California

Twitter conspiracy took down small-town California festival. Now a GoFundMe is set up to help

Organizers canceled a fundraiser for Grass Valley Charter School set for Saturday in the Sierra foothills after an online conspiracy theory went viral and created safety concerns.
Organizers canceled a fundraiser for Grass Valley Charter School set for Saturday in the Sierra foothills after an online conspiracy theory went viral and created safety concerns. Sacramento Bee file

The conspiracy’s storm blew over Grass Valley, leaving an elementary school’s festival in its wake. When the skies cleared, the tiny community did what communities do. They got to work and picked up the pieces.

And in so doing, they took back their tiny charter school’s event from the “crazy-makers,” the not-so precious pet name for the people who fed and spread rumors that former FBI director James Comey tipped the Twittersphere of an impending – and debunked – terror attack on the school foundation’s annual festival.

The Grass Valley Charter School Foundation will not have its Blue Marble Festival, but there is a fundraiser – a GoFundMe account launched jointly last week by the Grass Valley and Nevada City police departments and the Nevada County Sheriff’s Department.

The idea hatched by the three career law enforcement officers who lead the agencies even came with its own secret ingredient: doughnut holes. Plenty of doughnut holes. We’ll explain in a few minutes.

Grass Valley Police Chief Alex Gammelgard, Nevada County Sheriff Shannan Moon and Nevada City Police Chief Chad Ellis came together for a video announcing the fund drive.

They unspooled the tweet, the wild theory, the calls to Grass Valley Charter School and what happened next.

“In some remote corner of the United States, conspiracy theorists were dreaming up conspiracies,” Sheriff Moon says on the video before passing the baton to Ellis. “That’s when our reality and theirs collided,” Ellis said.

“So the question became: What about the kids? What about the school?” Chief Ellis continued. “So let me tell you what’s not a conspiracy? I like doughnuts. I haven’t met a doughnut I don’t like. Join us in giving this bizarre story a happy ending.”

Their challenge: for every $100 donated, the trio will eat a doughnut hole on livestream. So far, more than $8,000 has been raised.

“That’s 80 doughnut holes,” said Wendy Willoughby, president of the charter school’s foundation and a Blue Marble Festival producer. “It’s really heartwarming. The community really stepped up. The comments have been so inspiring. It really turned the corner out of this madness.”

A sweet idea, in more ways than one, after the strange week that was in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The fundraising campaign goes through June 7, the last day of school.

When the video was released, “it was so overwhelming. It so reminded me of what a great community we have in Nevada County,” said Scott Maddock, the school’s principal. “It was such an unifying act by law enforcement. It was fantastic.”

And completely in keeping with the world in which we strive to live, Willoughby said.

“When we get news so quickly, people find themselves drawn to the bad stuff because there is drama in it. This bends our perspective to where these lives really are. Bad stuff happens everyday, but when you step back, we say, ‘What can I do? How can I help? Do you need to borrow my truck? Can I bake you a pie?’” Willoughby said with a small laugh. “These moments in the midst of this divisive crazy making – this is where we need to focus. This is the world we want to live in. I hope our school is feeling that love.”

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