Aaron Ochs is the author of “Defamers: How Fake News Terrorized a Community & Those Who Dared to Fight It,” a nonfiction uncovering the defamatory, deceptive and criminal practices of online tabloid CalCoastNews.
This week, we learned Oceano Community Services Director Cynthia Replogle was blocked from serving on any committees. Her colleagues pointed to disagreeable comments she’s made about the district from behind the dais, with her constituents and on social media. That shouldn’t be a problem. Ms. Replogle has always been outspoken about the local issues, and I argue that being critical of the government she serves absolutely deserves to be recognized, not prohibited.
But I was surprised to see Los Osos resident and self-described “government watchdog” slash “community activist” Julie Tacker weighing in on the issue.
In an op-ed published on CalCoastNews, Tacker bristled at the New Times’ Shredder referring to her “activism” — with regard to the latest controversy in Oceano — as “incessant crap-stirring,” adding the publication allegedly tried to quash her free speech. Recently, Tacker announced that she filed a formal complaint to compel the district board to walk back their decision.
For all intents and purposes, Tacker is right. Ms. Replogle shouldn’t be barred from serving on committees or taking on committee assignments because of her criticism of the district. But Tacker, of all people, should sit this one out.
The first time Tacker indicated she wasn’t a fan of free speech was about a decade ago. At the time, she applied to volunteer for the Los Osos Community Advisory Council. After the council voted by majority to reject her application, she called me, crying. She wanted me to compile a list of names and personal addresses of every board member who voted them down and criticized her record. Specifically, she wanted me to create a “hit list.” I declined.
Around the same time, Tacker expressed anger over claims made about her and her partner Jeff Edwards on a site called Los Osos Sentinel. She wanted to know the source behind the website. She said to me, “Dead men tell no tales, and when I’m through with [him] he won’t be telling any more of them.” I found her comments threatening. Then she asked me how I could “remove” the website from the Internet and its “slander.” Tacker denied making those remarks years later, telling law enforcement that she once mourned the death of a cricket that died before it was able to make it out of her home.
Why did she confide to me with these strange requests? Tacker knew I was a “tech guy,” and believed I somehow had enough tech savvy to remove websites she didn’t like. And we did communicate on the phone occasionally about Los Osos politics. Was I a fan of hers? No. She was a source.
In 2017, CalCoastNews co-founder Karen Velie attempted to file a restraining order against me based on patently unfounded and defamatory allegations that I personally stalked and harassed her. She didn’t like that I criticized her reporting and her misconduct, and my coverage of the defamation lawsuit she lost. She wrote in her request that she wanted me to stop writing about her.
Enter Tacker, one of her material witnesses. In her documentation she filed with the court, she alleged I was one of her “supporters” and an acquaintance with similar views until I learned about her relationship with CalCoastNews. She falsely claimed I stalked and harassed her because I criticized her “activism” on Facebook. In emails she wrote to SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson and forwarded to Velie and local “activist” Kevin P. Rice, Tacker begged law enforcement to investigate posts expressing civil disagreement over her conduct.
For the first time, I have decided to release what Tacker submitted to the court.
The declaration she filed had a series of false claims and wild takes — from insisting I was a loyal “supporter” to “obsessing” about the inappropriateness of her dress. In a series of harassing emails from her, Tacker demanded that I remove photos I shared on my Facebook page, including a photo she publicly shared in her op-ed columns, a screenshot from a YouTube video and screenshots from a Board of Supervisors meeting. Tired of her telling me what I could and couldn’t post that was in the public domain, I told her it wasn’t my problem that she dressed inappropriately. Petty stuff I didn’t want to be involved in. Wanted to write something that would get her off my back.
But the most telling aspect about the declaration wasn’t that she falsely portrayed me as adoring-turned-jealous fanboy. Rather, she admitted to reporting critical Facebook posts under the demonstrably false pretense that I was criminally harming her. Tacker plainly stated that she “support[ed] the efforts to remove [my] blogs and websites from the Internet,” which is a direct call to infringe on my First Amendment rights in no uncertain terms.
In 2015, a mutual acquaintance of Tacker and I left a voicemail on my mother’s phone, telling me she should “get [me] a gun” because she was afraid someone was going to kill me. Whether she was joking or not, it wasn’t exactly the kind of voicemail you’d leave with someone late at night. After a contentious back-and-forth with this person, she reluctantly revealed that Tacker communicated a threat against my life. I wrote about the threat I received. The post was removed by Facebook for “violating community standards,” and a deputy called me to check if I was okay — not if I threatened anyone. Naturally, I was concerned for myself and my family. I had reason to be.
Two months earlier, in November 2014, Tacker and Rice created a publicly accessible Facebook group called “Block Aaron Ochs” with a photo of my face crossed out, featuring instructions on how to report and block me on the platform. On the group, there were conversations about how to attack me and smear my reputation. She engaged in a bizarrely public criminal conspiracy to hurt me. What kind of “community activist” does this?
This led to an anonymous postcard delivered to Morro Bay residents, calling me a “reprobate,” and using language from those conversations. Then in 2015, a robocall went out to the community, falsely accusing me of calling an unnamed resident a “vindictive b____” and expressing interest in purchasing a gun to harm an unnamed citizen. CalCoastNews revealed the false allegations originated from Tacker, who somehow turned a threat I reported against me into a threat against her. Tacker claimed she reported me to the police for threatening and stalking her, despite the fact that I had no conversation with law enforcement about it at the time.
Shortly after the robocall was made, I obtained evidence Tacker and Rice coordinated the vicious smear of my reputation.
After I uploaded the voicemail my mother received, Tacker supported and disseminated a CalCoastNews op-ed that was allegedly penned by our mutual acquaintance. The op-ed made libelous allegations about my family, falsely claiming they were “turned into multiple law enforcement agencies and adult protective services” and that I “manufactured the allegations because they were upset with Tacker.” When I reached out to the acquaintance, they repeatedly and vehemently denied writing the op-ed. Based on the evidence, I believe Karen Velie was the true author and Tacker was personally aware of this poorly executed cover-up.
Shocked and appalled at the extent of these smears, my father and I reached out to law enforcement to find out more about Tacker’s allegations. According to four officials familiar with Tacker’s correspondence, she repeatedly demanded my arrest over Facebook posts that criticized her conduct, which were in no way dissimilar to the criticism levied against her by The Tribune or New Times. Frustrated with law enforcement’s refusal to have me investigated, Tacker urged and convinced three Los Osos residents to report me for harassing and stalking them. No action by law enforcement was taken.
As for the Facebook posts she reported me to law enforcement for? After Facebook informed me they were removed, I saved them.
The removed posts had a similar theme: I was talking about my personal experiences. At the time, I was very vocal about how I was treated and how I would be heavily scrutinized had I engaged in the same kind of activity she has including, but not limited to, threatening to get one of my readers fired from their job for “liking” one of my posts.
One of the posts removed was a link to a 2016 New Times article about her partner Jeff Edwards allegedly engaging in inappropriate physical contact with a minor. This was part of a pattern. Despite referring to news articles and editorials from other media publications about her and her partner’s various controversies — including allegations that she and Edwards were involved in a financial fraud and elderly abuse scheme in Los Osos — I was personally targeted as if I was the original source. This was harassment.
I did not deserve to be the recipient of a years-long concerted effort to silence my free speech. There is a clear difference between expressing disagreement over someone and going to extraordinary measures to silence disagreement. It’s clear that Julie Tacker is a predator.
Did I report her to the police?
No. I should have. Hindsight is always 20/20.
Here’s the thing: it’s perfectly reasonable to not like being criticized. But by her own admission, Julie Tacker has been involved in a lot of political drama in the county. If you pay attention to a lot of these issues, you see her name appear as part of the story. And when she did appear, I reminded readers of the path she led to becoming a “government watchdog.” As a formerly elected official who regularly appears at government meetings, goes on political crusades and fires a lot of op-ed columns, she is undoubtedly a public figure. There’s no dancing around that. But the problem is that no public figure — at least no one I can personally recall — has engaged in these egregious acts of censorship against an actual private citizen. And not only that, she tried to go after my family.
After two years of being removed from the tit-and-tat and political sparring, I’ve come to realize I don’t miss any of it. I take no pleasure dredging up bad memories. But it’s my duty to speak up in defense of the First Amendment and against those who poorly pretend to be advocates of such an inalienable right. Despite the death threats, being dragged through the mud by a “news site” with a personal vendetta, I’ve come forward. And I will come forward again until people associate her likeness with the terror she’s inflicted on my family.
EDIT (December 19, 2019): Added more examples.