Days after Donald Trump was inaugurated President of the United States I received this email, and it put me on the path of waking up to how I was codependent with people who demonstrate intense narcissistic behavior.
Soon after moving to California in April 2012, I joined a grassroots group called the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) and became a senior leader/campaign manager in this organization before leaving. The RPA is known as a, "model" in grassroots electoral organizing for defeating the Chevron corporation's multi-million dollar campaigns in our local elections. Between 2012 and 2018, I became a campaign manager and led various efforts-- recruited hundreds of dues paying members, managed Jovanka Beckles' campaign for Assembly District 15, and managed the Measure L-OVE campaign that made Richmond the first new rent control city in 33 years.
While the RPA puts on a professional public face, behind that face is a deeply toxic internal culture. I realized this toxicity soon after joining the RPA but like many codependents, I felt a strong internal sense of guilt to stay and worked hard in various ways to reform it internally, to get the organization transitioned to young leaders of color. But things never seemed to change, and the people never seemed to change.. I had to realize it’s not just, “human nature.” Cycles of psychological abuse can bring out the worst in us and it can be entirely avoided.
In this Trump era, it is critical for grassroots activists to read up on Cluster B personality disorders to better tell the difference between honest debate among adults, and repetitive, traumatic, reality-defying dynamics that speak to much deeper problems. This article will demonstrate specific examples of these dynamics.
Gayle McLaughlin, founding member of the RPA and former Mayor of Richmond, is trying to flip her Lt. Governor campaign into launching a, "California Progressive Alliance" coordinated by her team. I strongly recommend grassroots groups in California refrain from working with Gayle McLaughlin and her strategists and instead, use the existing Our Revolution model currently being practiced in states like Texas.
This article is going to primarily focus on Juan Reardon and Marilyn Langlois. Juan Reardon was the Campaign Manager for Gayle McLaughlin's 2018 campaign for Lt. Governor in California, he continues to serve as her senior advisor and sits on the RPA Steering Committee. Marilyn Langlois is Gayle McLaughlin's former staffer in the City of Richmond Mayor's Office and also sits on the RPA Steering Committee.
In the case of Juan's message to me above, his mask slipped because the RPA Steering Committee voted to not re-appoint him for the 2017 year. In closed session, several people including myself shared concerns that he is not capable of leading without continuously alienating activists and residents. I forwarded Juan’s message above to a small group, including the RPA, "Co-Coordinators" (Chairs) at the time, Marilyn Langlois and Marcos Banales. Neither of them respond:
Response from Margaret Jordan, married to Mike Parker, who founded the RPA with Juan and Marilyn:
This is a good example of how RPA’s founders operated as a cadre, supporting each other’s authority at the expense of the organization overall. Margaret’s re-framing is typical in the organization. She never took action, or responded further.
Without notice in summer ‘17, Gayle McLaughlin announced resignation from the Richmond City Council to focus on her Lt. Governor campaign. She sent a letter to the Steering Committee naming Marilyn Langlois as her choice to replace her.
Marilyn Langlois is the former Community Advocate (virtual chief of staff) to Gayle McLaughlin when she was Mayor of Richmond. Marilyn is retired, very intelligent, and wealthy enough to have contributed over $200K directly to the RPA and it’s campaigns. She seems like a sweet lady and works hard in the community. She also believes in extreme theories about the 9/11 attacks-- things like a missile, not a plane, hit the Pentagon, even though hundreds of people watched American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. She believes the 14 hijackers are still alive and endorses theorists who claim this. Marilyn has been involved in the 9/11 truther community through sf911truth.org for years, and published a 10th-anniversary essay on the attacks. She is an apologist for the Kim regime in North Korea. Her essays on 9/11 and North Korea are published here:
Studies show the correlation between individual/collective narcissism and belief in conspiracy theories. Marilyn’s, and by extension Gayle’s views as truthers are not as dangerous as the false sense of intellectual superiority they cling onto because of it. If you don't agree with this alternative reality, they do not believe you are sufficiently radicalized to be fully trusted.
Deconstructing left-wing trutherism as a whole can't be accomplished here, you should do your own research to debunk the way David Ray Griffin and others deliberately ignore and lie about published evidence. There's a phenomenon where otherwise very smart people-- retired academics and intellectuals of all kinds-- turn to hook themselves into extreme conspiracy theories. They hide behind lots of weasel words like, "we should review the facts" but then entertain ideas that have no basis in facts:
It is dangerous to allow truthers to take leadership in your grassroots political groups. Because they have a false sense of superiority over you for not believing their theories, they will passive-aggressively marginalize you and others, and only their sympathizers will remain.
Back in 2013 Juan Reardon opposed Marilyn being appointed as spokeswoman because of her views. You'll see this wasn't a factor for him later, in '17 his cadre needed Marilyn's appointment to solidify their influence over the RPA and the Richmond City Council. Juan and Mike Parker were much more closely aligned in 2013:
While operating as Jovanka’s Campaign Manager from March to November ‘17, I felt compelled to oppose Marilyn’s campaign for appointment to the Richmond City Council. If Jovanka were pressured to vote for Marilyn, it would be the end of her Assembly campaign.
But I didn’t realize Jovanka Beckles also believes in the theories. Her refusal to raise money to the point of not being able to pay salaries, take policy briefings seriously, and her inability to confront, question, and recant these conspiracy theories were all factors in making me quit as her Campaign Manager for Assembly District 15 in late 2017.
Similar to the Democratic Party, the RPA broke itself by becoming so attached to personal loyalty that moral integrity broke down. Being corporate money-free doesn't work when rich white socialists can cull their candidates to the point of tokenization.
These are some of the responses to my statement about Marilyn’s appointment. It is only a fraction of the internal pressure and delusional behavior going on at RPA before the council vote:
Marilyn’s response/strategy for questions about her views:
Brenda accepted this response and recommended her for appointment to the Richmond City Council. She now serves as co-Chair for the RPA.
Gayle McLaughlin held a private meeting with Jovanka Beckles, where she directly threatened to begin criticizing Jovanka’s campaign for AD15 unless she voted for Marilyn. It was clear— Gayle was willing to cannibalize Jovanka’s career for Marilyn. Juan drafted this cryptic email and sent it out under Gayle’s letterhead, as a shot over the bow, “anti-democratic forces”:
For years I thought these were just privileged white people who were thick in the head about power dynamics. At this point their racism became clear. They pushed on, regardless of how the situation impacted Jovanka and our collective future as a movement. As Jovanka later made up with Gayle and shared the stage with her, pretending nothing happened, I lost the respect I had left and realized I wasted years of life and effort with these people. I waited until after the election so as many people as possible see this as a sincere warning, and not revenge.
Most of us are familiar with situations where someone trolls you into reacting with anger, and then turning around going, “see? You’re no different, you’re a bully just like me.” This is part of what makes narcissistic abuse unique to other forms of abuse. You’re gaslighted into no longer trusting your interpretation of reality. It eventually makes you break down, snap, otherwise resist, and they turn around and suggest you lack compassion or integrity. To be empathic is to recognize differences between abuse and standing up to abuse.
Enablers in the group operate to support, overlook or apologize for narcissistic-spectrum behavior. Virtually everyone remaining in the RPA core are enablers or worse to a certain degree. Research on trauma bonding could help you prevent these patterns from defining your organization.
This is only a fraction of emails. Hopefully it’s enough to illustrate how this kind of situation could, or already has impacted you. Hopefully those of you still reading at this point take it as a sincere warning. Don’t be me, it might save you a lot of time and heartache.
Thanks and much luck to you,