Huntington Beach’s City Council majority voted to censure Councilwoman Natalie Moser after she publicly questioned if Gracey Van Der Mark, one of her council colleagues, was a holocaust denier and associated with a hate group.
Mayor Tony Strickland, Councilmembers Pat Burns and Casey McKeon requested the censure after they say Moser publicly questioned Van Der Mark’s qualifications to serve on an ad hoc committee to review and amend the city’s human dignity policy.
The council majority significantly altered the policy, removing explicit condemnations against hate crimes in the city – at a time when hate incidents are on the rise throughout Orange County.
At their Tuesday meeting, a majority of council members narrowly voted to censure Moser.
Councilmembers Rhonda Bolton, Dan Kalmick and Moser walked out of the meeting as the discussion began.
In a joint statement Wednesday, Moser, Bolton and Kalmick said the censure was not about decorum, but to suppress questions from the minority.
“I can look in the mirror and feel confident that I repeatedly stand up for what is right— dignity and safety for all in our community. Asking clarifying questions should not be met with political retaliation and the weaponization of our democracy,” Moser said in the statement.
“This council seeks to dismantle our City and foment chaos and division. They continue to work to make us smaller, weaker, and more divided. They create nothing. They build nothing. They put extremist party level politics over what is actually good for our town.”
Strickland, Burns and McKeon called Moser’s remarks inappropriate, her behavior unacceptable and disruptive in a statement attached to Tuesday’s agenda calling for her censure.
“The decorum needs to improve here at city hall. I support the censure, but at the same time I think all seven of us need to work to improve this decorum on this city council,” Strickland said during Tuesday’s public council meeting.
The council majority also voted on Tuesday to amend the human dignity policy despite some residents criticizing the changes as politicized, homophobic, transphobic and raising concerns that the changes remove explicit condemnations of hate during about five hours of public comment.
“There’s been a lot said tonight about why we hate these people, why we want to alienate them and things like that and it is so far from the truth. My question is what part of everyone isn’t understood,” Burns said. “I don’t like identity politics.”
Bolton, Kalmick and Moser were the dissenting votes.
Resident Carol Dawes said the council majority is enacting measures that make the city less safe and will tarnish its reputation.
“We all know that revising this prior statement has nothing to do with human dignity. It’s all about a political agenda,” Dawes said during Tuesday’s public comment. “Every individual in our city regardless of their gender identity deserves respect, dignity and the right to live without fear or prejudice.”
The new policy removes all mentions of hate – including the definitions of what a hate crime and incident are – as well as adds language recognizing the “genetic differences between male and female.”
It declares that everyone should be treated with respect and courtesy and that the city will “strongly fight” crime that threatens an individual’s freedoms.
The changes come after the Huntington Beach City Council majority earlier this year voted to ban flying the LGBTQ+ Pride flag and a host of other flags on government property.
It also comes after Van Der Mark in June called for limiting children’s access at public libraries to books she called obscene and pornographic. Critics worry the move will result in book bans.
And last month, Van Der Mark and the council majority narrowly voted at their Aug. 1 meeting to disband the human relations committee – which was formed in the 90s to help combat hate incidents and crimes in the city.
Moser raised concerns at that same city council meeting that Van Der Mark has never responded to allegations that she denied the Holocaust – in which Nazis killed and tortured millions of Jews.
Moser also claimed Van Der Mark was associated with the Proud Boys – who Moser described as a hate group.
In 2018, the Anti-Defamation League called for Van Der Mark to be removed from the city’s finance committee after she scrubbed a “Holocaust hoax?” playlist from her YouTube channel and removed comments where she referred to Black people as “colored people.”
Van Der Mark was not removed from the finance commission, but was removed from two committees in Huntington Beach’s local school districts.
Burns played a video of Van Der Mark giving public comment in 2018 defending her use of the word “colored” and arguing that she had videos stored on her YouTube account for research purposes.
“They were saved under the title of the first video with a question mark. I was questioning the content not supporting it. I do not nor have I ever denied the Holocaust, I am not anti-semitic,” she said in 2018. “I consider myself to be a colored person. I am not offended by the term.”
Burns then invoked a quote from Adolf Hitler’s Chief Nazi Propagandist, Joseph Goebbels.
“He used to say ‘tell a lie enough times it becomes the truth,’” he said. “That’s what the effort’s been here to try and discredit (Van Der Mark) as something as nasty as a Nazi.”
Cypress City Councilwoman Frances Marquez, who herself has been censured twice by her colleagues, said Moser was elected by the people and they shouldn’t retaliate against her for doing her job.
“I have been sensely censured in Cypress twice for doing my job, for asking questions, for protecting the residents,” she said. “You’re here to serve the residents. It’s not about any of you. It’s about them.”
Some residents spoke in support of the censure with a couple calling for Moser to be removed from office. Most residents spoke against the censure.
Human Dignity Policy
On Tuesday, city council members also narrowly voted 4-3 to amend the city’s human dignity policy including removal of sections that explicitly states the city condemns hate incidents and hate crimes and provides definitions for both.
Councilmembers Moser, Bolton and Kalmick were the dissenting vote.
The amended policy includes a section that states the community has a responsibility to protect children from physical abuse, sexual grooming, exploitation and emotional abuse.
Another section states that the city will recognize the “genetic differences between male and female.”
“Each sex carries advantages and disadvantages that warrant separation during certain activities (ie. sports),” reads the amended policy.
Moser said the changes “bastardized” the policy, added unnecessary language while removing language concerning and condemning hate incidents and crimes.
She urged the council to change the name if they move forward with it and said it deviates from the policy’s original intention .
“You are erasing trans and non-gender conforming people,” Moser said. “This will be a stain as it is on the history, but it will show up in this time as what this is and it will be corrected in the future if this passes.”
Burns said everyone in the community will be protected by the policy.
“This brings us all together under one umbrella,” he said.
Bolton said that while she wishes she could say everyone is under the same umbrella, it simply isn’t the case.
“We are not all under the same umbrella because you do not ever have to worry about being pulled over for driving while Black or being killed because you’re Black,” Bolton said.
“That’s your opinion,” Burns said.
“That’s my reality,” Bolton responded.
The 2021 version of the policy stated the original policy adopted in 1996 “in response to brutal hate crimes in Huntington Beach resulting in the murder of Vernon Flournoy and attempted murder of George Mondragon by members of white supremacist groups.”
That language was removed from the new policy.
The Anti Defamation League sent a letter to the city calling the amendments dangerous and discriminatory.
“The newly proposed policy is a step in the wrong direction that omits the inclusive language that recognizes the diversity of our community including a person’s actual or perceived disability, gender, gender identity, or gender expression, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation,” reads the letter.
State Senator Dave Min said in a statement Tuesday that members of the Huntington Beach City Council were trying to erode people’s civil liberties at a time when people are under attack because of their race, religion and sexual identity.
OC Human Relations Commission’s annual hate crime report released September shows an 83% increase in hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community in 2021.
Hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community have increased by 2,100% since 2017, according to the commission.
McKeon questioned if a statement condemning hate was even necessary.
“Every rational person condemns hate,” he said. “I don’t think we need a statement to affirm that. I mean, I’d be on board with just removing the original statement and the amended one.”
Moser pointed to the rise in LBGTQ+ hate crimes.
“Apparently,” she said. “Not everyone is reasonable.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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