News (USA)

School board insanity: How a lack of consequences radicalized “patriots”

Mic at a school board meeting
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A new report from ProPublica has identified 59 people arrested or charged over the last year and a half in a wave of disruptions at school board meetings across the country, many involving threats of violence.

Just one protestor has served jail time: a college student supporting transgender rights. 

Once routine meetings overseeing local school curriculums are now ideological battlegrounds, often dissolving into chaos and acrimony as conservative activists flout decorum, spread misinformation, and employ obscure, often questionable procedural tactics to advance their agenda.

How one conservative retiree, Eric Jensen, ended up pinned to the floor by three security guards trying to shackle his wrists and ankles is emblematic of how many of these protesters have been radicalized.

“The patriots are coming!” screamed one board meeting attendee.

“Commie cowards!” yelled another.

“Commie bitch!” echoed a third.

That was the scene in a Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board meeting a year ago February, where Jensen was attending with two allies prepared to “serve” the school board in a far-fetched effort to bring it to heel and adopt their own far-right agenda.

Jensen, who’s retired and the father of nine, including five school-age children, says he’s tired of “transgender bullshit” and library books “trying to convert kids to gay.”

He found his compatriots on Telegram after giving up on mainstream media years ago. “Once I found out how much they lie, you have to get back into alternative media to find out the actual truth.”

Now he’s convinced that John F. Kennedy Jr. is alive, Hillary Clinton and Bill Gates are dead, and the COVID-19 vaccine is a “death shot” that alters your DNA to allow elites to “own” you and depopulate the planet. “I’ve seen it many times, where they’ve got plastic caskets lined up,” he said. “There must be a million of them sitting there in lots waiting for these people to die.”

On Telegram, Jensen discovered North Carolina Bonds for the Win, part of a national movement dedicated to overturning COVID-era safety protocols and removing “obscene materials” from classrooms and libraries. The groups serve local school boards with paperwork threatening to sue school districts through their surety bond, or risk management, providers. The Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League call the tactic “paper terrorism.”

The target the night of the Winston-Salem school board meeting was critical race theory and “profane” books. Jensen’s cohorts, two middle-aged women activists, handed him a cardboard box with documents that he understood to be serving the school board with “explanations about how they were going to get sued against their bonds.”

As the meeting started, Jensen and his large cardboard box, a few rows back from the front, caught board members’ attention.

“He was just staring at us, and we were a little worried for our safety,” board chair Deanna Kaplan remembered.

Jensen’s allies took turns at the lectern, complaining about the district’s failure to uphold the Constitution, accusing school officials of practicing medicine without a license and violating child abuse laws. The second woman added: “There’s a lot more violations that she didn’t get to, but you can read those for yourself when we serve you your letters of intent.”

Then, the board chair recalled, the man with the box “started charging at us.”

As Jensen made a show of “serving” the board, school security grabbed him, and the meeting devolved into chaos.

“You work for me!” Jensen screamed repeatedly as he was pulled from the room.

“There was somebody in the audience that was yelling, ‘The patriots are coming.’ I mean, it was just like a zoo. It was crazy,” Kaplan says. “The board members were concerned for our safety.”

Two months later, Jensen was in court, prepared to continue his anti-government protest. But a pandemic backlog earned him a voluntary dismissal.

His only act of defiance that day was not standing as the judge entered the courtroom, and the bailiff called out, “All rise.”

Said Jensen: “I didn’t allow them to boss me around.”

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