Some of the most popular questions I get about Defamers are about the various anonymous smear campaigns associated with CalCoastNews. Not often do you have an online tabloid being fervently supported by anonymous, radicalized accounts that pop out of nowhere to push their conspiracy theories. Sure, there are fans of the website, but not many of them spend days, weeks and even months cultivating online campaigns touting conspiracy theories their founders exclusively allege — and continue to allege to this day with reckless abandon.
Once every two months, I hear from musicians who are connected to CalCoastNews co-founder Daniel Blackburn’s son Alan. Like his father, Alan is a filmmaker and documentarian. Alan, a resident of Santa Cruz, is friends with a number of session musicians residing in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Every now and then, I’d hear from one of those musicians, most of whom I don’t know personally.
They would reach out to me because they were concerned about Alan’s “obsession” with me, with that obsession reportedly teetering between ambiguously threatening remarks and a desire to “expose” me as a key player in an elaborate conspiracy theory to take the website down. The younger Blackburn reportedly bragged about reporting me to unnamed law enforcement and that “justice was coming soon.” That’s a lot of hearsay that’s ultimately false and meaningless. The first time someone reached out to me about his comments, I shrugged them off. And for the most part, I continue to shrug them off. But I appreciate the concern nonetheless.
When CalCoastNews announced they were participating in “Lying in Trash,” a documentary about the “plot to bury [them]” as a “news agency,” I immediately recognized Alan’s handiwork from behind the camera.
In 2013, I looked into a series of YouTube videos and fake accounts promoting the conspiracy theory that SLO County District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill and a smattering of government employees orchestrated the “kidnapping” of CalCoastNews co-founder Karen Velie’s grandchildren. Some of the accounts hid behind this strange Christian crusader/Knights of Templar imagery, calling for the “spilled blood” of Velie’s perceived adversaries while other accounts masqueraded as independent news reporting outlets and impersonating actual stations like NewsChannel 8 out of Washington D.C. A representative for the channel, which is now owned by WJLA, denied being involved in peddling the conspiracy theory involving Hill.
But each of these accounts had one thing in common: they all shared a video naming the conspirators and confidential details about the Child Welfare Services case involving Velie’s grandchildren. I was able to trace the video to Alan Blackburn, who took credit for producing it and shared it on Facebook to a number of now-defunct organizations associated with Star Knowledge/EarthStarTV, a YouTube channel he launched to promote “truth, Native American spiritual knowledge, and Native American music and dance.” The video was ultimately taken down by YouTube after SLO County Counsel wrote to them.
And “Lying in Trash” has gone to great lengths to cover their tracks. Their website lists no production company or filmmaker. Their domain registration information is masked. Production credits at the end of the documentary’s trailer contain anonymous names. The anonymous filmmakers behind “Lying in Trash” have not publicly commented on why they’ve taken these measures nor have they disclosed individuals financially backing their project. Yet even though filmmakers have pushed the documentary’s release date to “Early 2020,” anonymous accounts on CalCoastNews continue to tout the still-unreleased documentary every time SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow or Supervisor Hill is mentioned.
This is par for the course for CalCoastNews, a website that was backed extensively by an anonymous political organization called “Fire Adam Hill,” which also produced professionally edited videos and shared the same anti-CalCoastNews conspiracy theory videos that Alan Blackburn shared with a similarly obsessive zeal. Their years-long obsession with the supervisor is a virtual trademark, so it’s impossible to not presume CalCoastNews is involved in these smear campaigns somehow.
For years, I would see and occasionally interact with fake Facebook accounts touting their conspiracy theories that oftentimes included me in them. The only reason I interacted with these accounts is due to the fact they communicated threats to me. These conspiracy theories would eventually trickle into CalCoastNews articles. When I looked deeper into these accounts, I noticed they all played browser games with a character named after one of Velie’s daughters.
The question I get asked often is, “Why do they go through all this trouble?”
When it comes to readership and maintaining accuracy, CalCoastNews has deep and profound insecurity. They use anonymous accounts and sourcing to make their stories more grandiose in scale than they actually are. Readers will look at that artificial engagement and assume the “reporting” they do is valid or at least valid enough to share with others. And the senior Blackburn will occasionally brag about how many readers CalCoastNews has without addressing the amount of times they got their “facts” wrong.
In one recent instance, Blackburn sharply criticized The Tribune for lacking editorial judgment. “You would not have known until today [April 10] that it was Hill’s county office as well as his home that was searched by the feds.” But if he actually read The Tribune and had some of his bearings intact, he would know The Tribune did confirm those details ten days ago. And they were also able to confirm something else: the FBI never confirmed to Velie that Hill’s home was searched. I was able to corroborate that. CalCoastNews never corrected that detail. Details, schmetails.
In the bigger picture, nothing they do or write on their website truly matters. But the totality of their words, actions and embrace of the conspiracy theory-peddling anonymous speaks volumes about the Blackburns, their website’s practices and seemingly bottomless cowardice.
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. Click here to subscribe to his Patreon, check out exclusive news features and more.