A Conspiracy So Vast

Last week, we reported that Julie Mandrake died of pneumonia in Arizona on May 10. The day after that article appeared, we received a fax titled "OC Weekly Mocked by Conservatives." The fax claimed Mandrake and the Darnel Squad—a group she purportedly founded to eschew shaving, cosmetics, antiperspirant, deodorant soaps and daily showering—did not exist. The letter's author, "longtime conservative activist" Jim Bieber of Costa Mesa, maintained he and his cohorts orchestrated more than a year's worth of phony phone calls, press releases and letters to the Weekly to string the sting along.

But the hoax is not that some conservatives put one over on the Weekly, which itself has created a fake band, conservative gadfly and GOP volunteer when it suited our twisted needs. No, the real hoax is that some conservatives are now claiming Julie and the Darnels are a work of fiction. Clockwork has irrefutable proof that Julie Irene Pappas Mandrake did indeed live—and then die—and that the Darnel Squad has been kooking it up in OC for years.


It would be just like a longtime conservative activist with an admitted grudge against the Weekly to try to busy us with this faux-Mandrake business to keep us from informing Orange County readers of stuff that's really important—shit like new studies showing that while between 63 percent and 87 percent of former welfare recipients have found jobs since the Right-led death of welfare in '96, few have earned enough to lift themselves out of poverty. So to keep us busy, Bieber exercises his Weekly hatred to produce a non-hoax hoax, which is no doubt tearing at the hearts of Mandrake's grieving mother, Kathy DeWine of Huntington Beach, and half-sister, Beverly Spon of Costa Mesa. I can still recall Spon's gentle words: "My mother did not really agree with Julie, but she loved her." And conservatives champion "family values." Sheesh.

To say that Julie and the Darnels were a prank would be to say that the meeting announcements they sent to the Weekly, the poem Mandrake submitted to the Weekly's poetry contest, and the phone call squad member Rose Shuster made to poetry-contest organizer Victor D. Infante on the night the Weekly's contest winners read at a Laguna Beach coffeehouse (the expletive-laced one in which she referred to Infante as a "vulgar little man" and hoped he'd "rot in hell") were all false. As one staffer who orchestrates real hoaxes noted, "We wrote about a group of nuts that submitted bad poetry. But a group of nuts did submit bad poetry. Where's the hoax?"


Indeed, if this were a proper hoax, then those photos—those gloriously hideous images—of Mandrake would be fakes, too. Indeed, in his letter, Bieber claims those Kodak moments are of his wife, OC Supervisor Chuck Smith's executive assistant, Kellie Bieber. Puh-leeze! What woman on Earth is so self-assured—what marriage so strong—that she'd allow her husband to photograph her in such a way? No, you can't hoax that kind of ugly. As one Weekling observed: "If it looks like a pig and photographs like a pig, it's a pig."

If someone who looks like that didn't start a Darnel Squad, she should.

Does anyone really believe a longtime conservative activist could orchestrate something so beautiful as this? Then how come Pat Buchanan isn't in the White House? How come Bob Dornan isn't in Congress? How come the guy Bieber used to work for—foul-mouthed, bird-flipping, aide-harassing ex-Assemblyman Mickey Conroy—isn't a county supervisor?


Clearly, the Weekly didn't seek out the Darnel Squad; they continually contacted us. We never made fun of their message, just the creepy way in which it was delivered, including slightly veiled threats of violence that would freak out Charlton Heston. Yet, as Bieber noted in his letter, when we received word of Mandrake's death, we sent condolences to her family and sought information for an obituary. Does anyone really believe the Weekly is that compassionate?

Hell, if you believe that, you'd believe a Jewish billionaire developer/pet-product czar in New York City would open an alternative weekly newspaper in Orange County, California. Gimme a break.

 
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