The Long Road to Here: Tracking Disinformation in SLO County

Aaron Ochs
6 min readJun 13, 2021

Last Friday evening, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow discussed at great length the extreme partisanship, election conspiracy theories and racism that partly motivated San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong to leave his post. Maddow also prominently featured The Tribune for their excellent reporting and subsequent editorials chastising the SLO County Republican Party for pushing for “forensic audits” about our local elections in response to the Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election.

This would mark the second time in 30 days that Maddow dedicated a segment to what’s happening in SLO County. Why? The frenetic pace of disinformation being cycled in our public discourse is prolific. profound and perplexing. But the situation we’re in right now was long in the making, spanning about a decade — long before we saw Donald Trump descend his escalator in the atrium of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York way back in 2015.

Dating back to 2010, SLO County Republicans discussed on social media the conspiracy theory that then-president Barack Obama was not an American citizen because he was born in Kenya and was therefore not eligible to serve. Though the conspiracy was extensively debunked by that point, Republicans continued to tout that conspiracy theory in places like “The Andy Caldwell Show” hosted by Caldwell, Executive Director of Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business (COLAB) Santa Barbara County and former congressional candidate. After losing to incumbent Salud Carbajal last year, Caldwell peddled conspiracy theories about the election and the Jan. 6 insurrection.

By 2012–2013, conservatives routinely attended SLO County Board of Supervisors and other county meetings to discuss a conspiracy theory that two liberal county supervisors were working with the United Nations to usurp civil liberties and private property from residents. The conspiracy theory would reach a fever pitch when COLAB lent support to it in their Sept. 2013 newsletter and former congresswoman/conspiracy theorist Andrea Seastrand pushed for the board to have the matter agendized. Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill were listed as “inaugural signatories” for a pledge penned by the U.N.-supported International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) to make SLO County a “resilient…

Aaron Ochs

Author, artist, advocate and entrepreneur from Morro Bay, California.