Huntington Beach city councilman Patrick Brenden is standing by Gracey Van Der Mark, his embattled finance commission appointee who came under fire last month for racist online comments and even more racist alt-right associations. The Ocean View School District voted to remove Van Der Mark, who called blacks “colored people” in a now-deleted YouTube comments, from a citizens oversight committee after a raucous Apr. 24 board meeting. But after a “thorough” and “time-consuming” investigation where Brenden met with Van Der Mark while weighing both sides of the controversy, the councilman came to an entirely predictable conclusion.
“I find insufficient evidence to support a finding of just cause for removing her from her appointed volunteer position,” said Brenden in a statement released yesterday. “I have complete confidence in Gracey’s ability to fulfill the responsibilities of serving on the Finance Commission and I look forward to her continued service to the community.”
The Anti-Defamation League conducted its own probe into Van Der Mark’s online comments and associations in reaching a far different assessment. “There is ample evidence she has made bigoted and hateful comments and that she has participated in activities organized and led by white supremacists,” Rabbi Peter Levi, ADL’s OC regional director, wrote in a letter delivered to the city council last month. “These words and actions call into question her ability to serve as an appointed leader in the Huntington Beach community.”
In August, Van Der Mark accompanied a group of alt-right extremists to Santa Monica where they sought to crash a “White Privilege and What We Can Do About It” workshop organized by the Committee for Racial Justice. The crew included a roll call of antisemitic agitators the likes of “Johnny Benitez,” Vincent James Foxx, Baked Alaska and Augustus Invictus. The latter two were scheduled speakers at last summer’s infamous white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, an event that Foxx used his The Red Elephants media platform to promote.
Van Der Mark came with camera in hand. She uploaded a series of videos to YouTube from the action and engaged in the comment threads they provoked. “This meeting was being ran by the elderly Jewish people who were in there,” she wrote. “The colored people were there doing what the elderly Jewish people instructed them to do.” Van Der Mark echoed similar statements in another comment claiming “the colored people” were being used as “their muscle.” The ADL immediately recognized those remarks to be classic antisemitic trope where “scheming” Jews are said to manipulate racial tensions in the United States to their benefit, a notion that denies black people agency and undermines their legitimate grievances.
The “colored people” comments aren’t the only online activity Van Der Mark deleted in the controversy. She also scrubbed a YouTube playlist she entitled “Holocaust hoax?” In the playlist, she promoted antisemitic videos from the likes of Arizona pastor Steven Anderson and one even titled “The Greatest Lie Ever Told-The Holocaust.” But the bigotry doesn’t end there. Van Der Mark also promoted links from “Creeping Sharia,” a website whose very name invokes an Islamophobic conspiracy theory–one she saw at work in the nation’s schools. “Our U.S. Department of education is funding a program called Access Islam,” Van Der Mark wrote last year. “It is taught in our public schools to indoctrinate our kids.”
Wanting to quietly handle “GraceyGate,” the Huntington Beach City School District removed Van Der Mark from a citizens oversight committee for Measure Q bonds earlier this month. She originally fulfilled the requirement of being a representative of the OC Taxpayers Association, the group that offered her up for the post. “The superintendent decided it was in the district’s best interests to have her removed because of the allegations,” Jimmy Lambos, administrative assistant to the superintendent, told the Weekly. “We don’t want the distraction of what could come about.”
Van Der Mark’s supporters turned out in dozens to defend their friend during the May 7 Huntington Beach city council meeting. Already removed from two school district panels by then, Van Der Mark took the podium to defend herself. “I consider myself to be a colored person,” she said. “I am not offended by that term.” Van Der Mark is Mexican and Ecuadorian, not black. She affirmed her Islamophobic conspiracies as legitimate points of view and claimed the Holocaust denial videos assembled on her page to simply have been for internet research purposes.
Did Brenden ask for the conclusions of her inquiries? The councilman’s done a little bit of social media scrubbing of his own while digging his head in the sand about Van Der Mark. He once followed the LA Proud Boys Twitter account before suddenly unfollowing them without explanation.
Brenden didn’t respond to the Weekly‘s request for comment regarding his investigation.
Gabriel San Roman is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and tallest Mexican in OC.