GELFAND’S WORLD - It's curious that the actions by the government of the City of Los Angeles in 2021 led to the violent 2025 border clashes between the San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Council Alliance and the Coalition of East Hollywood Neighborhoods.
The fact is that by the time of the 2025 outbreaks (up to and including the first shooting incidents), the two sides had gone far beyond their geographic namesakes. But the sides had adopted true hatred not only for each other, but for pretty much every other dogma and doctrine that wasn't their own. And they were willing to back their beliefs up with live rounds.
It is undeniable that the combination of the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court's 5-3-1 decision overturning the original Roe v. Wade decision worked in combination -- in its own peculiar way -- with actions by the City of L.A. that had curious legal and philosophical similarities -- and that these two historical oddities led to the deadly violence we have grown so much to abhor.
It all had to do with the developing precept of local moral control that the Supreme Court decision postulated. But the breakdown in law and order would not have happened had it not also been for the unwitting support of the city government.
Maybe it didn't seem like all that much of a deal at the time. The city government, trying to be helpful, decided that its residents and in particular its workforce suffered what, deep down, they thought of as sin, but from the formal legalistic standpoint categorized as something called "implicit bias."
A word about that term "implicit": Don't we all go through life making assumptions based on broad stereotypes? Some aren't that bad. Here's an example of one kind of bias: A loaf of bread that you see wrapped in clear plastic on the shelf of your local supermarket is more healthy than mold-covered bread that was left on a table in your neighbor's garage for the past two months.
That mold might be pure antibiotic and a cure for norovirus, but most of us are still going to go for the Wonderbread if given a choice. That is definitely a bias, and maybe an implicit bias, although it is questionable whether it is a bad bias.
But these sorts of choices also occur when it comes to racial stereotyping. And that is particularly true when it comes to fear of each other. Whites are more likely to be afraid of non-whites in direct confrontations, and if we are to believe what we have been told in recent news programs, Blacks are more likely to be afraid of the police during a traffic stop than the typical suburban white.
So there we were in 2021. The City Council and the mayor decided that we should tackle the problem head-on by requiring that all city employees would take training in implicit bias. By itself, this might not have been all that bad. After all, city employees get paid for their time, so if they have to put in two hours for one training program or eight hours for three different programs, they will be paid for their time and, in addition, they have unions to protect their interests.
More to the point, the full time employees have gotten used to ignoring such presentations, as you will find out if you ask one about the state mandated ethics training.
For some employees it's even an improvement. You get paid for sitting in a chair rather than patrolling the streets or writing legal briefs or lifting garbage bins.
Still, we are really talking about a kind of brain washing here, because the city wants to teach you that your biases are wrong and you should change your own way of thinking. Where does this leave people who are fully aware of their own biases and want the city to leave their brains unwashed? Do they have a right to privacy in this domain? They found themselves left out to dry by the Supreme Court's decision which, in order to undo Roe v. Wade, had to undo the finding that the Bill of Rights creates an implicit right to privacy. The city and the Supreme Court were, so unfortunately, on the same page in denying personal privacy, whether it be reproductive or theological.
A historical shift
But then the city decided that it could extend its grasp to a whole different set of people -- people who were not getting paid by the city at all. The neighborhood council members totaled just less than two thousand at the time. They didn't do much of consequence --they didn't arrest people or enact taxes. They gave their advice as the City Charter ordained, and basically got used to being ignored when the big-money decisions got made.
So neighborhood council members got added to the groups who were being required as a matter of law to take the indoctrination in implicit bias. Nobody in city government thought about personal rights under the Thirteenth or Fourteenth or First Amendments to the Constitution. (One inventive attorney also applied the "taking" phraseology from the Fifth Amendment, although that was later.)
The neighborhood council members were not represented by a union and were therefore considered helpless by the city fathers in terms of resisting the new requirements. They would make a nice example to teach to the unionized groups who were resisting mandatory vaccination. They made for a perfect exemplary set of victims who could be used to show the authority of those in charge.
They could be forced to undergo indoctrination programs that were intended to teach them where they were morally incorrect in their thinking.
And make no mistake: It was dogmatic thinking that was being forced upon people here. We don't often think of the teaching of civil rights history as dogma. That's because most of the time it isn't. In fact the right wing has misapplied the term "critical race theory" to a wholly different branch of learning -- namely the teaching of American history in a full and accurate way. You know, slavery and the trail of tears and all that.
But in this case, the training was nothing but an imposed, dogmatic, indoctrination program which attempted to convince people that they were racially biased. We know from peoples' personal accounts that they were told they were biased. We know pretty well from accounts of the "test" provided by the so-called experts on implicit bias that their test was itself skewed. I took the Kirwan Institute online test myself, and it didn't take me long to recognize at least one methodological issue that would lead to an incorrect conclusion. (I'll have to leave that to another time, but it all depends on how much weight the testers put on how long you take to give each answer.)
A couple of my friends suggest that we should not take this whole thing seriously. After all, it's only an hour and a half they say. Of course that's just for the first session -- there are two more on the schedule. But time is not the issue. An armed robbery doesn't usually last 90 minutes -- it's more like two minutes -- but it is still a grave imposition. The issue is the level of outrage due to a fundamental violation of one's rights.
But the combined Supreme Court and L.A. City message was a lot more serious than a middling theft of our time.
It was the message that a governmental organization smaller than the United States as a whole could, by itself, impose doctrinal training. Maybe it didn't seem like religious training to those who wrote it and imposed it, but at a deep level it was. It was a class designed to teach us that our very thoughts are bad and must be suppressed. Does this begin to sound like Orwell's 1984?
For a while, the city got away with it. The new doctrine was that local government agencies could require training in their own dogmas. What about doctrinal disputes? Ah, that was the rub. It came down to which side had the majority vote.
And that opened the floodgates to everyone who had an ax to grind, everyone who knew himself to be right and everyone else wrong, everyone who was just a might tetched in the head as they say in places I don't hail from.
The first skirmish began when a close-knit group of three neighborhood councils decided that they would add anti-abortion training to their requirements. It wasn't even a violation of their bylaws. Many neighborhood council bylaws include a provision that their board members have to finish all required trainings in order to participate as board members. Nowhere does it say that the training can't be imposed by the council itself.
Back in the old days, such an imposition would simply have been declared a violation of Roe v. Wade, but the new Supreme Court decision took that argument away. True, there were arguments over laws the state of California had passed in the years following Roe v. Wade, but in the cacophony of the moment, nobody really noticed. The anti-abortion councils answered to their own voices and their own rules.
So for at least some time in that interval beginning in 2022 and continuing to the present day, some neighborhood councils had official anti-abortion positions and required that every newly elected board member sign off on having viewed the requisite number of photos of aborted fetuses.
Perhaps it was the lesson of the anti-abortion councils or perhaps it was just coincidence, but when two councils adopted scientology as their preferred philosophy, things ratcheted up a notch.
I won't go into the Amie Semple McPherson cult which took up in Echo Park, but they took over three neighborhood councils within a few months. Some Las Vegas gambling corporations got their licks in by, in essence, purchasing a few neighborhood councils and pushing a remarkably pure Libertarian line. These guys were against any regulation of any business by any government at all. They had their own training requirements, not all of which involved physical assault.
Had it not been for these cults -- still officially known as neighborhood councils -- the rest of the story would probably have been different, but then that super-conservative Supreme Court reared its head again. Court watchers were surprised (perhaps they shouldn't have been) when Amy Coney Barrett joined in the next big verdict, but there she was, making concealed carry of firearms legal everywhere in the United States for all except a small number of teenagers and school children.
So all of a sudden, California -- once among the leaders in gun control -- was awash in determined cultists carrying guns, and in Los Angeles fully half of them were from the original neighborhood council system.
And that led to the final straw, so to speak. It has always been easy to take over the governing board of a neighborhood council because there aren't that many votes in any one election. The addition of determined cultists carrying firearms tipped the scales even further, so that by the 2024 neighborhood council board selection process, fully one-third of the councils were under the trigger fingers of one form of cult or another.
The amassed fire power of those in control had one final effect on city government. The City Council members found it in their personal interests to raise the annual stipend to each neighborhood council from the previous $42,000 to an even million dollars.
Now there was something really worth fighting for, and that's how the first skirmishes began. It's curious to look back and see that the use of gunfire to develop board majorities was not foreseen at the time that the city imposed doctrinal training, but there it is. The idea of Panorama City developing an army (small, admittedly, but still an army) to march on Northridge wasn't something that the leadership of 2021 would have predicted. But when the neighborhood councils became a part of the pro-gun movement, the City of Los Angeles was forced to reap what it had sown.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)