The Orange County Republican Party Central Committee is poised tonight to endorse a school board candidate who has curated a “Holocaust hoax?” YouTube playlist, promoted Islamophobic conspiracy theories on Facebook, referred to African Americans as “colored people” and protested a white privilege workshop alongside alt-right agitators who were scheduled speakers at Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally days later.
My colleague Gabriel San Roman has written extensively about Gracey Van Der Mark, who may hold the distinction of being the only Ocean View School District Board of Trustees candidate to have been shamed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and an incumbent trustee who had appointed the person to an OVSD advisory committee.
According to Chris Nguyen’s Sept. 5 “Live from OC GOP Endorsements Committee Round 5” post, Van Der Mark was the final candidate for various Orange County offices to be interviewed by the panel, whose recommendations were sent on to the full Central Committee for consideration tonight.
Van Der Mark told the recommendation committee that she decided to run “after seeing a lack of transparency when she got on the OVSD bond oversight committee,” according to Nguyen’s notes. That’s a reference to the Measure R Citizens Oversight Committee that the board removed Van Der Mark from on April 24 because of the controversies surrounding her. She was also booted from the Huntington Beach City School
District Measure Q Bond Oversight Committee for the same reasons.
Van Der Mark’s candidate material still lists her roles on the OVSD committee as well as a City of Huntington Beach advisory finance panel. She was not removed from the latter after Councilman Patrick Brenden stood by his appointee, claiming he had conducted an investigation that cleared her name.
What exactly would Brenden have been investigating? As San Roman previously reported, the Van Der Mark controversies date back to the summer of 2017, when she accompanied antisemitic vloggers to the rally outside the white privilege workshop in Santa Monica, where she filmed confrontations and then uploaded the footage to her YouTube channel.
“This meeting was being ran by the elderly Jewish people who were in there,” Van Der Mark wrote in comments with her video that has since been deleted. “The colored people were there doing what the elderly Jewish people instructed them to do.”
Few would have seen her remarks had she not later spoken in support of the Huntington Beach City Council taking legal action against California’s “sanctuary state” laws for undocumented immigrants. The resulting shit storm prompted Van Der Mark to remove her footage from YouTube, but they would live on thanks to the white supremacist channel The Last Stand, as San Roman reported.
Before Brenden announced his decision to stick by Van Der Mark, she offered her own defense at a May 7 council meeting. “I consider myself to be a colored person,” said the woman of Mexican and Ecuadorian descent. “I am not offended by that term.”
Rabbi Peter Levi, the ADL’s Orange County regional director, had sent letters to the city council and the OVSD seeking investigations of Van Der Mark. “There is ample evidence she has made bigoted and hateful comments and that she has participated in activities organized and led by white supremacists,” Levi wrote. “These words and actions call into question her ability to serve as an appointed leader in the Huntington Beach community.”
Meanwhile, Van Der Mark also drew heat for posting on a Three Percenters Facebook group that the U.S. Department of Education was allegedly funding sharia indoctrination in public schools. “Ms. Van Der Mark’s past racist statements about African-Americans, her abject denial of the Holocaust, as well as her Islamophobic stance show that she is squarely qualified for the title of equal-opportunity bigot, but certainly not school board member,” says Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR’s Greater Los Angeles Chapter, in San Roman’s piece. “At a time when biased-driven school bullying is at an all-time high, I hope that voters will send a clear message that bigotry and ignorance have no place in our schools. Our Huntington Beach schools, staff, and children deserve better.”
Among those who agree with that is OVSD Trustee Gina Clayton-Tarvin, who had appointed Van Der Mark to the school district bonds committee before denouncing the rhetoric and calling for her removal. “Gracey Van Der Mark is not the right fit to hold public office, especially one involving young children,” wrote Clayton-Tarvin on her trustee Facebook page. “I implore all voters of OVSD to join me and the Anti-Defamation League in looking deeply into her questionable past and to firmly reject her at the ballot box this November. Our school district does not need an extremist on its board to disrupt the education of our children. ”
But at the GOP recommendation panel meeting on Sept. 5, former OVSD Trustee Debbie Cotton praised Van Der Mark’s work on the bond oversight committee and championed the candidate’s conservative views.
When a GOP committee member asked if there were other Republicans in the OVSD race, Van Der Mark conceded three incumbents are members of the party, but Cotton interjected that they are union-backed and that one reregistered as a Democrat, according to Nguyen’s post.
One GOP committee member, retired Air Force officer Leroy Mills, after blasting Democrats for bullying Republicans as well as a movie about the moon landing that leaves out the planting of the U.S. flag on the lunar surface, made the motion to recommend the Central Committee’s endorsement of Van Der Mark. Laguna Niguel City Councilwoman Laurie Davies seconded the motion, which the committee passed unanimously.
Naturally, there is no mention of the controversies surrounding Van Der Mark on her campaign website, which states that she had and her husband “have had the privilege to raise our six children within the Ocean View School District,” and that she looks forward to being “of assistance in working alongside our OVSD staff on finding a solution to … declining enrollment, low test scores as well as the deficit spending.”
“Our children are our most precious assets as well as our future,” she writes. “I truly believe we can do better to prepare them for bigger and better experiences which lay ahead of them as they move forward from the OVSD.”
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.