Will the Ojai Pixie Survive?

Here’s a story from me in the Ojai Quarterly about the leading agriculture export from the Ojai Valley, the Pixie tangerine, it’s past, present and (gulp) future.

from Ojai Quarterly fall 2021

For ease of internet access, let me run an easy-to-read-online version of the story that ran in the print magazine, with appropriate linkage, below the fold. As an Ojai historian said to me recently, the future of Ojai will be found in the future of the orchards of the East End. Will they remain orchards, or will they become estates?

Start reading on page 2.

County planning mulls wastewater in Santa Paula

Here’s my Ojai Valley News story published last Friday on a proposal to relaunch the Santa Clara Waste Water plant in Santa Paula that blew up seven years ago. The short version: Santa Paula doesn’t like the idea, and thinks that only because it’s a low-income Latino town is such a waste-handling plant being pushed on it.

By Kit Stolz, Special to the Ojai Valley News

On Nov. 18, 2014, a truck at Santa Clara Waste Water on the outskirts of Santa Paula blew up in the middle of the night, igniting a chemical fire that released a three-mile long toxic cloud, spurring evacuations and shelter-in-place orders.

An explosion at the Santa Clara Waste Water plant in Santa Paula on November 18, 2014.

As a result, then Sheriff Geoff Dean, as director of Disaster Services, proclaimed a local state of emergency, which the Ventura County Board of Supervisors ratified.

Dozens of people were sent to the hospital, two Santa Paula firefighters were left permanently disabled, and nine company employees were in time arrested, indicted, and charged with 71 crimes. They all pled guilty or no contest to a number of charges.

Seven years later, on Nov. 8, a new management group, led by Tom Koziol, CEO of Fontana-based Ri-Nu Services LLC, brought a proposal to expand and reopen the industrial wastewater facility to about 75 people at a community meeting in Santa Paula, hosted by the county of Ventura Planning Division.

The operation of the proposed facility would differ from the previous one in that the waste materials would be hauled off in trucks, up to 500 a week — for a total of 1,000 truck trips — instead of being piped to an Oxnard water-recycling facility. Before the 2014 explosion, the city of Oxnard suspended the company’s use of the pipeline due to what it described as higher-than-allowed levels of radiation from the materials being processed at the facility. The city of Oxnard has also refused to allow waste to be piped to Oxnard’s facility since the explosion.

Koziol, introducing the proposal at the meeting, said the plant had been “completely redesigned” in consultation with risk-management experts, with the details in the plan reviewed by the Planning Division. “We’re here to say that if we operate the facility, we will operate it in the right way,” Koziol said. He said the facility will only handle “nonhazardous waste” and that the hazardous chemicals required for processing the waste will be stored and locked in a separate new building. He showed plans that detailed how the industrial waste stream from oilfi elds (estimated in the proposal to total about 166,000 gallons a day, primarily “oil and gas sludges”) would be separated from septic waste (estimated to total about 41,000 gallons a day).

Koziol added that the expansion of the plant, from 15 employees to 45, would inject $140,000 a month into the local economy.

Koziol also referenced a newspaper article from six years ago about the city of Santa Paula locking its manholes to prevent illegal dumping, following the explosion and shutdown of Santa Clara Waste Water.

“I’ve been in the (wastewater) business for a long time, and if there’s no place for it to go, it’ll always fi nd a home,” he said.

The remark was noted by Dr. Gabino Aguirre, a former Santa Paula mayor, who responded directly to Koziol: “ ‘Waste always finds a home,’ ” he said, quoting Koziol. “That’s such an ugly way to put it. Well, you know what? Not in our house. You say that it’s safe, that it will be operated and handled safely. You say that it’ll bring $140,000 in benefi ts to the community. Take that $140,000 back to your community.”

Aguirre said the Planning Division had not required a full Environmental Impact Report on reopening the shuttered plant, despite its disastrous history, and said that this is another example of the “inadequate oversight” by the Ventura County government.

“We have been targeted. That’s why we have a county jail, that no other community has here,” he said. “That’s why we have a dump out by the end of Santa Clara Valley that no other community in Ventura County has.”

Other speakers echoed the point. Ginger Gherardi, also a former Santa Paula mayor and retired director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission, said that “because we are a low-income, mostly Latino community, we are once again subject to environmental racism, essentially because the county can get away with it. It is a disgrace and should not be allowed to happen.”

Gherardi said that for many years, the city of Oxnard had accepted for treatment the wastewater from the facility via pipeline, but a month before the explosion Oxnard engineers detected “gross beta” radioactivity in the wastewater from the facility. Oxnard issued a “cease and desist” order to the Santa Clara Waste Water facility in October 2014, but the explosion and closure of the facility made moot the question of the toxicity of its waste.

“Should the facility be allowed to reopen, it is unlikely there will be a change in the composition of the waste, but the increased delivery and disposal of waste will be completely reliant on loading in and out of trucks, activities which put the residents and the surrounding area at much greater risk for another toxic accident,” she said.

John Brooks of Oak View said county government staff members had already made up their minds to approve the application and are trying to “sell it” to the community. He read aloud from press releases in 2009 that described the previous business relationship between Ri-Nu Services LLC CEO Koziol and the former Santa Clara Waste Water chairman. “No one in this valley wants this pollution project in their community,” he said, adding, “Is the environmental justice, or injustice, ‘significant,’ ‘less than ‘significant’ or ‘not significant’? You didn’t even analyze it, you don’t care. … Did you vet the applicant at all when he made the application?”

County Planning Director Dave Ward responded near the end of the meeting that the county Planning Division does not vet applicants. Comments on the proposal to reopen the facility will be taken by the Planning Division until 5 p.m. Nov. 30.

“What can’t be cured…

…must be endured,” said Robert Burton about melancholy, back in 1620. It’s considerate and a bit ironic that he should offer such a pithy description for the plight of melancholics and depressives, given that he literally wrote the book on the subject of enduring it, and in a new edition that book is a mere 1382 pages long.

It’s the sort of book that Borges might imagine but never assemble, with a million examples of every sort of melancholia and every sort of cure, many from antiquity. Learned beyond measure. Although difficult to read in long stretches, reliably diverting and provocative in chapters. One could spend a lifetime reading it I suppose, like Shakespeare or Proust, and never come to a final conclusion.

Here’s a lovely 400th birthday reconsideration by Ed Simon in The Millions, called Drizzly November in My Soul. A quote that stuck with me:

“One thing that Burton is clear on was that melancholy wasn’t simply feeling down. To be melancholy isn’t to be “dull, sad, sour, lumpish, ill disposed, solitary, any way moved or displeased,” Burton writes, and that clarification is still helpful. For those blessed with a brain chemistry that doesn’t incline them towards darkness, depression might seem an issue of will power, something that can be fixed with a multivitamin and a treadmill. Reading Burton is a way to remind oneself—even as he maintained erroneous physiological explanations—that depression isn’t a personal failing. And it’s certainly not a sin. McMahon explains that by “reengaging with the classical tradition to treat excessive sadness and melancholia as an aberration or disease—not just the natural effect of original sin—Renaissance medicine opened the way toward thinking about means to cure it.'”

Scientific prophecy in CA: A new kind of heat wave

California stands at “ground zero” in the world of climate change, as the MacArthur grantee/genius Peter Gleick likes to say. This is not good news for forty million or so of us who live here, but for far-sighted scientists, it’s an opportunity. Gleick himself became known when as a graduate student decades ago he wrote a thesis arguing that climate change would threaten the Sierra snowpack, on which California depends for a steady supply of water in the summer.

But Gleick isn’t the only scientific prophet in California today: another is the Russian-born scientist Alexander “Sasha” Gershunov, a researcher at Scripps in La Jolla. In a couple of papers published about a decade ago, Gershunov argued that California was seeing a new kind of heat wave, a “Type II” heat wave. As he wrote in 2012 for the Geophysical Research Letters journal:

“California heat wave activity falls into two distinct types: (1) typically dry daytime heat waves and (2) humid nighttime-accentuated events (Type I and Type II, respectively). The four GCMs [Note: general circulation models of the atmosphere] considered project Type II heat waves to intensify more with climate change than the historically characteristic Type I events, although both types are projected to increase. This trend is already clearly observed and simulated to various degrees over all sub-regions of California.”

To translate a little: in the past, heat in California tended to be dry, even along the coast, and at night, temperatures typically waned, allowing residents to cool down safely. Today we see a new kind of heat wave, the so-called “Type II” heat wave, which more closely resembles the humid heat waves of the East, which don’t cool off quickly at night.

The charts are a little hard to read, but note that the Relative Humidity Index in the future will decline in the deserts, but rise quite sharply along both the southern and northern coasts of California, which historically have cooled off at night.

Now take a look at this LA Times story from a couple of weeks ago, on the new sort of heat wave hitting California.

“When a major heat wave hits Southern California, it begins with a jab — a ridge of high pressure builds over Nevada or Mexico and sweeps into the region, bringing scorching temperatures along with it.

Then comes the right hook: A mass of humid air created by unusually warm ocean water just off the northern coast of Baja California moves in from the southeast. Combined, they deliver a deadly blow, wreaking havoc on heavily populated regions such as Los Angeles County.

“We understand pretty well how and why they form,” said Glynn Hulley, a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who has documented a shift toward hotter, more humid heat waves in urban areas of Southern California since 2000. “It’s almost like the heat waves have changed their personality, shifting to warmer and more humid nighttime events.'”

Here is a drawing of the Type II heating phenomenon:

from graphic reporter Paul Duginski of the LA Times

Podcast interview re: PCT completion: Talk of the Town — Ojai Quarterly

Bret Bradigan, the publisher of Ojai Quarterly and other magazines, talked to yours truly for a Talk of the Town podcast on my completion of the Pacific Crest Trail. I thought this was an illuminating and even entertaining conversation (although I must stop laughing like a crazy person). About an hour long. [use link for podcast]


Mostly we talked about the PCT. Bret expressed some doubts about hiking in the desert, which I understand completely, having grown up around redwood forests. Yes, the harshness of the desert is intimidating. But one of the lessons taught by the PCT is that it is also beautiful, in its own stark way. Spend some time with it and you begin to see how vibrant the desert is with life, even if it’s not the life you know.

This is a tree from a special place on the trail in the Mojave desert, up on a ridge, a half-hidden campsite I stumbled into a few years ago in a place I call Pinyon Point. I Just wanted to give the desert the last word in this visual conversation.

at Pinyon Point

PCT 2021: Rainy Pass to the Northern Terminus

from the top of Cutthroat Pass, where Chris and I took a break — about eight miles from our start at Rainy Pass
a marker indicating the length of the trail to that point,on the long descent from Methow Pass to Brush Creek
the Methow (pronounced Mett-tau) River
from the climb from Brush Creek to Hart’s Pass — this is where I and a hiking buddy named Triple Pepper were knocked off the trail two years ago by a blizzard, and where I strained a calf muscle on this trip in September 2021 — but kept going
It’s a challenging pass, reaching to 7000 feet, but very beautiful, especially at the top
we camped just a couple of miles beyond Harts Pass, on a ridge looking west to the sunset
on the next morning, we were into the high mountains — but too far away (about twenty-five miles) to see into Canada
Rock Pass, where we camped on the fourth night in a cloud
the last thirty miles — over Rock Pass, Woody Pass, Cloudy Pass — feature lots of up and down, lots of clouds, and beauty, beauty, beauty
from the highest point on the trail in Washington state, Lakeview Ridge, at 7146 elevation
This is Hopkins Lake, almost exactly six miles from the US-Canada border. We put up tents here and left our packs and carrying just raingear, water, and snacks, hustled down to the border — as the skies darkened, bringing first a light but persistent rain, and then dark
the moment felt too big — what does one do at arrival after eight years of walking without expectation?
after a rainy night, time to walk back home (to Harts Pass). This steep stretch on the hill is known as the Devil’s Staircase.
This is the northern side of Woody Pass, if memory serves.
Friend Chris Nottoli on the trail up to Rock Pass — sure glad we didn’t have snow on this stretch
the meadow on the descent from Rock Pass was something special — miles and miles of wildflowers (past their season, but still)
Because of covid, we couldn’t exit through Canada, and had (with other thru hikers) to turn around and walk thirty miles back to Harts Pass. This turned out to be a good deal, because we met many wonderful and charming hikers, such as Shake and Captain Obvious here, who met on the Appalachian Trail, and here were just a day or so away from the end of the PCT.
(Because my calf/ankle was hurting pretty bad, for the last five miles I took a side road, that to my surprise took my through a mostly-but-not-completely abandoned mining town, named Barron, where Roy had the sense to call ahead to the ranger’s office, and pass on a message to my buddy Chris, to pick me up at a locked gate on the road at the bottom of the hill (beyond the mining claims). This (below) is Roy.
My rescuer. If he hadn’t radioed a message, Chris would likely have missed me, and it might have been another day to Hart’s Pass.
looking north from the Pasayten Wilderness

Mr Willis Goes to Washington

Not long after the COVID-19 pandemic began, a media attack on masking, epidemiology, and vaccination came in the form of a film called “Plandemic,” made by Ojai resident Mikki Willis, which dropped on May 4th, 2020. Spread by thousands of anti-vax and QAnon followers — according to a follow-up investigation by the Stanford Internet Observatory — the film attained instant popularity. Among its many falsehoods — which have been refuted by Science, NPR, USA Today, among many others — the film planted the conspiracy theory that the COVID-19 outbreak was part of a scheme by Anthony Fauci and others to create a new vaccine.

The film — featuring Willis interviewing discredited former researcher and anti-vax author Judy Mikovits of Oxnard — made Micki Willis nationally famous, but provoked a backlash in Ojai among former friends and associates. Not long after its release Willis left Ojai for Texas, where he lives with his family today. Willis went on to join the mob at the US Capitol on January 6th, and was photographed outside the Capitol Dome amidst a crowd chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” ensuring himself a moment of infamy on Twitter. (Willis insists that he never entered the Capitol building itself, and has not been questioned or arrested by authorities.)

Below the virtual fold is a web version of the story on Willis and “Plandemic” I wrote for Ojai magazine in May (reformatted and updated).

Willis has turned his back on his former progressive causes (such as composting, women’s empowerment, and Bernie Sanders) and now works with the likes of sanctioned right-wing attorney Lin Wood, on the defense of accused murderer Kyle Rittenhouse, among other right-wing media figures.

In April of last year Willis interviewed Judy Mikovits around the release of her book “Plague of Corruption.” In the interview — which Willis amplified unquestioningly — Mikovits claimed she was driven out of science by Anthony Fauci and others. In fact a study she published in 2009 claiming to have found a viral cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was withdrawn under allegations of malfeasance and subsequently renounced by Science magazine. Mikovits was then fired by her employer, the Whittemore Peterson Institute, and arrested in 2011 in Ventura County for allegedly stealing research materials. Mikovits no longer works in the field, but in the last fifteen months has published three popular books railing against vaccination, masking, and Fauci, among other targets.

In “Plandemic,” Willis mostly ignored Mikovits’ false claims about vaccination and instead focused on allegations not found “Plague of Corruption,” such as the false claim that wearing masks against COVID-19 “activates” the virus in the body.

This directorial choice brought “Plandemic” and Willis immediate and enormous fame — and scrutiny. Because “Plandemic” now has been banned from social media and excluded from streaming platforms, Willis said he has had to move his new work to other media outlets and has turned his focus to a new controversies far from Ojai and even California.

Willis said his filmmaking team now works as a “forensic filmmaker” with public footage for the defense team of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old charged with two counts of homicide in a Black Lives Matter protest that took place Aug. 25 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In an appearance in October 2020, Willis said that he also worked on footage of the Covington Catholic School student Nicholas Sandmann, accused of taunting a Native American veteran in a confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18, 2019. From other footage gathered from the scene, Willis’s team made a longer video that he says helped turn the tide of public opinion in Sandmann’s favor.

“We made the video that won the lawsuit against CNN and the Washington Post, and I was no longer the darling of the Left,” Willis said in a videotaped appearance at a Red Pill Expo in Jekyll, Georgia, in October 2020.

In interviews, Willis said that he rejects partisanship and extremism on both sides of the political spectrum, but complained of “the incredible volume of people [in Ojai] who became hateful and unwilling to have a dialogue after “Plandemic.’”

For himself, Willis continues to speak reverently of “sacred” Ojai, but last year moved with his family to Corpus Christi, Texas.


In “Plandemic,” Mikovits claimed that “wearing the mask literally activates your own virus.” In May of 2020, she alleged in an YouTube interview that public health authority Anthony Fauci “basically let this disease spread around the world so he could get glory, fame, and money.” She called for health authorities to lift lockdowns, and in August published a best-selling book against masking.

Despite — or perhaps because of —  the falsehoods, duplicity, and lack of verification, the alarming “Plandemic” film shot to overnight fame. “Plandemic” was released to the Internet on May 4, 2020, and went viral, recording nearly 1.8 million views within three days, according to the Digital Trends online publication. This far outranked other popular web videos released to the web that week, and went on to rack up more than an estimated 7 million views, according to Facebook’s Crowd Tangle research tool. Here’s an image depicting the groups spreading the video.

The spread of Plandemic on Facebook was powered by QAnon, anti-vax, and chemtrails groups, according to CrowdTangle datasets.

Facebook soon took “Plandemic” down.

“Suggesting that wearing a mask can make you sick can lead to imminent harm, so we’re removing the video,” Facebook said in a statement to news outlets on May 7, three days after it achieved explosive popularity and millions of views.

After “Plandemic” was removed from Facebook, where it was most often shared, other social-media sites followed suit, including YouTube and Vimeo. It is not readily found on the Internet by search engine today.

“Plandemic” made Willis nationally famous, but with prominence has come public pressure and a great deal of criticism from former allies in Ojai. Willis continues to defend the film, and maintains an active personal presence on some social media, but in interviews and appearances in recent weeks, he expressed anger toward the so-called mainstream media and mixed feelings about fame.


On Jan. 6., Willis spoke at a “MAGA Health Freedom Event” on the east side of the U.S. Capitol, and joined — with a small film crew in tow — the crowds of Trump partisans from around the country who gathered at the U.S. Capitol. In the aftermath, a five-second cellphone video image of Willis, surrounded by a crowd of protesters chanting “Hang Mike Pence” at the Capitol, was widely circulated on social media and CNN.

Some commentators called on the FBI to arrest him.

After news of Willis’s attendance at the Capitol riots spread on social media around the country, the Kiss the Ground nonprofit organization (a Los Angeles-based 501c3 headquartered in Ojai), severed connections with him in a statement released to Instagram:

“This past weekend, Kiss the Ground was made aware that a member of its extensive advisory council was present at the insurrection at the Nation’s Capitol,” the Jan. 12 statement read. “Upon learning this, we immediately terminated Mikki Willis’ position at the advisory council.

Without equivocation, Kiss the Ground stands firmly on the side of American democracy and condemns the hatred and violence that ensued.”

Despite the furor on Twitter, Willis has not been arrested or charged.

In the aftermath, on Facebook and in interviews, Willis insists that he went “as a journalist” to the Capitol, but never inside. He condemns the violence that took place, and argues in a seven-minute unreleased film that the violent mob assault took place largely on the on the front side of the Capitol, where the Inauguration was held later in January, and not on the back side of the Capitol, which is where Willis joined another large crowd that was marching on the building.

In his speech at the “MAGA Health Freedom Event of the Century” on Jan.6 outside the Capitol, Willis spoke warmly of what he saw at the Capitol, describing it as “the human organism rising up” and “a beautiful thing to see.” He added that he “had done a 180” from his past as “part of the Far Left.”

For some of his critics, such as holistic foods entrepreneur John Roulac, a former Ojai resident and founder of the health food company Nutiva, who worked on a film about hemp with Willis in 2008, “Plandemic” is a part of the problem that the spirituality and wellness movement now has with right-wing conspiracism.

“Millions of Americans and many people I know were “red-pilled” by this conspiracy theory that moved very strongly into the wellness/alternative/New Age world,” he said. “Last spring, I saw this happening and started asking: What is going on? If you talk to these people, you will hear that very powerful people are controlling the financial destiny of the world and we need to push back. Okay, that’s not crazy — until they say the answer is Donald Trump.”

To be “red-pilled” is a reference to a pivotal moment in the hugely popular 1999 movie “The Matrix.” The idea is that an individual is presented with a choice in life: He can take a blue pill and stay in a pleasantly false fantasyland, or take a red pill, and go down the rabbit hole to see the dark truth of a conspiratorial, and often right-wing, perspective.

Roulac wrote an essay on the social media site, Medium, in September critical of Willis and the QAnon movement called “Is the Wellness Movement Being Tainted by QAnon and the New Age Right?” In the essay, Roulac challenged Willis on the subject of “Plandemic” and its anti-masking message.

“He recently released “Plandemic 1” (tens of millions of views), which claims that masks can actually harm you,” Roulac wrote. “It’s like he shouted fire in thousands of crowded theaters across the world. Convincing people to see masks as ineffective and dangerous could contribute to the illness and death of tens of thousands.”

John Roulac, who once worked with Willis, now considers him dangerous to public health.

Willis admitted that he does wear masks on occasion.

“I wear a mask primarily for the protection of other people,” he said, but added that researchers have pointed out issues with mask-wearing and proper fit and cleansing. “I don’t think I’ve seen a single person in this year-long experience not fumbling with their mask in a way that makes it useless and in some cases potentially dangerous,” he said.

For Roulac, the question is bigger than masks or Willis.

“To me, this is really an example of a society in disarray. People are unsure of their own financial future, they’re concerned about the climate crisis, and it’s as if, in response, they’re grasping at bizarre conspiracies,” he said. “Look at Christiane Northrup, a well-known M.D. who has gone full QAnon. This is rampant in the Ojai Valley. And I’m like — really? And so I wrote this article telling people that this isnot a good thing and to watch out. A lot of people got upset with me for saying it, but a lot of friends in Ojai wrote to thank me for speaking up.”


Willis and his Elevate filmmaking collective have a long history in Ojai. Willis rented a large hilltop mansion in Ojai called Glen Muse from retired software engineer Darakshan Farber in the fall of 2010. Impressed by Willis’s “magnetic” personality and his creative spirit, Farber lived for nearly two years at the estate with Willis and up to 15 people at a time from the Elevate collective, he said.

“I was intrigued by his vision and his spiritual approach,” Farber said. “He was a very spiritual guy, no doubt about it. But from what I saw, it was very difficult for them to focus on the business side with all the people and the transition; they were trying to live in this grand place for the sake of the collective.”

Farber said that, over time, he became disillusioned with Willis and asked him to leave. He later sold the estate and traveled overseas. He watched “Plandemic” in Thailand last year and was once again reminded of his time with Willis and the collective. He called the film “hogwash.”

“I have so many spiritual friends who were drawn to Mikki’s personality and his false authenticity,” he said, looking back. “It makes me very sad.”

For Nora Herold, a well-known channeler based in Meiners Oaks, who, like Farber, knew Willis personally, the conspiracism of “Plandemic” threatens the health of the spiritual community of Ojai.

“I think “Plandemic” is disinformation,” she said. “That’s not the same as misinformation, which implies a mistake, and a willingness to own that mistake. Disinformation involves an underlying agenda to promote theories or ideas that run counter to the traditional narrative. These ideas are there for an underlying reason, and that’s often because there’s a financial gain involved.”

Many in Ojai charge that Willis has been motivated in his choices primarily by money, but Herold and a few others see the potential for an even darker agenda. Herold said that QAnon references began to crop up in her work in Ojai in 2017.

“QAnon and COVID denial and anti-mask statements and extreme beliefs about sovereign identity create a split in the spirituality/wellness community,” she said. “The split in our community is reflected in a split in the larger world. I think it’s an ancient wound — a form of unhealed trauma.”

Jack Adam Weber, an author and climate activist in Ojai, said he also sees a connection between the conspiratorial rhetoric of “Plandemic” and the conspiratorial rhetoric of the cultic group known as QAnon.

“For New Agers, conspiratorial thinking is spiritual bypassing,” he wrote in an essay, invoking the idea that among the spiritually-mindedin particular, the pandemic evokes pain, and it’s easier to deny COVID-19 than to deal with that deeply rooted pain.

“Part of the reason for discrediting the pandemic is because the pandemic incites fear,” he said. “If I can’t get rid of the pandemic, let me try to attack the fear.”

In fact, the follow-up to “Plandemic,” called “Plandemic: Indoctrination,” which was released last fall and is still available online, ends with a fierce rejection of the emotion of fear.

Although Farber said he now distrusts Willis and hasn’t seen him in years, he doesn’t know how intentional Willis is in his choices.

“I wonder if Mikki almost unconsciously shifted from a purely spiritual world to this world where he gets more of an audience, more adulation, and more money, but I don’t know.”


Willis still has defenders in Ojai. Among them is Reno Rolle, a longtime resident, who said he has known Willis since 2003 as a filmmaker, neighbor, and family man, and continues to support him and his work. He scoffed at the idea that “Plandemic” could damage Ojai’s spirituality/wellness community.

“If the spirituality of the Ojai community is that fragile, then perhaps there’s a bigger question that needs to be expressed,” he said, adding that he knows Willis did not produce “Plandemic” to make money.

“On the heels of his ‘Plandemic’ project, I was approached by people who specialize in monetizing data because they thought I might be able to get to Mikki,” he said. “They suggested emphatically that if they had access to Mikki’s database, they would market to that database, and they guaranteed seven figures over the course of one week. I know it sounds incredible, but I’ve been in direct-response community marketing and these people are very credible and legitimate. Mikki flatly refused, because he was concerned people would think he had made ‘Plandemic’ for the money.”

Willis said he has not taken any opportunity to profit off the success of “Plandemic.” Looking back on his tumultuous year since making the viral film, Willis now says that his appearance at the Capitol riot was a mistake, perhaps his biggest mistake. However, he denies any involvement with QAnon. He blames the media for conflating his appearance at a rally on health and vaccination issues with support for former President Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign, and rejects the idea that he made “Plandemic” to become rich and famous.

“Consider this — for 30 years I’ve been doing good business in and around Hollywood,” he said. “I had collected a community of supportive investors and established solid connections with all the major distribution platforms, including Netflix and Amazon. Every one of these has gone away. I will never again have a film on a major distribution platform. You don’t make these choices for financial or political gain — I think fame is a curse, particularly in an age where one tweet can leave your entire career ruined.”

Update: This fall Willis will release a book version of “Plandemic,” which he is promoting with QAnon merchandising.


The article appears on page 44 of the Ojai Magazine above in pdf format.

the still-surprising John Lennon

The anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination forty years ago has brought forth a rich crop of rediscovered valedictions from 1980, one notably by Robert Christgau, the dean of rock critics, written on rush deadline for the Village Voice. Read this (as I have for the first time this week) and you understand exactly why they “crucified” him, (as Lennon predicted they would in the bouncy but bitter Beatles song near the end of his time with the band, “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”)

Christ you know it ain’t easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They’re going to crucify me

Christgau wrote of this sad consequence of Lennon’s idealism in his 1980 farewell:

“As my wife said despondently an hour after the assassination: “Why is it always Bobby Kennedy or John Lennon? Why isn’t it Richard Nixon or Paul McCartney?” The fact is obvious enough. Dylan, of course. Jim Morrison, possibly. Neil Young, conceivably. But Paul McCartney? Neil Diamond? Graham Nash? George Harrison? Ringo Starr? Never — because they don’t hold out hope, even if they’d sort of like to be able to. John Lennon held out hope. He imagined, and however quietistic he became he never lost that utopian identification. But when you hold out hope, people get real disappointed if you can’t deliver. You’re famous and they’re not — that’s the crux of your relationship. You command the power they crave — the power to make one’s identity felt in the world, to be known. No matter that the only thing you’re sure it’s good for is room service. No matter that you’re even further from resolving anyone’s perplexities than the next bohemian, artist, or intellectual. You’re denying your most desperate admirers the release they need, and a certain percentage of them will resent or hate you for it. From there, it only takes one to kill.”

That insight remains true, don’t you think? It’s tragic, but it’s also astonishing how creative Lennon was, how much he gave, how much light he shed. This year, in the pandemic, Lennon’s ground-breaking flight from music and fame by choice in the 1970s. choosing to be a “househusband” became — says Rolling Stone — more timely than ever. In a best of the pandemic records for this year list they extoll Lennon’s first solo record.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was released nearly 50 years ago, but with songs like “Working Class Hero,” “Mother,” and “God,” it’s remained more relevant than ever. “Isolation” is particularly fitting, and not just for its obvious title. It’s a song about Lennon shedding his Beatles skin and revealing himself for the first time, while admitting that he and Yoko are just like everyone else — afraid of being alone and trying to make the world a better place. Celebrities can wallow in their wealth and sing “Imagine” all they want, but it’s “Isolation” that truly captures this horrifying moment. ” —A. Martoccio

As he sang:

People say we got it made
Don't they know we're so afraid

Up until the very end of his life he remained capable of surprising us, and even perhaps of surprising himself. I was pleasantly shocked and thoroughly charmed to read in a last interview with the New York Times Lennon rhapsodize about the younger self he rediscovered out walking:

“There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. That’s what I learned in the last five years. I rediscovered [in Hong Kong], the feeling I used to have as a youngster, walking in the mountains of Scotland with an auntie. You know, you’re walking [gestures fast] and the ground starts going beneath you, and the heather, and the clouds moving above you, and you think, Ah, this is the feeling they’re always talking about, the one that makes you paint or put it into poetry because you can’t describe it any other way. I recognized that that feeling had been with me all my life. The feeling was with me before the Beatles.

So this period was to re-establish me, as me, for myself. That’s why I’m free of the Beatles. Because I took time to free myself, mentally, from it, and look at what it is. And now I know. So here I am, right? It’s beautiful, you know. It’s just like walking those hills.”

from the cover of the 1998 box set of Lennon solo recordings

Amen John. Miss you still.

180k farmworkers sickened w/Covid

According to this excellent and short WSJ video feature, 180k farmworkers this year have tested positive for COVID-19, and some of them have died. Here’s a story from Santa Maria in Santa Barbara county about a group of 250 or so such guestworkers living in crowded conditionsin a motel…and interviews with two who contracted the virus.