Police: Teacher with far-right ties harassed health officer
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — A California community college instructor with ties to the far-right, anti-government “boogaloo” movement was in custody on suspicion of sending two dozen misogynistic and threatening letters to a county health officer involving the coronavirus pandemic, authorities said Tuesday.
Alan Viarengo, 55, was arrested last week and investigators seized 138 firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition and explosive materials from his home in Gilroy, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office said.
Viarengo was charged with felony counts of stalking and threatening a public official after authorities said the letters were sent to county Health Director Dr. Sara Cody. He has not entered a plea. His bail was revoked and he remains in jail.
Investigators said the letters became “increasingly aggressive, offensive and threatening” and contained slogans and imagery from the boogaloo movement, a loosely organized, right-wing extremist group known for anti-government, anti-police and pro-gun beliefs.
Some people in the movement have protested pandemic-related public health restrictions as a violation of their rights as they carry firearms and warn of violence. The extremist movement uses “boogaloo” — a 1980s movie sequel — as a code word for a second civil war.
“There is a major difference in expressing disagreement with a public official’s decisions and making criminal threats,” said Jeff Rosen, Santa Clara County’s district attorney. “We will prosecute anyone who crosses that line and tries to terrorize people who are simply doing their jobs.”
Cody has been one of the nation’s most visible proponents of stay-at-home orders, social distancing and wearing masks, which has led to threats and demonstrations at her home.
She previously acknowledged receiving threats, telling the San Jose Mercury News in July, “We’ve all taken more heat than we usually take. I try as much as possible to keep my head down.”
The sheriff’s department said she is receiving 24-hour security.
Authorities say the letters were sent from April 8 to July 29. In a June letter, the writer boasted of making a lot of money doing unpermitted haircuts during the pandemic, adding “I’m glad you are getting threats ... I posted your residence everywhere I could; I hope someone follows through.”
On July 29, authorities say, detectives tracking Viarengo watched as he drove a black Tesla Model 3 to a mailbox and dropped a letter inside that was addressed to Dr. Cody and mocked her handling of the pandemic. He was arrested a month later.
San Jose attorney Cody Salfen defended Viarengo as a “dedicated father, husband, community activist, respected professor, and volunteer” and blasted prosecutors and law enforcement for heavy-handed tactics.
“At this time we have allegations,” Salfen said. “Allegations are not facts.”
In a message to faculty and students, the superintendent and president of the Gavilan Joint Community College District said the charges are not related to Viarengo’s work as a math teacher.
“As members of the college community, however, we are shocked and saddened by what took place, and will cooperate with law enforcement fully if it is required,” Kathleen A. Rose said in a message provided to The Associated Press.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, two men affiliated with the “boogaloo” movement were charged earlier this year in the killings of a federal security officer in Oakland and a Santa Cruz County sheriff’s sergeant, authorities said.
Viarengo also “sent a disturbing letter to the widow of Santa Cruz County sheriff’s Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, who was killed in the line of duty on June, 6,” the department said. “The letter contained language mocking the death of Sgt. Gutzwiller and also wishing death upon more law enforcement officers.”