course.”

He also filmed a short with Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers who has established herself firmly as an anti-vax, anti-LGBTQ, right wing extremist.

Clifton is a leader of the America First Union, an openly white nationalist, antisemitic, “conservative youth” organization. He also promotes former President Donald Trump’s big lie about the 2020 Presidential election being stolen by Democrats and President Joe Biden. Clifton also participated in the Arizona audit of the 2020 vote in Maricopa County, which state Sen. Rogers, had raised the visibility of her own political profile by insisting that Arizona’s vote was stolen.

Last Fall Schmidt posed with Trump endorsed Republican candidate for Arizona Governor Kari Lake as he burned a LGBTQ+ Pride flag.

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