In a seemingly long gone era – before the Trump presidency, and Covid, and the 2020 election – Doni Chamberlain would get the occasional call from a displeased reader who had taken issue with one of her columns. They would sometimes call her stupid and use profanities. Today, when people don’t like her pieces, Chamberlain said, they tell her she’s a communist who doesn’t deserve to live. One local conservative radio host said she should be hanged. Chamberlain, 66, has worked as a journalist in Shasta county, California, for nearly 30 years. Never before in this far northern California outpost has she witnessed such open hostility towards the press. She has learned to take precautions. No meeting sources in public. She livestreams rowdy events where the crowd is less than friendly and doesn’t walk to her car without scanning the street. Sometimes, restraining orders can be necessary tools.
These practices have become crucial in the last three years, she said, as she’s documented the county’s shift to the far right and the rise of an ultraconservative coalition into the area’s highest office. Shasta, Chamberlain said, is in the midst of a “perfect storm” as different hard-right factions have joined together to form a powerful political force with outside funding and publicity from fringe figures. The new majority, backed by militia members, anti-vaxxers, election deniers and residents who have long felt forgotten by governments in Sacramento and Washington, has fired the county health officer and done away with the region’s voting system. Politically moderate public officials have faced bullying, intimidation and threats of violence. County meetings have turned into hours-long shouting matches. Chamberlain and her team at A News Cafe, the news site she runs, have covered it all. Her writing has made her a public enemy of the conservative crowd intent on remaking the county. Far-right leaders have confronted her at rallies and public meetings, mocking and berating her. At a militia-organized protest in 2021, the crowd screamed insults.