Image of Darrell Issa in video labeled “A message from Q,” the supposed leader of the far-right QAnon conspiracy cult.

A video attributed to “Q” calls Darrell Issa someone who protects child abusers and opposes President Trump. It urges a vote for a founder of the Defend East County private group on Facebook.

The video, posted Oct. 26 on Vimeo, apparently played a role Saturday in Facebook shutting down DEC, as it’s called, according to a person involved in alerting Facebook.

The controversial group was created in the wake of the La Mesa riots in May.

The video ends with the repeated suggestion to “write in” Justin Haskins, a DEC founder, presumably for the 50th Congressional District race in East County that includes Issa. Haskins’ group reached 22,000 members, and he now posts via at least one other group — DEC Conservatives, which includes a DEC logo but lists only 889 members.

Justin Haskins of Defend East County says: “Maybe there are racist people that come out and help us defend, but there’s also a very diverse group of people. We welcome everybody.” Image via Facebook

“Fascistbook shut Defend East County down,” said a Haskins post before 11 a.m. Saturday.

A source familiar with DEC told Times of San Diego: “The original DEC 20k member group is gone but they still have Working Class Patriots, Defend San Diego, Choir Boys, DEC Conservatives.”

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did Haskins.

The San Diego Union-Tribune on Saturday night reported that the group was back online, but it was off again by 8:30 p.m.

The U-T quoted East County activist John Sepulvado as saying a coordinated campaign, including women behind the East County BIPOC Coalition, spurred Facebook to shut the group.

Sepulvado later told Times of San Diego: “The women of color who drove this [shutdown] campaign will be the unsung heroes. They don’t want to be named because of fear of retribution, which shows just how brave they are.”

He added via Facebook messaging: “They stood up when others turned a blind eye. They will be heard by being peaceful, organized and tough as nails.”

Screenshots of DEC posts threatening violence against women also were shared with Facebook, said one participant in the campaign to take DEC off the social media platform.

“Activated podcast and BIPOC East County women did a phenomenal job in capturing records of alleged assault and harassment,” the source told Times of San Diego.

Screen shot from Vimeo video urged viewers to “write in Q supporter Justin Haskins.

One of the people flagging DEC to Facebook knows several members of Facebook’s white nationalist security team, Times of San Diego was told.

Defend East County was the subject of several media investigations, especially one Aug. 16 by U-T reporter Andrew Dyer headlined “Racism, QAnon and ‘cold civil war: Inside the 20,000-strong Defend East County Facebook group.”

The day before another La Mesa protest Aug. 1, El Cajon resident Haskins told members in a video: “We have to defend our way of life and the things that we value.”

More recently, 50th Congressional District candidates Issa and Ammar Campa-Najjar were hammered for appearing (separately) on the DEC group being interviewed by Haskins, who also goes by Justin N Bama. Campa-Najjar issued an apology amid a firestorm of Democratic criticism.

In a video apparently made Oct. 9, Haskins showed himself being interviewed by NBC San Diego inquiring about Defend East County and any connections with militias like the one in Michigan that allegedly plotted the kidnapping of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Haskins denied that DEC endorses “any kind of vigilantism or attacks on anybody.” Talking into his phone at Jimmy’s Restaurant and Bar in Santee, he denounced racism “as the accusations continue to roll down.”

He said he and other moderators were trying to “take this group in a positive direction.”

“As our group grows, our influence grows,” he said, citing interviews with others, including Santee City Council candidates. “We need to keep growing. Invite your friends. Invite your family.” (He said in the video that county supervisor candidate Joel Anderson had agreed to a live interview.)

But he acknowledged delays in joining the group, since it was vetting potential members more carefully. He said thousands of would-be DEC members were blocked.

Mike Forzano — a former DEC member and now a harsh critic — posted a statement to YouTube on Thursday alleging that Haskins threatened Forzano’s wife, father and stepmother, including use of “fake documents.”

“You are everything that a patriot is not,” Forzano said in an expletive-filled 8-minute rant. “Justin, if you’re any kind of real man, you’ll step up and not step out. Hide behind your keyboard in your precious little DEC business.”

He called Haskins a dry snitch, “which means he snitches on everybody without using their name. And then law enforcement gets involved.”

“You like to ruin people’s lives,” Forzano went on. “You like to get in the middle of their business. You like to sabotage every situation and then blame everybody else. You say that I’m back on drugs? How dare you. …  I haven’t done drugs since I was 16. I was an alcoholic.”

The “dry snitching” might be a reference to when Haskins told Artie Ojeda of NBC that an early member of DEC wanted to transform it into a militia. But Haskins says he kicked out that member, who created his own militia.

Forzano took that to be a reference to his Team Exile group, also called Exiled Patriots on Facebook.

“Big fat dry snitch,” Forzano said in a comment. “He’s out there claiming he’s gonna make up paperwork — he can’t come at me with nothing. Keep sending pictures to the news station. He keeps talking to the cops. That’s why he didn’t share on DEC. Don’t want 20,000 people to know what a snitch you are.”

Updated at 1:08 p.m. Nov. 1, 2020

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