By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In that year’s special election, Gilchrist took 15 percent of the vote, surprising everyone and forcing Republican state Senator John Campbell into a runoff. Shortly before the election, Gilchrist recast himself as a “rock-ribbed Reagan Republican” who happened to want to quintuple federal spending on border protection. The man who that March had spoken with undisguised dread about the Iraq war already having become “Vietnam all over again,” nine months later told the audience of KFI’s The John and Ken Show that he was “lockstep with the president in his handling of the war in Iraq.” But the new costume pinched, and snagged, and occasionally fell off completely.
In a June 2005 interview with a progressive webzine called the Orange County Organizer, Gilchrist admitted that he voted for Green Party candidate Peter Camejo in the 2003 recall election because he liked the idea of taxing the rich, and said that the 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization were “the greatest thing I ever saw.” Gilchrist initially opined that as many as 22 million Mexicans should be deported on “buses and airplanes. And Amtrak.” But after a few minutes of persistent questioning, he agreed that immigrants who had lived in the U.S. for decades should be allowed to stay: “Half the time I say yes — repatriate. The other half I say no.”
Confronted about these comments, Gilchrist later obediently backed off, and slammed the Greens as murderous “domestic terrorists.” At a Minuteman rally on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento — at which, according to The Sacramento Bee, about 200 Minutemen showed up, and three times as many counterprotesters, among them Peter Camejo — Gilchrist displayed a less avuncular side, and said of his opponents on the left, “Their goal is not our domestic tranquility, it is our destruction. If it’s a war the anarchists want, then damn it, it will start here.”
Despite attempts to re-entrench himself in the hearts of his flag-wrapped drive-time followers, Gilchrist had a hard time staying focused. Any semiforceful interviewer could get him to say just about whatever they wanted. Inside of a few minutes, conservative talk-radio giant Hugh Hewitt once had him both supporting and opposing gay marriage. When Hewitt confronted him about his earlier claims that multinational corporations pose a threat to American sovereignty, the candidate, slick as 20-grade sandpaper, replied, “They could be. Who knows? What do you think?”
His congressional campaign came to a close one December 2005 evening at the Lake Forest Italian restaurant at which Gilchrist held his election-night party. Chris Simcox was there, and 50 or so supporters stood around drinking beer and eating calamari. All the votes had not yet been counted, but it wasn’t looking good. Gilchrist was upbeat nonetheless. (He ultimately took 25 percent of the vote and finished third.) “Where we’re at now, I thought it would take four to five years to get to,” he said.
An aide whispered in his ear that a supporter wanted to snap a photo. Gilchrist obliged, and held up a flimsily laminated, sepia-toned photo of Ronald Reagan grinning, both thumbs in the air. Gilchrist raised his thumbs in mimicry, and flashed a manic smile. His supporters cheered appreciatively. They had the leader they deserved. And now he is gone.