Nearly two years before the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, I published a book about combating disinformation.
I had concluded my story about my trials and tribulations involving CalCoastNews, a San Luis Obispo County-based online tabloid. I decided to not chase down any more leads about them, fact-check their “reporting,” or regularly write columns about the various conspiracy theories they published that they knew were false and defamatory. More people in the community knew exactly who they were and their less-than-stellar journalism ethics. I don’t have to take them on anymore, I thought. Now I could turn my attention to journalism that required me to dive deeper into local issues.
Then on Jan. 6, 2021, my initial reaction to those events was to unravel how we, as a nation, got to that point. Then I stumbled upon some local parallels that wound up intertwining with the insurrection itself.
In 2016, as Donald Trump rose to power with the help of disinformation and conspiracy theories that sowed deep political division, there was a feverish attempt to unseat then-SLO County District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill. Hill, a vocal critic of CalCoastNews, was a frequent target of the tabloid. For example, he was accused by them of being in a years-long campaign to shut down their operation using his liberal cabal of elected officials, political consultants and online trolls to intimidate CalCoastNews writers into silence. Such efforts allegedly included Hill “kidnapping” CalCoastNews co-founder Karen Velie’s grandchildren through Child Welfare Services and somehow orchestrating her DUI arrest. Her allegations, which were prominently featured in a series of lawsuits filed by the publisher against Hill, were never substantiated. Last year, a state appellate judge dismissed her case citing lack of evidence.
CalCoastNews often accused him of corruption and extortion. It’s worth noting that last year, the Dept. of Justice revealed that Hill accepted bribes from local marijuana mogul Helios Dayspring. These developments corroborated CalCoastNews’ unsourced allegations about him receiving bribes from Dayspring. After his home and office was searched by the FBI and before he could be formally charged, Hill committed suicide in 2020.