Visitors bring turbulent politics to local meetings

ESCANABA — A frequent complaint at Delta County Commission meetings is that the county has become infamous for wild meetings, turbulent politics, and questionably-legal decisions. Last week, that reputation may have come back to haunt the area, as multiple personalities traveled long distances to make claims of tyranny and corruption at the hands of local police and other public officials.

“I’ve been the special guest speaker at many different areas over Lower Michigan, Upper Michigan, (and) been in dozens of different counties. One of the biggest problems I’m having is I’m there for one reason and the one thing I get bombarded with is the chaos, the hate, and the falling apart of this county every single time,” Upper Michigan Gun Owners Association President Brian Godfrey told the Delta County Board of Commissioners on Oct. 17, adding that the county was the “laughing stock of Michigan.”

Godfrey’s comment came not long after two YouTubers and “First Amendment auditors” stirred up the audience by criticizing police and Delta County Prosecutor Lauren Wickman.

“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Chili DeCastro. I have a very famous YouTube Channel called ‘Delete Lawz.’ I’m here specifically because of the tyrannical behavior of the prosecutor in this county,” said DeCastro, who filmed himself while speaking.

DeCastro told the commission and the audience that he was planning to file a $50,000 federal civil rights lawsuit against the county because Delta County resident and fellow YouTuber Garrett Van Nett was being charged with a felony for filming the police.

“What’s his felony crime? There it is. This is his felony crime. That’s why I came here from Southern California. You can’t charge a man with a felony, looking at a year in prison, for holding a camera,” said DeCastro, motioning to Van Nett who was also filming.

Van Nett, who has a three-day trial scheduled for December for felony obstruction of justice, posted bodycam footage of his arrest on his own YouTube channel. In that video, Van Nett approaches and films officers who have stopped another vehicle for an out headlight.

He is repeatedly told to back away, return to his vehicle, or stay where he is, but continues to approach and refuses to follow other orders. Over the course of his arrest swears at officers and repeatedly calls the homophobic slurs.

DeCastro, who sells pamphlets containing scripts for his followers to use during traffic stops and whose website includes a proposal for a Netflix series, said Wickman was a “tyrant” who “colluded” with officers to arrest Van Nett and claimed other local police had stalked Van Nett for filming them. He said he had no respect for police and referred to them with the acronym JBTP, a reference to “Jack Boot Thug Pigs,” a phrase he often uses on his channel.

DeCastro’s comments upset many in the audience, and the ruckus caused by his presence continued outside the Delta County Service Center even after the meeting had ended.

DeCastro later used footage taken during and after the meeting as the basis of a nearly-three-hour livestream Friday night, during which he added commentary to the video and encouraged people to purchase his products.

Thursday’s Escanaba City Council meeting had its own out-of-town visitor claiming wide-scale corruption. Scott Aughney, a self-described “independent election investigator and whistleblower” from Lioni Township, Mich., attended the meeting to present a 55-page appeal to a Freedom of Information Act request’s denial for the city’s electronic poll book raw data file.

“There is a culture of lawlessness in the Michigan Bureau of Elections and they’re directing this man and other clerks like him to break the law,” said Aughney, motioning towards City Clerk Phil DeMay.

Aughney told the council he was with Citizens for Electoral Justice, and that he was part of ongoing investigations in 20 counties across the state related to electronic voter records.

He said law enforcement was involved with his investigation into Escanaba and indicated he would be filing complaints with the Delta County Sheriff’s Office about other communities within the county.

Aughney has been active with Election Integrity Force, an election-denying group that claims mass inaccuracies in the Michigan Qualified Voter File. The group filed a lawsuit in September of 2022 to decertify the 2020 presidential election. It also requested a recount of Proposal 2 and Proposal 3 of 2022, which addressed voting and abortion rights, respectively. The recounts reaffirmed the previous results for both proposals.As an individual, Aughney ran for U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, 2012 and 2014 as a member of the U.S. Taxpayers Party, but more recently has been associated with the Republic Party. He ran for chair of the Michigan Republican Party earlier this year after failing to secure a seat on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners in 2022.


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