The first meetings of the city of San Diego's Human Relations Commission were disrupted by a breakdown in relations among humans.
It was the early 1990s and the City Council had voted to create the 15-member HRC to promote cultural sensitivity and investigate discrimination complaints. But, according to a press report from the time, the sessions descended into a chaos of "shouting matches and name calling" between gay-rights activists and Christian fundamentalists.
At the center of the conflict was one particular human: Gary G. Kreep, Esq.
Kreep was an unapologetically Christian, anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-illegal-immigrant, anti-affirmative-action lawyer from Escondido. His detractors—which included a majority of his fellow commissioners—believed he'd been inappropriately appointed by a City Council member who'd opposed the commission's creation from the beginning.
"The Human Relations Commission was to bring all people together, all walks of life," says Norma Rossi, the former head of the San Diego Homeless Coalition, who served with Kreep. The lawyer, she says, "was trying to create a ruckus."
Twenty years later, Kreep is poised to spark a ruckus all over again. Last February, encouraged by political operative and longtime friend Jim Sills, Kreep filed paperwork to run for judge of the Superior Court of San Diego County. In the June primary election, he took the legal community by surprise when he eked out a victory over a veteran prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Garland Peed. The margin was two-fifths of 1 percent.
"Mr. Kreep seems to be a person who has an agenda," attorney Len Simon says. "Judges should not have an agenda; they should decide cases based on law and the facts. Judges with an agenda can be an embarrassment to the court."
In 1979, Kreep founded the United States Justice Foundation to serve as the right wing's answer to the American Civil Liberties Union. Through the nonprofit, he's inserted himself into some of the greatest political and constitutional controversies in American history. The group, which rents office space in a building that Kreep owns in Ramona, has represented the gamut of right-wing clients, from defending members of the nativist Minutemen Civil Defense Force to writing briefs in support of Texas' sodomy laws for the Pro-Family Law Center. He petitioned the U.S. Senate in 1989 to reopen its investigation of the so-called "Chappaquiddick incident," in which Sen. Ted Kennedy had been involved in a fatal car accident. In 2005, he launched the Hillary Clinton Accountability Project and filed a lawsuit against Clinton, alleging campaign-finance fraud. In recent years, Kreep has gained notoriety for mounting legal challenges to President Barack Obama's eligibility for the presidency, claiming he was born in Kenya. The press has dubbed it the "Birther" movement due to Kreep and his followers' fixation on Obama's birth certificate. Through an assortment of political committees, Kreep has also supported the election of Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Allen West, Herman Cain and Gov. Sarah Palin.
Throughout the 2012 election cycle, Kreep has walked a thin line in terms of permissible political activity for judicial candidates, as proscribed by the California Code of Judicial Ethics. Kreep and his Tea Party colleagues have also exploited loopholes in federal and state campaign-finance regulations to escape filing deadlines and disclosure requirements.
Whether he's crossed the line is for the reader to judge.
History repeats. Kreep has been here before.
"Gary knew what he was going to face," former San Diego City Councilmember Bruce Henderson says. "He had the courage to walk into that environment knowing he would be vilified and knowing all these things would be focused on digging into his background to find anything negative about him, and he was willing to step up."
The sentiment would aptly describe Kreep's judgeship, but Henderson's remarking on 1991, when Sills, Henderson's top aide, identified Kreep as a potential candidate for the Human Relations Commission. Henderson was against the commission, which he believed would seek out and punish Christians who opposed homosexuality. Though he never sat down with Kreep to discuss the breadth of his beliefs, Henderson found Kreep shared his opposition to affirmative action.
"Gary tended to agree with me on those sorts of issues," Henderson says. "I wanted a voice on the Human Relations Commission that spoke up to say all discrimination is wrong; certainly, reverse discrimination is just as wrong as any other."
Gay-rights activists, the Anti-Defamation League and Kreep's fellow commissioners saw Kreep as a negative force who'd been appointed under false pretenses. According to a 1991 San Diego Union-Tribune article, Kreep had omitted his relationship with the United States Justice Foundation from his application materials. Had it been disclosed, his critics didn't believe the council would've signed off.
"He didn't believe in the Human Relations Commission's establishment or goals," says Katie Klumpp, a lifelong anti-racism activist who served with Kreep. "If he had been in a position to vote for or against having such a commission, he wouldíve voted against it. That created a kind of awkwardness when all the rest of the commissioners had a commitment to what was trying to be established."
The commission tried to boot Kreep by passing a resolution that urged the City Council to reconsider all of its members' qualifications. Meeting minutes show that the proposal brought out more than 80 observers. During public comment, eight people spoke against Kreep, eight people spoke in favor of him and three people pleaded with everyone to put the matter aside and "get on with the Commissionís business." The vote passed 10-4, with one member absent, but Mayor Maureen O'Connor declined to add it to the council's docket.
As the commission moved forward, Kreep consistently voted against LGBT and pro-immigrant measures and ardently defended the Boy Scouts of America's anti-gay policies. He also demanded on several occasions that the commission investigate "Satanic crimes" as hate crimes. After the City Attorney's office issued an opinion that Satanism was outside of the commission's purview, Kreep changed his focus to "anti-Christian bias." At one hearing, he requested that the commission bring in 10News journalist Marti Emerald, now a City Council member, to discuss remarks she made about Christians on TV.
Kreep became a symbol of intolerance, according to the Los Angeles Times, when San Diego County Supervisor Susan Golding referenced the Kreep controversy in her mayoral campaign materials, saying, "We cannot allow... discrimination in hiring, hate crimes in our neighborhoods, bigots appointed to city commissions... or other injustices."
But, Kreep was no racist and actively brought the commission's attention to Tom Metzger, leader of the White Aryan Resistance. Kreep says he had to kick Metzger's followers out of one of his conservative groups.
"I found Mr. Metzger's views to be abhorrent," Kreep tells CityBeat via email. "Although he has a constitutional right to his views, and to espouse them, anyone who promotes a political ideology based on racism and/or anti-Semitism is, to my mind, evil."
Kreep paints himself as a victim, saying he received death threats and that the city assigned six police officers to protect him at HRC meetings. He also claims that, during the meetings, he was "bombarded with used condoms and pus and blood soaked cotton balls" flung by his opponents.
Witnesses find his accusations outrageous.
"If this was true, it would've been on every TV station," says Nicole Murray-Ramirez, a gay activist who spoke against Kreep during public comment in 1992 and later served as HRC chairperson from 2006 to 2011. "That's impossible. If that incident happened, I would know and I would've condemned it... That didn't happen. He's obviously lying."
"Nobody threw any junk like that at him," says Duane Shinnick, a former deputy district attorney whoíd been appointed to the commission by Mayor O'Connor.
"He's full of shit," Rossi says. "Excuse my French; I'm almost 83. Nobody ever threw condoms or bloody cotton balls at him. Not even one. He may have felt we wanted to choke him a time or two, but we wouldn't have done something that drastic."
"Horseshit," Klumpp says. "What nonsense. That is insanity... But I have no doubt he has convinced himself that it happened."
Even though two decades have passed, members have vivid memories of Kreep's absolute certainty, perhaps even arrogance, that his principles and worldviews were correct.
"It's shocking to think he's going to be in a position to judge anyone about anything," Klumpp says.
Although Kreep was an economics major at UCSD (or "Tinker Toy Tech," as he once called it) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he enrolled in Black Studies courses as way to study the enemy—leftist, antiwar activists—he explained in a 2001 interview.
"I was very active in politics in college; those were the days of radicalism—Kent State, Vietnam, the Cambodian incursion," Kreep told Lifeline, the newsletter of the anti-abortion Life Legal Defense Foundation. "We had student strikes led by the left for three years in a row, and the fourth year we managed to take it over and stop it, because we learned from the left their tactics and turned their tactics against them."
His preoccupation with politics hurt his grades, he said, but it also connected him with Sills and a crew of other young conservatives.
"We learned from the left that every time there is a new issue, you set up a new front group with a new name; most people were not smart enough to realize that it was all the same people," Kreep said in the Lifeline interview. "We called ourselves by a variety of names at different times."
Kreep played the public for dumb all the way through the 2012 election cycle. He's founded innumerable groups over the years; in addition to serving as executive director of the USJF, Kreep served as chairman of three political-action committees: Beat Obama PAC (formerly known as Draft Herman Cain), Justice PAC and the Republican Majority Campaign (RMCPAC). He also serves as vice chairman of the Western Conservative Political Action Conference and acts as a consultant for a slate-mail organization.
These groups are controlled by a closed circle of conservative activists and campaign profiteers, including well-known names in Southern California political circles: Randy Goodwin, Jim Lacy, Barrett Garcia and Sills, who died in June. Two more—Charles and Nancy Benninghoff—are ex-convicts involved in financial and tax-fraud schemes in the late 1990s.
Over the years, these players have developed a sophisticated money-moving system, in which anonymous donations are raised in bulk, then redistributed through a complex network of political groups and nonprofits. In the process, hundreds of thousands of dollars end up in their pockets through payments for campaign services.
Kreep's decision to run for judge complicated his role in the political operation. The California Code of Judicial Ethics prohibits judicial candidates from acting as leaders or holding "any position" with a political organization that campaigns for candidates in non-judicial elections.
In an email, Kreep says that he stepped down from all the political organizations when he filed his intention to run for office on Feb. 13, 2012. Behind the scenes, his resignation amounted to little more than a changing of titles as Kreep continued to advise the organizations as paid counsel and as a consultant.
Disclosures filed with the Federal Elections Commission show that, between February and October, RMCPAC paid Kreep $37,659 for legal services and $2,926 for travel and meeting expenses. The committee also paid $6,650, or $950 per month, to rent space in Kreep's office in Ramona, even though the committee is formally based in Santa Ana. Meanwhile, Beat Obama PAC paid Kreep $1,000 for legal services, and a state-level organization, the California Public Safety Voter Guide, paid Kreep $12,500 for consulting work during the summer.
Shifting funds from committee to committee has allowed Kreep's confederates to circumvent reporting deadlines and disclosure thresholds, obscuring the identity of Kreep's judicial-campaign donors.
In 2012, RMCPAC raised $2.8 million—98 percent of its treasury—in anonymous, "unitemized" contributions. That means at least 14,040 donors chipped in small contributions that did not reach the $200 threshold for disclosing their names. Beat Obama / Draft Herman Cain similarly raised $26,458 in anonymous donations.
California laws require names to be disclosed for donations over $100. Although these PACs fundraise for federal candidates, thousands of dollars were donated to Kreep's campaign.
In April—while Kreep was on the payroll—RMCPAC donated $999 to Gary Kreep for Judge. On the same day, RMCPAC transferred $999 to Justice PAC, which, also on the same day, donated $999 to Kreep's campaign. The amount is significant because it's $1 short of the California Political Reform Act's reporting threshold for late contributions. In August, two months after the election, Beat Obama donated another $999 to Kreep's campaign.
Kreep took the money and funneled it back to his colleagues through five Lacy-operated slate-mail organizations—groups that collect money to send out mass-mailers endorsing a list of candidates. Following the tactic Kreep learned in college, these groups operate under a variety of names: Woman's Voice, National Tax Limitation Newsletter, Save Proposition 13, the Small Business Action Committee Newsletter and the California Public Safety Voter Guide. That last one paid Kreep $12,500 for his consulting services.
Another committee controlled by Lacy, Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods, made robocalls using misleading information about plea deals to attack Kreep's opponent, Garland Peed. Kreep could not have directly arranged the robocalls because the Code of Judicial Ethics prohibits candidates from misrepresenting an opponent's record. While common, robocalls that are not introduced by a real person are also illegal in California.
While Kreep is barred from partisan campaign work, the Code of Judicial Ethics hasn't kept him completely out of the game. He's used the USJF, a tax-exempt nonprofit, to oppose Obama's reelection through litigation over his birth certificate. Technically, the lawsuits aren't campaigning, but Kreep's intent is clear enough.
"Remember, all that we need to do is win one eligibility battle, in one state, and Barack Obama's 'reelection' campaign will start to unravel," Kreep wrote in an August fundraising email for USJF. "Any one of these new legal challenges could end Barack Hussein Obama's occupation of the White House."