As the pandemic continues to shutter businesses, close schools and upend lives in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has become a target of angry frustration for some, driving a grassroots effort to recall him from office. What once started as a pipe dream is beginning to look like a political threat for the Democratic governor.
But a Times investigation found that recall campaign leaders, seeking to capitalize on the darkening public mood, allied with radical and extreme elements early on to help collect signatures. Those included groups promoting distrust of government, science and medicine; peddlers of QAnon doomsday conspiracies; “patriots” readying for battle and one organization allied with the far-right extremist group, the Proud Boys.
The recall gave those fringe factions a higher profile and a shared villain. They helped energize the campaign with large and often inflammatory rallies over masks, in support of Trump and against the election they falsely say was stolen from the former president — ripe venues to harvest petition signatures.
Many supporters of the recall are not extremists and may not be aware of the far-right groups involved with the effort. But with the violent insurgency at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, organizers are grappling with the consequences of their alliances. They now insist the extremists don’t represent the values of the recall movement but continue to associate with them, amid a national debate about how far is too far when it comes to winning in politics.
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