In liberal California, island of Trump supporters holds out

In his rural California barbershop, Woody Clendenen proudly displays “Trump 2020” and “Make America Great Again” caps alongside rodeo posters, references to the US Constitution, and a double-barreled shotgun.

For this conservative businessman from Cottonwood, four hours north of liberal bastion San Francisco, Donald Trump is the obvious — in fact, only — choice for president come the November election.

“Nobody can argue that things weren’t better when he was in there, versus now with Joe Biden,” the 57-year-old tells AFP.

“Interest rates were low. Fuel was cheap.”

As he clips their hair, Clendenen — who founded a local militia — rails to his customers against what he says is unfettered immigration and the “fake Republicans” like vanquished White House hopeful Nikki Haley who tried to thwart Trump’s run at the nomination.

A stagecoach stop founded during the 19th century gold rush, Cottonwood is part of Shasta County, a conservative island of 180,000 people in overwhelmingly Democratic California.

Sitting at the top of the state’s Central Valley, the county is overlooked by volcanoes categorized as high risk.

Many living there smolder with anger at what they see as excesses and ruin wrought by their opponents across the nation.

“I’m all for Trump, he’ll be the savior of this country,” Eugene Parham tells AFP as he nurses a drink in a local bar.

At 83, this civil engineer says many residents are ready to take up arms against the liberal “woke agenda” he insists is bringing his country to its knees.

“There are a lot of conservatives that I know who are oiling up their guns, because we are not going to let this country go socialistic,” he says.

“I won’t be part of a socialist society…. I was raised too free.”

– Conservative –
Like many rural parts of America, Shasta County has long been conservative.

It has voted Republican by a significant margin in every presidential election since Ronald Reagan’s 1980 landslide win against Jimmy Carter.

And like many conservative areas, it chaffed under state-imposed coronavirus restrictions during the pandemic.

Adding to the anger, a major chunk of its population believes that the 2020 election was rigged for President Joe Biden — an entirely false conspiracy theory promoted by Trump.

“The guy was filling stadiums,” former US Marine Carlos Zapata says of Trump to support his stolen election theory. “And then they tell you, Biden wins by the most votes that have ever been recorded in American history? Come on.”

The looming rematch between two unpopular elderly men, which polls show fills many Americans with dread, will be an easy win for Trump, the 45-year-old Zapata predicts.

With Biden “you’re talking about somebody who’s just not physically, mentally capable of even accomplishing his own agenda,” he said, again repeating one of Trump’s oldest attack lines — claiming that Biden is too old to govern. Biden is 81, Trump is 77.

Trump, Zapata insists, is “the best president to lead us into a more prosperous future for America.”

– ‘Political persecution’ –
The bevvy of legal woes that Trump faces — dozens of charges ranging from trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to illegally hoarding secret documents to financial fraud — are dismissed in Cottonwood as political persecution.

“It’s a step to deter us from facts,” says Amber Maughs as she sits astride her Harley Davidson motorcycle.

“You make somebody look ugly so that somebody else looks better.”

The 44-year-old casino security guard says she appreciates hearing Trump’s unmediated thoughts, expressing what many people think but are afraid to voice.

“He’s direct. He actually speaks his mind. He doesn’t have a filter. And I appreciate that,” Maughs says. “He doesn’t get intimidated too easily.”

It’s a sentiment shared widely in this corner of California, where a dream of seceding from the liberal, most populous US state has long simmered.

Others find the verbal excesses a little much — like when Trump said he was mulling being a “dictator for a day” if he wins the White House.

But many say Trump is just joking.

“I don’t like it when he does that,” says Sue Johnson, a 64-year-old civil servant. “But… he’s just being his mouthy self again, you know. So I don’t believe he will do those things.”

And, while she would have preferred Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to be heading the Republican ticket, Johnson has no doubt what box she will tick this November.

She is particularly pleased that a Trump-stacked Supreme Court overturned a national right to abortion.

“His actions speak louder than his words and so I will vote for him based on that — not because of his mouth but because I like what he does.”


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