At a recent San Diego County Board of Supervisors meeting, about 300 people rushed into rooms protesting against vaccine masks and vaccination instructions. More than 100 speakers took to the podium, many insulting county supervisors and health officials, criticizing what they called the “state of biomedical safety,” “tyrannical bureaucracies,” and “the reign of terror.”

Demonstrators called the COVID security measures attacks on freedom. Some compared them to the Holocaust and apartheid. A man from Ramona threatened to arrest a citizen against the supervisors.

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The protest entered national news, the appearance of Stephen Colbert and a mix of heavy metals with more than a quarter of a million views on YouTube.

After all is ReOpen San Diego. Founded in the spring of 2020 by three women in San Diego, the group has given up on public rallies and events protesting everything from school closures to masks to vaccination demands.

They plan to keep up the pressure with a march and rally at the next meeting of the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

“We are fighting for freedom with people all over the world,” said Alysson Hartmann, one of the co-founders, during the meeting of supervisors. “We are the only thing that stands between tyranny and our country and children.”

The protest seemed to erupt out of nowhere, but it was built for months during the pandemic.

ReOpen San Diego started as a Facebook group in the spring of 2020, when two women from San Diego decided to meet every week in local parks.

Hartmann, 42, is a former substitute teacher with the Poway Unified School District and a former science teacher at the San Diego Unified School District. She also ranks work as a holistic health coach among her credentials. A mother of three, including two daughters in fifth and seventh grade, Hartmann said she quit her job during the pandemic to teach her daughters home.

Co-founder Diane Ake, 65, is listed on the ReOpen San Diego website as a “college professor with roots in community organizing.” The records show she has also been affiliated with the Gerson Institute, an alternative cancer treatment center in San Diego.

She has been an activist on a range of issues and has written letters to the editor at the San Diego Union-Tribune in favor of Project Wildlife and against the fluoridation of drinking water, tobacco use by young people and individual marijuana cultivation.

La Mesa resident Amy Reichert, 53, is a licensed private investigator and marketing specialist. She joined ReOpen San Diego last summer. After isolating the blockages, she provided a much-needed sense of social connection, she said.

San Diego, CA – August 17: Open San Diego demonstrators protest COVID-19 restrictions at the San Diego County Administration Building in San Diego, CA. {({fotograf} / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

(Brittany Cruz-Fejeran / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“We really got together just to have a sense of community,” Reichert said. “We were not talking about political action. We were elaborating on what was happening in 2020. We talked about the impact of school closures on our kids, who had been on screens and had not seen friends. We sat on the lawn and talked while our kids played. “

Neither Ake nor Hartmann responded to requests for interviews from the San Diego Union Tribune. Instead Reichert spoke on behalf of the organization.

The group’s rise from the political gaming group came in the spring after members called on Board of Supervisors meetings to oppose the closure of businesses and schools due to the pandemic. Frustrated by waiting in line at a telephone line, they held a rally in April urging supervisors to hold their public meetings in person.

The following month they demonstrated at the first face-to-face meeting of the supervisory board in more than a year.

By June the state had completed the COVID-19 restraint level system and businesses were reopening. But as the highly contagious Delta Variant increased the number of cases, ReOpen San Diego shifted its focus to protesting renewed mask recommendations and efforts to persuade those reluctant to get vaccinated.

Their ranks of protesters increased, and with this came questions from some whether the group is being funded by foreign organizations or political parties.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher said public officials are targets of public anger over the virus, but he also believes some of the political right is using that anger to gain points.

“It has been a very difficult year; has caused great anxiety and upheaval and insecurity, “he said.” I think some of them are a kind of natural way out of a difficult situation. And some of them are rooted in a political ideology. “

ReOpen San Diego is registered as a non-profit organization with the Secretary of State in California and a 501c3 charity from the IRS. She is not involved in political campaigns, Reichert said, though she personally volunteered in the campaign to remember Governor Gavin Newsom.

Reichert said ReOpen San Diego accepts donations, most ranging from $ 20 to $ 100, but has no corporate or political sponsors nor formal membership.
She has $ 11,000 in her bank account, she said.

“We are not supported by any organization or political party. “No organization has come to fund us anything,” she said.

ReOpen San Diego also does not oppose vaccines per se, Reichert said, but it opposes vaccination requirements at work and school, and to access restaurants and public events.

Reichert said she and her family have received other routine vaccines but have refused to receive COVID-19 vaccines out of concern for possible long-term consequences.

“I’m not anti-vaccine,” Reichert said. “I think we just do not know what we do not know. This is not the same technology as previous vaccines; it is based on mRNA … Decades from now, will we know the long-term implications?”

She also has a deeply personal reason for distrusting medical authorities, she said.

More than 20 years ago, while at work with her first child, she suffered complications but could not do emergency C surgery, she said. Her daughter suffered brain damage and died in her arms days later. Reichert said she went through arbitration against her HMO and spent $ 50,000 before prevailing, but she endured grief to change lives.

Reichert also refuses to disguise mandates, in part because her husband is largely deaf and needs to read his lips. Although she and her family have good reasons for not wearing masks, they get harsh reactions and public outrage, she said.

Some of the protesters at the supervisory board meeting said they not only oppose the masquerade and vaccine requirements, they also reject the science behind them.

Despite the results of many clinical trials and subsequent data on millions of vaccinated individuals, protesters said they believe vaccines are more dangerous than the virus.

When the District Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten presented statistics showing the much higher risk of infection and hospitalization of unvaccinated people, the demonstrators shouted.

Some observers said they sympathize with the protesters’ fears and frustrations about COVID, but they are shocked by their medical misinformation.

“Before I was a supervisor I was a lawyer,” said supervisor Nora Vargas. “Issues can be very personal to people. I understand their passion, but it is very disturbing, the level of their tone where they are now … More than anything it breaks my heart that people are politicizing this issue. I know first-hand people who are not vaccinated and are fighting for their lives in the hospital right now. This is the part that is embarrassing. ”

County Superintendent Jim Desmond, one of two Republican overseers and an opponent of COVID-19 closures, said he welcomes the public contribution, but he is also concerned about anti-vaccine messages.

“I do not agree with some of the members who have questioned the validity of the vaccine, as I stand firm in my support for the vaccine and encourage others to get it,” he said. “I think it’s good to see people on both sides of the argument exercising First Amendment right and talking openly.”

Reichert said she has no problem condemning vaccines, as her group welcomes a variety of views.

“A lot of what people want to say and express, especially on social media, is censored,” Reichert said. “So our message is unity in the essentials and freedom in the non-essentials. I can not control what any individual who agrees with me on the essentials can say, think or believe. I do not want to take on the role of being censored of anyone. “

Sometimes speakers at the county meeting evoked historically repressive regimes including Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the American partition, and South African apartheid in describing the limitations of public health. Prior to the meeting, Reichert ridiculed Fletcher as “the monitor of Hitler’s hall in San Diego County.”

She later defended this, saying she had grown up as a Jew before converting to Christianity and believes anger at people who refuse masks or vaccines presupposes harsher punishments against them.

“I do not like how people throw away Nazi labels because of my Jewish origin,” she said. “But what I have experienced in the last 18 months, I have never expected in my life, that the very oppression that the Jews faced would come to life in San Diego.”

Tammy Gillies, a spokeswoman for the Anti-Defamation League, said rhetoric comparing the Holocaust to a masked mandate is becoming more common across the country.

“It creates a completely inappropriate comparison, which normalizes it,” Gillies said. “There really is no comparison, and we get angry when we hear this. It demonstrates a real lack of understanding and empathy for the suffering and trauma of Jews during and after the Holocaust.”

She said it is part of a trend in which people think their freedom is being violated.

“We really need to go to a place where we get together and not use this divisive language, but find ways to have a really important and bold dialogue with each other,” she said.

Fletcher later said he strongly disagrees with their message, though he supports their right to say it.

“There is an irony when people are expressing their right to free speech to say whatever they want to say – no matter how offensive or untrue or vulgar – to their elected official, to equate him with a regime. “A totalitarian where none of this would be allowed. I honestly think it is disgusting to equate our life-saving actions with the murderous regimes that have massacred millions of people.”