Earlier this week, Rick Caruso threw a party at The Grove for employees and his Los Angeles mayoral campaign volunteers. And if the billionaire candidate was left with a big headache afterward, it wasn’t from the event’s free-flowing wine.
The turnout for the celebration at Caruso campaign headquarters included a few unsavory characters the mayoral hopeful and mall mogul probably wishes had just stayed home. The Republican-turned-independent-then-very-recently-turned-Democrat was already having to fend off attacks from his opponent, who is trying to paint him as the second coming of Donald Trump. And that was before a trio of MAGA deplorables showed up at a soiree meant to galvanize Caruso’s campaign for the home stretch.
Two years ago, Shiva Bagheri, Ashley Jeffery, and Paul Onaga were part of a cadre of in-your-face “freedom activists,” who were deploying often outrageous tactics to oppose COVID-19 safety protocols—and igniting physical and verbal altercations along the way, two instances of which occurred at the Westfield Century City mall and the home of the president of the L.A. City Council. This week, much to the chagrin of Caruso, the three were filmed at his campaign headquarters, hobnobbing with the candidate and assorted well-wishers.
Caruso spokesman Peter Ragone tells LAMag that Bagheri, Jeffery and Onaga cleared a national criminal and sex offender background check and were working for a subcontractor on the campaign’s field program; they were three out of several hundred field workers.
“None of them are still subcontracting for us,” Ragone said. “Obviously we don’t condone those views or tactics in any way at all, we are pleased they are no longer with the subcontractors.”
Journalist and videographer Sean Beckner-Carmitchel broke the news of the trio’s work for the campaign on Sept. 27. Beckner-Carmitchel, a contributor to the lefty news sites Knock LA and Left Coast Right Watch, revealed the identities of the three in a thread he posted on Twitter.
Bagheri, 48, has been a prominent fixture in the MAGA political scene in L.A. since 2020 when she brought thousands of Trump supporters to the luxe heart of Beverly Hills for what were dubbed freedom rallies. Known as “Shiva for Freedom” to her small but devoted following on social media, Bagheri resurfaced after Trump’s defeat at the head of several activist flash mobs that stormed Westside malls along with some big-box retailers and a Ralph’s to protest their supposedly slavish obedience to COVID-19 precautions.
At a protest inside a Target store in Westwood in July 2021, a Pomeranian-toting Bagheri proclaimed she and her comrades are “freedom lovers.”
At the Caruso event, which she live-streamed on Facebook, the former fitness model sported a campaign t-shirt with the sleeves cut off while she palled around with Jeffery, a fellow “freedom activist” whose aggressive, sometimes violent tactics have been monitored for more than a year by activists with SoCal Antifa. In April 2021, Jeffery and Onaga appeared to forcibly unmask and shove a Burbank city employee who was enforcing COVID-19 violations at a scofflaw saloon in the city.
More famously, in September 2021, the duo showed up at the doorstep of L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez, defying a ban in L.A. on protests within 100 yards of a target’s home. Martinez later tweeted that the men were trespassing on her driveway and “calling out for me, filming both my home and the contents inside my car.”
Since the controversies surrounding Bagheri, Onaga and Jeffery were brought to public attention via tweets by Beckner-Carmitchel on Sept. 27, the Caruso campaign says it has cut ties with the now former field workers. A source close to the campaign tells LAMag that Bagheri worked for Caruso for a total of five days in an hourly canvassing position and that her employment was terminated on Sept. 21.
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