Concerned that some could get the wrong impression of the Cowboy Capital, a few dozen people gathered here Monday in a rally to promote unity, diversity and inclusion.
The name Nathan Damigo was not spoken. But his involvement as a white nationalist organizer of the Aug. 12 alt-right rally that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va., prompted Monday’s rally in his adopted home town.
“There is some man out there who has a post office box that says Oakdale. He’s angry and he’s hateful and I don’t know what’s wrong with him, but he is not Oakdale. We are Oakdale,” said Mayor Pat Paul.
(Nathan Damigo) was not born and raised here. He didn’t go to our schools. ... We are caring, good people.
Pat Paul, Oakdale mayor
The rally came a few hours after some students down the road at Stanislaus State University, in Turlock, loudly shouted down the university president, forcing a slight delay in her annual back-to-school address to an audience of mostly faculty. A poster demanded that Damigo, a social studies student, be expelled.
The Charlottesville tragedy – 32-year-old Helen Heyer was killed when a white nationalist allegedly drove into a crowd of counter protesters – sparked days of national outrage, accelerating removal of hundreds of symbols of oppression throughout the United States. California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León on Monday announced a series of legislative hearings to explore the rise of white supremacy throughout the state, The Sacramento Bee reported.
Alejandro Romo Carrillo said he helped organize Monday’s rally because “recently, Oakdale has made headlines for the wrong reasons.” He recruited representatives of City Hall, schools, law enforcement and clergy to help put Oakdale’s better foot forward.
“Citizens of Oakdale should not live in fear. Let’s promote peace and unity in our town,” said Nelly Paredes-Walsborn, who has spent 30 years helping immigrants qualify for citizenship.
Recent national news reports about Oakdale have cast a pall on our fine community and its citizens. I ask that our city officials now rise to the occasion and stand against racism and hatred.
Kathy Peixoto Lemos, Oakdale
Kathy Peixoto Lemos said, “Recent news reports have cast a pall on this fine community. I ask that city officials rise and stand against racism and hatred. To remain silent would be to concede.”
After the rally, she and Carrillo entered the City Council chamber and formally requested that leaders adopt a resolution denouncing “bigotry and hate-based violence of all kinds.” The council is expected to consider the action in a couple of weeks.
The Rev. Misael Avila of St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church in Riverbank said he asked parishioners to make a similar show Tuesday before the Riverbank City Council. Avila wants police to decline to cooperate with immigration officials unless a suspect has committed a serious crime.
“We really need to show that we come together to denounce hatred and racism,” Avila said Tuesday.
I do not want citizens of Oakdale to feel the way an immigrant feels when they’re undocumented – afraid of going out, afraid of talking, afraid of doing anything. I don’t want my neighbors and students and friends to live in fear.
Nelly Paredes-Walsborn, Oakdale
Damigo was raised in the Bay Area and later moved to rural Oakdale, outside the city limit. He has not responded to requests for comment.
He was arrested in Virginia for refusing a police order to leave a park where white nationalists hoped to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, and he posted a video on his Twitter feed reveling in “national attention” to the incident.
Damigo had prompted headlines in April for flooring a young woman with a blow to the face during a Berkeley melee caught on video that went viral. He is the founder of Identity Evropa, a group registered to his Oakdale address proclaiming superiority of European heritage.
Identity Evropa is one of 917 “hate groups” listed on an interactive “Hate Map” run by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Entertainer George Clooney and his wife, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, cited Charlottesville violence when announcing on Tuesday a $1 million gift to the center.
Although the area has suffered some negative publicity, “Conflict gets people to come together, motivates people to have greater discussions,” Riverbank schools Superintendent Daryl Camp told Monday’s crowd.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390