Local politics continued its ugly hard right turn last month as extremists gunned it for Fresno Unified School Board Trustee Veva Islas. Behind the wheel of the busload of anti-vaxxers who skipped their Wednesday night prayer meetings to crowd both February board meetings was GV Wire, the public relations and campaign communications arm of Granville Homes, led by brothers Darius and Farid Assemi.
Islas, the first-term school board member from the McLane area, is up for reelection in November; there is no primary race, so she’s their latest political target. In addition to serving as the CEO of Cultiva la Salud, the nonprofit Islas created more than two decades ago, for the past 18 months she has been at the core of the COVID-19 Equity Project.
A small coalition of health advocates created the response effort when local government leaders were still in denial about the pandemic’s severity. Islas now oversees dozens of health educators hired and trained directly from the communities in which they now educate and warn residents.
A teasing tweet from Islas in February in which she joked about the “win-win” outcome of temporary sterility among anti-vaxxers who contract Covid-19 “raised some eyebrows around town,” according to the lede in an agitprop piece by GV Wire staffer Nancy Price, a former Fresno Bee employee. Those eyebrows presumably belong to her current employer, Darius Assemi, because the story lacked a legitimate source.
The surprising connection between the Assemis and the local fascist movement with direct connections to the Jan. 6 Insurrection is found, of course, on Facebook. There, as part of GV Wire, Darius Assemi co-hosts a weekly online talk show with Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau and Fresno City Council Member Mike Karbassi called Unfiltered.
Brandau came directly out of the anti-Obama Tea Party movement of a decade ago and is strongly supported by local fascists, as reported in the March 2019 issue of the Community Alliance. Karbassi, like Brandau, came into office largely due to Assemi’s backing and enjoys cycling in matching outfits with his political patron, presumably a preelection gift.
Their appropriately titled show is filled with inappropriate talk. Assemi, Brandau and Karbassi regularly platform fascist speakers, who then return the favor by using GV Wire articles to stir up their followers’ anger and donations in the clickbait churn of political televangelism used by right-wing provocateurs to raise funds.
The first wave came at Islas and the school board the same week that the Republican National Committee declared the Insurrection “legitimate political discourse.” The Feb. 2 school board meeting opened with a 30-minute public comment period filled with vitriol, misinformation and slurs aimed at “vicious Veva.”
The hostile display was interrupted briefly when Facebook fascist organizer Josh Fulfer left the media box to film advocate Gloria Hernandez in her seat; his camera’s tripod bumped into someone standing in the aisle waiting to speak, and voices were raised. Fulfer then spent the remainder of the evening complaining online that police were not charging the man he bumped with assault.
Public comment reopened briefly at the end of the evening, but the meeting was adjourned when Bullard area trustee Terry Slatic proved unable to take criticism as Islas had and disrupted the meeting after just two speakers. A dozen or more anti-vaxxers then waited at both ends of the elevator at Fresno Unified’s downtown administration building to harass Islas on her way out, but she and a larger group of supporters peacefully exited by a side door.
Two weeks later, it was a much different scene when the fascist network successfully turned out more ministers’ flocks to fill the room, only to find no opposing groups present; a lot of security, including metal wanding to enter; and a restructured agenda placing public comment at the end of the meeting. The gathered then enjoyed two full hours of waiting while getting a useful reminder of the complexities of governance. It was an effective set of de-escalation moves.
First They Came for Immigrants, Unhoused, LGBTQ+, Women and Islas
Local law enforcement has been at the frontline of fascist actions against the general public, beginning with resigning Sheriff Margaret Mims’ unconstitutional handling of immigrants detained by her deputies, followed by the Fresno Police Department’s continuing assault on unhoused people. Ongoing social media reports from the streets by Dez Martinez and the We Are Not Invisible Coalition show private security firms are now taking extrajudicial actions on behalf of the city.
The contours of such a coordinated Christofascism campaign operating under the color of law emerged shortly after Jerry Dyer took office as mayor just a year ago. National Lawyers Guild–Fresno Chapter member Mariah Thompson wrote in the Fresno Bee in April: “Journalists are being duped as part of a well-oiled public relations campaign to create a platform for hate groups such as the Proud Boys to get air time, recruit new members and slowly move extremism closer to the mainstream.”
In early February, Dyer led an anti-abortion rally on the steps of City Hall alongside City Council Member Garry Bredefeld. Dyer’s biggest political backer is Darius Assemi, president of Granville Homes and a past California Transportation Commission member. In 2018, the Assemi network spent nearly $200,000 in a failed attempt to block the Measure P for Parks sales tax with Dyer as their lead spokesperson.
The Assemi family, their companies and their employees contributed more than $200,000 to local races in Fresno County alone in the 2019–20 election cycle, not including statehouse races or other counties. They use GV Wire to create headlines for political attack ads against politicians unwilling to sign onto their agenda for publicly subsidized sprawl. The Save the Tower Theatre Demonstration Committee officially declared them unwelcome last April:
“The STTDC does not regard GV Wire as a legitimate news organization when they continue to platform violent hate groups. We removed GV Wire from our media list when they profiled the leader of the local Proud Boys last week, and we are greatly disappointed in leaders of our community willing to appear alongside PBs on Unfiltered, thus assisting in the legitimization of this hate group in the broader media.”