On December 30, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order that prevented local authorities from clearing San Lorenzo Park of its homeless residents, because the city did not have a safe location to move people to. The ruling was the result of a lawsuit homeless advocates filed against the city, citing Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations that homeless encampments should not be dispersed, and that residents of encampments should be allowed to shelter in place during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Troy Swanner left the violent comments about homeless people beginning on December 30 on a Facebook group post about the homeless camp at San Lorenzo Park. He made the comments following a visit to his store downtown by Melissa Freebairn, who showed him photos she said she took of the homeless camp at San Lorenzo Park. Freebairn, an RN who has worked at the County of Santa Cruz and as a Nurse at Soledad State Prison/Correctional Training Facility (CTF), is a member of the now mostly defunct Santa Cruz Clean Team, a group formed to clean up areas where homeless people camp locally.
One of Freebairn's photos showed a single hypodermic syringe on the ground near the homeless camp in San Lorenzo Park. After viewing the photos, Swanner said he was compelled to visit the park himself. He didn't find any needles, he said, but he did see some orange plastic caps on the ground, the kind that come packed with new syringes to cover the sharp tip. Swanner then posted Freebairn's photo of the syringe dozens of times in various social media groups that were discussing the San Lorenzo Park camp. It was at this time he made the violent comments.
On December 30, Swanner commented that his "plan" was to go to San Lorenzo Park with a "whole bunch" of "local" people to, "make all the people that are living in tents move their tents". (see photo)
Swanner has stated that he is a fourth-generation resident of Santa Cruz. When another commenter said they were born in Salinas but had lived in Santa Cruz for most of their life, Swanner replied, "I definitely don't need to listen to what the f*** you have to say why don't you go back to Salinas." (see photo)
"You're [...] not a local if you come from somewhere else," Swanner told another person online. (see photo)
Swanner commented that he believes most of the homeless people in Santa Cruz aren't from the area and that they should move away if they cannot afford to live locally. About the people sleeping San Lorenzo Park, Swanner said they were "a whole bunch of homeless and transplant kooks from other cities". (see photo)
When a community member commenting on Swanner's Facebook page cited a figure that over 60% of homeless people in Santa Cruz were locals, Swanner attempted to end the conversation by posting photos of garbage at the park taken by Melissa Freebairn. (see photo) The 60% figure is actually an undershoot. The 2019 Santa Cruz County Homeless Census and Survey reported that 74% of local homeless residents were from Santa Cruz County prior to becoming homeless.
When referencing Pack Your Trash, Swanner said, "mainly all we ask is pack your trash and live with a Santa Cruz Spirit," and on another post he said, "only kooks don't pack their trash". (see photos)
On January 20, the federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that prevents the city from clearing the homeless camp at San Lorenzo Park until at least March. The next day, Swanner posted an article about the judge's order to his Facebook page. Vic Swanner, Troy's father commented on the post, saying: "This pisses me off, to lazy to work and trash out areas that are for people to enjoy. I remember when people didn't put up with crap." (see photo)
On the same post, Ryan Koontz commented, "Gotta get locals together and head down there," and when another individual commented that the city needed to supply garbage cans and porta-potties, Ryan Koontz replied, "they do but the trolls destroy them." (see photos)
When Keith McHenry, of Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs, posted in a Santa Cruz nostalgia group on Facebook a set of visually beautiful pictures of San Lorenzo Park and the people camping there, Adam Scott Weissmuller commented "TrollBusters where are you when we need you?" Troy Swanner then "liked" the post. (see photos)
The term Trollbusters refers to the period when "Troll Buster" t-shirts were sold at the Harris Brothers clothing store downtown beginning in 1984. The phrase was used to invoke vigilante action, which corresponded with a rise in violence against local homeless people. Thousands of the t-shirts were sold, and the "troll busting" that was occurring in Santa Cruz was featured in the national news. A dozen people said they had been attacked during this time period, and Santa Cruz Police opened an official file related to troll busting.
The Pack Your Trash sticker was designed in the 1980’s when the Pleasure Point Night Fighters reformed to address issues with litter along the Santa Cruz coastline. The name of the Pleasure Point Night Fighters is sometimes invoked by individuals in the same way Trollbusters has been used to describe vigilante action or as a call for it. Additionally, the depiction of the "Surf Geek" in the Pack Your Trash logo is visually very similar to the image of the person on the Troll Buster shirt. (see photo)
Troy Swanner opened his Live Oak Clothing store downtown in October of 2020. Live Oak is a neighborhood in the unincorporated area of the Eastside of Santa Cruz, quite a distance from the downtown area. The Live Oak Clothing brand uses the acronym "LOC" on its clothing. One of the designs printed on t-shirts by the business shows a skull wearing a cap with LOC on it, positioned above two guns, with the number "5150" spelled out. 5150 refers to the California law code used by authorities to commit individuals who are a danger to themselves (or others) due to signs of mental illness.
Melissa Freebairn has referenced the "Pack Your Trash" phrase many times in online discussions when referencing the camp at San Lorenzo Park. (see photos)
"It didn't used to be like this in a town where Pack your Trash was invented," she said. (see photo)
Freebairn has also specifically referenced the Pleasure Point Night Fighters, stating: "if you grew up on the eastside there were the pleasure point night fighters who maintained order [...] Westside they had their own crew too." (see photo)
"Many of us knew a lot of the local homeless cause it was a much smaller town and the community looked out for them," she said.
"If you stole a bike on the Eastside it got returned with an apology," Freebairn said in another post. (see photo)
When making statements about how she cleaned up areas near the camp at San Lorenzo Park, Freebairn has admitted that at cleaning events she has been "yelled at" by homeless people. (see photo)
Freebairn has also expressed political opinions about the homeless community that verge on right-wing conspiracy theory. About the Ross Camp, a homeless encampment that developed next to Gateway Plaza in Santa Cruz between 2018 and 2019, Freebairn said: "Camp Ross was nothing more than a planned tenants rights movement occupation by outsiders working with Glover and Krohn." (see photo)
Freebairn advocated for vigilante action to shut down the Ross Camp. "Since the City isn't going to shut it down it's time the community step in," Freebairn said. (see photo)
"We need a direct protest and those campers would pack it up," Freebairn said in another post. (see photo)
Freebairn also targeted the advocates providing material support and services to the homeless residents of the Ross Camp, stating: "We are going to have to ramp it up as a community and send these activists packing." (see photo)
"They are actually using our local homeless population for their tenants rights agenda," Freebairn added.
"Laws only apply to those of us who can afford to pay the fines," Freebairn said in another post about the Ross Camp. "They count on us going to work to pay for this camp and all the services for its residents." (see photo)
The Ross Camp was cleared by the authorities in the Spring of 2019, however in November of that year, Freebairn went to the location of Camp Phoenix, a homeless encampment established at the former location of the Ross Camp, and aggressively attempted to block the delivery of a porta-potty homeless advocates were placing at the site. (see photos) Freebairn stood in front of the delivery vehicle and the confrontation was captured on video.
Freebairn has made similar comments about the current situation in San Lorenzo Park, and has called the homeless camp there a "drug" camp. Freebairn intentionally refers to homeless encampments as "drug camps" to discredit their existence. "The community needs to say enough is enough," Freebairn said about the homeless camp in San Lorenzo Park. "Drug dealers don't post up when the community is there," she said. (see photo)
Members of the Santa Cruz Clean Team, past and present, generally push a strong anti-homeless political agenda, and they conduct their clean up events in a manner that is hostile to homeless residents. Freebairn, like other Clean Team members of the past, not only cleans, she takes pictures of the garbage she finds to "educate" the public, in her words.
The Clean Team is probably best known for its harassment of a homeless man that was caught on video at a "clean-up" event the group organized in an area where homeless people camped in 2013, before Freebairn was a member. (see photo)
Melissa's Freebairn's mentor in the Clean Team is Chrissy Brown. "Melissa Grew up in the hood with my daughter," Brown said on social media. Freebairn has said she is teaching her own daughter what Brown taught her. "Gotta train the next generation like we were trained by yours," she said to Brown on social media. (see photos)
In March of 2019, during the time period of the Ross Camp, Brown introduced Freebairn as "a new member of the Clean Team" in the comments section of the Santa Cruz, CA: Keepin' It Real blog. (see photo)
Santa Cruz, CA: Keepin' It Real is a local crime blog whose content is almost exclusively related to nuisance crimes committed by homeless residents. Often referred to as a hate blog, Joe Netro authors it semi-anonymously using the pseudonym "Big Joe 77." Netro is a former prison guard at Soledad State Prison/Correctional Training Facility (CTF), and since meeting Freebairn, the two have collaborated together, producing a podcast on syringe exchange services.
Joe Netro continues to publish the Santa Cruz. CA: Keepin' it Real, despite announcing he moved to West Virginia in September of 2020. In addition to Santa Cruz. CA: Keepin' it Real, Netro now produces a new blog on Facebook titled "Life begins where the county road ends," in which he chronicles life in West Virginia, including details of his new hobby of drawing. In one post, Netro shows a drawing he completed of conservative personality Ann Coulter. (see photo)
Joe Netro has been encouraging his audience to email elected officials Freebairn's pictures of needles, stating he has emailed them himself as well. Recently, Netro has emailed Santa Cruz Chief Andrew Mills multiple times to ask him what his plans to "restore civic order" to the San Lorenzo Park were. Mills responded by telling Netro, "you seem to have some deep emotional issues," and suggested Netro, "get some counseling." (see photo).
Troy Swanner has been sharing Netro's posts on social media. Netro regularly posts photos he scavenges off the internet of garbage left in public by homeless people, and he uses the same tactics Freebairn employs in her advocacy to incite angry reactions from his blog's audience. Netro's blog is also one of the primary locations Freebairn uses to disseminate information.
In January, Freebairn began posting more photos of garbage she said she took during cleanups of the San Lorenzo River. One photo showed a pile of needles Freebairn said she found inside of a plastic bucket at an abandoned homeless encampment on an island in the middle of the river. That encampment was located about a quarter to a half mile away from the homeless camp in San Lorenzo Park. Without making it clear where the photo was taken, Swanner then shared it dozens of times on social media during discussions of the camp at the park.
On February 4, Freebairn organized a cleanup event at San Lorenzo River near the park. In a post created to promote the event on social media, Freebairn also described the intended activity as "Homeless Outreach," however unlike the homeless advocates who work directly with homeless residents on a daily basis in the park, Freebairn's group does not offer food or clothing. (see photo)
When Joe Netro posted a set of the photos taken at Freebairn's February 4 cleanup event to the Santa Cruz, CA: Keepin' it Real Facebook page, one individual made a violent comment on the post.
"People who trash our town need a blatant ass whoopin," said Cody Kincaid, whose Facebook profile states he lives in Tucson, Arizona. (see photo)
Before leaving that remark on Netro's page, Kincaid had also been chatting with Melissa Freebairn about the homeless camp in San Lorenzo Park.
In a social group on Facebook, Kincaid stated: "All the surfer and skater bros should do one of two things: 1 - Remove the pack your trash stickers from their trucks and toolboxes and quit pretending they care about their local community or 2 - Get together and do something about this s***." (see photo)
"If you still have friends here apply the pressure if you can," Freebairn responded to Kincaid. "We need a resurgence of pack your trash in a big way, like all of us that grew up here know," Freebairn added.
In the very early days of the Clean Team, the cleanup events the group organized were attended by a more diverse range of community members, including peace-minded people. Chrissy Brown, however, used the group to push an extreme, anti-homeless agenda.
“We’re pissing off a lot of people—the Mexican Mob, drug dealers and the pro-homeless,” Brown told the Good Times weekly in an article published in March of 2013.
The video of Clean Team members harassing the homeless man was captured at a cleanup event held in May of 2013. Big-wave surfer Ken "Skindog" Collins admitted he was the person poking the homeless man with a trash grabber, and verbally harassing him, as depicted in the video. The incident was brought to the attention of the authorities, who declined to press charges against anyone involved. When pressed years later, Chrissy Brown admitted it was her off camera, who can be heard in the background of the video calling the homeless man a "parasite." (see photos)
Brown has contradicted herself when speaking about the incident. In one post she said the man was "laying in a pile of trash in Carbonera Creek."
"Calling a guy who shot up his arm in front of us a parasite as he lay in a pile of debris falling into Carbonera Creek is a fact," Brown said in another post.
The video tells a different story. It shows there was garbage near the man in his campsite, but not to the extent Brown has stated. The man was camping near the creek, but there wasn't any trash falling into the water. Also, the man was wearing a long-sleeve shirt and was not shooting up drugs.
In an interview from 2013, Santa Cruz Clean Team founder TJ Magallanes, a fourth-generation Santa Cruzan, described how he was kicked out of his own group by members of the anti-homeless public safety group Take Back Santa Cruz. The reason was because he supported local syringe services:
"I don’t know if you know this, but I was kicked out of the Clean Team. The Clean Team was basically taken over by Take Back Santa Cruz, and they kicked me off of my own page. A vocal group member was basically made an admin, and I was kicked off. They had a completely different stance on the needle exchange. You know, I’ve done a massive amount of research when I went to all of these needle meetings. I went to the very first meeting and recorded it, and everyone was fighting and flipping out. There were all of these people that hadn’t done any research, and they were coming up with solutions that absolutely weren’t feasible."
The activities of members of groups like the Santa Cruz Clean Team and Take Back Santa Cruz can be described as a form of Eco Fascism. Wikipedia describes how writers have used the term Eco Fascism: "Some writers have used it to refer to the hypothetical danger of future dystopian governments, which might resort to fascist policies in order to deal with environmental issues," and, "other writers have used it to refer to segments of historical and modern fascist movements that focused on environmental issues."
Author Hilary Moore has written about the subject, and how environmental protection measures can be weaponized against People of Color. Her observations also can be helpful in showing how certain forms of environmentalism can be weaponized against homeless people. Moore states: “If there are calls for clean water, or even protecting an animal in a habitat, often there might be a clue with how racist groups describe what the harm is to that environment." To identify Eco Fascist arguments, Moore suggests individuals ask themselves, “Who is causing the harm? How are they talked about? Is it an oppressed group?" Moore then asks if the solutions presented, "include excluding people or pushing people out, or more military, or more policing, or more surveillance.”
In December of 2020, Melissa Freebairn joined as a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against the Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC) of Santa Cruz County’s syringe exchange program. Beyond the group of plaintiffs in that lawsuit, Freebairn has stated she is not a member of any public safety groups
As for Troy Swanner, it is not known exactly to whom he was referring when he said, "we locals [...] used to beat the s*** out of the homeless."
Swanner's violent comments on social media have not been moderated, and are still visible in the SCCCP - Santa Cruz & Central Coast Politics group on Facebook.