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.
On Friday, I was hit with a ton of text messages at once. I can summarize what the messages were: “It was Kevin P. Rice.”
The Tribune was the first to report that Rice was the mastermind behind a bizarre and vulgar robocall that went out to San Luis Obispo County residents earlier this week. The robocall featured the voice of a middle-aged woman, enthusiastically endorsing District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill for re-election on behalf of the Ku Klux Klan while making homophobic slurs about his opponent Stacy Korsgaden.
After Korsgaden submitted a complaint to law enforcement, District Attorney Dan Dow announced his office was going to investigate the robocall in an attempt to uncover the anonymous source. This led the robocaller to walk back their incendiary message with a new call, claiming they were simply providing “satire and lampoon, not unlike ‘Saturday Night Live’ skits or ‘South Park’ episodes.” The caller denied the robocall was fake, claiming “[their] granddaddy really did receive the Hero’s Cross from the KKK.”
After news broke from Dow’s office that Rice reached out to him and admitted to his involvement, Rice told The Tribune his robocall was about “send[ing] a message to county voters” that “highlight[ed] Hill’s past ‘bullying’ of elected officials, media, and candidates for office.” That wasn’t clear in the first call, which was poorly scripted and incoherent as it lacked context. When he was asked why he didn’t disclose his personal involvement, he said it was because The Tribune would make the story about him and then “pooh-pooh the message.”
Rice would further defend himself on Dave Congalton’s radio show, echoing comments he made to The Tribune. In his defense, Rice said Hill was as evil as the KKK with his “horrendous, vile, homophobic, bigoted words and behavior.”
Two years ago, Rice — who referred to Korsgaden as a “selfish pervert” lesbian on the call — called for the San Luis Obispo History Center to lose funding over their “political” decision to fly a LGBTQ pride flag. When the flag mysteriously disappeared from the center, Rice proactively denied taking it. When the History Center refused to cater to his whims, Rice accused them of mishandling county history records and “misusing tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars.” Rice offered no evidence to back his allegations.
In comments posted on The Tribune, Rice called former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “corrupt pig” and a “bitch.” He once referred to Supervisor Hill as a “raging lying substance abuse using corporate out of state developer money grubbing dick.” He referred to Tribune columnist Tom Fulks as a “divisive puerile asshole.” Rice’s comment about Fulks was so hateful, Facebook actually removed my post and blocked me for sharing it!
As far as his behavior is concerned, Rice has a record so long, I had to put it all into a book. But without going into specific detail that could span several columns, allow me to summarize.
Rice is unhealthily obsessed with people who publicly oppose his political views. His obsession centers largely on the Oceano Dunes, which he regularly rides on and wants to keep open for off-roaders. There is a sizable group of people who Dunes critics who either want to restrict off-road access partially or entirely. The louder the critics are, the more emboldened he becomes to attack them personally and professionally. Rice’s goal is to either intimidate critics into silence or tarnish their reputation so badly that their comments cannot be taken seriously by the public. And when his tactics are put under a microscope, he routinely shifts the blame to those he targets and hides behind the “activist” label.
He’s gone to extraordinary lengths to target his political adversaries — from driving seven hours to confront and intimidate an elderly environmental activist and friend of one of his critics to knowingly to falsely claiming his political opponent was attending a debate he was hosting.
And bringing up his record — even if it’s all verified by others and even himself — can put you in his crosshairs. In fact, I was even the subject of one of his signature vulgar robocalls and I wasn’t even an elected official. And when these tactics don’t work, he’ll use litigation or threats of litigation to quash opposition.
In one instance, he threatened to sue a man who criticized him online using faux legal papers. On those papers, he gratuitously put the man’s Social Security number on them. In another instance, he unsuccessfully sued one of his critics for trademark infringement of a name they originally created for their nonprofit organization while also reporting the critic’s rental properties for various code violations. Rice has committed his “activism” to the ruination of activists, public officials and private citizens.
Rice is particularly fixated on Hill, a county supervisor who’s expressed support for dust control measures and reduced off-roading activity on the Oceano Dunes. His obsession with Hill spans for a decade, crafting political propaganda for the last three election cycles.
In 2012, Rice was issued a warning from the Fair Political Practices Commission for failing to disclose a newsletter mailed to residents in District 3 was paid for by his organization, which opposed Hill’s re-election bid. Interestingly, his recent robocall disclosed a fake organization and violated the same government code the FPPC cited. Rice also created a website that mimicked Hill’s then-campaign website as a ploy to confuse voters into believing his anti-Hill propaganda. In 2016, Rice sent out two robocalls with unverified allegations about Hill. And remember that debate stunt I mentioned earlier? Hill was the candidate who Rice falsely claimed would be attending his District 3 Supervisor debate. And when Hill fired back at him, criticizing the self-proclaimed activist’s conduct, Rice trespassed on his property to hand-deliver the supervisor a “72-hour cure and correct libel” demand.
But what fascinates me is not Rice’s sociopath impulses, which I’ve covered often. Rather, it’s how his supporters have reacted to his robocalls.
When the robocalls started earlier this week, CalCoastNews — who has made harassing Hill a cottage industry — decried the content of the call as “crazy” and “shocking.” Anonymous users on the website speculated that Hill or one of his cohorts was behind the robocall. “This appears to be an attempt by Adam Hill to play, poor me, everyone is after me,” CalCoastNews’ co-founder Karen Velie wrote. “I bet he wrote the sick call himself.”
“The call contains inside knowledge and statements that only Hill and his sycophants would know,” wrote CalCoastNews contributor and former San Luis Obispo mayoral candidate T. Keith Gurnee. “It would not be hard to believe that Hill himself was behind it.”
CalCoastNews cheered once they learned District Attorney Dow would step in to investigate the robocall. But once news trickled out that Rice was the perpetrator, the tone quickly changed.
Velie defended the call, explaining that Rice was a “victim” of Hill’s “abuse.” Velie added, “ I thought the robocall was hilarious, as did many others. But in public some have to act shocked.” Velie went from describing the call as “sick” to “hilarious” after learning her longtime contributor and supporter was behind it.
Congalton, who denied being involved with the robocall, struggled to unequivocally condemn it on his Friday show. Though he was quoted in The Tribune as condemning the robocall, Congalton said he was swayed by Rice’s “raw,” “emotional” and “passionate” call into the show when he defended his actions. Congalton would uncomfortably pivot several times to discussing Hill’s behavior as a justification for the call before calling out two private citizens by name for condemning it, as one ethical radio host does. The two citizens called into Congalton’s show, criticizing the show host for allowing Rice nearly 30 minutes of radio time to lay out his defense. All Congalton had left was to sheepishly ask, “But what about Hill?”
That was CalCoastNews co-founder Daniel Blackburn’s cue to call into the show to promote a long-winded editorial he published about Hill. What started as a conversation about Rice’s potentially illegal robocall turned into a sad pity party and yet another tearful rehash of CalCoastNews’ unfounded allegations and self-victimization.
This whole ordeal is truly sad. I see a small group of people attempting to use the same tactics to meddle in the same district elections every four years, like they wake up from a years-long hibernation to place the needle back on the same broken record. I’m thinking these people need to get a life or enjoy life inside a padded cell. Hill’s emails, comments and conduct can never erase Rice’s neverending sickness. For as long as their group embraces Rice and his unhinged “activism,” they will never absolve themselves of his curse.