Surprise: A California County Went Full-Eliott Ness to Spy on a Church During COVID

In the criminal justice system, people who tend to disagree with the government are aggressively investigated by the elite members of the Santa Clara County COVID-19 Business Compliance Unit. These are their stories.

And cue the “Law & Order” sound effect.

Yes, it’s Law & Order: BCU

Yesterday, I told you about a Chinese app designed to track people who wanted to attend religious services in the Henan province. At the time I opined that governors like Gavin Newsom would salivate over that kind of technology and that something like that was probably headed our way soon. But as it turns out, Santa Clara County in California was already taking a boots-on-the-ground approach when it came to spying on and harassing an area church. Writing on his Substack, Silent Lunch, journalist David Zweig tells the tale of how between November 2020 and January 2021, the Santa Clara County COVID-19 Business Compliance Unit (you thought I made that name up, didn’t you?) went all-in to spy on a church that bucked the ham-handed and unevenly applied lockdown mandates.*

Calvary Chapel San Jose attracted the attention of county snoops on On May 24, 2020. That day, pastor Mike McClure said that he would reopen the church despite the COVID-19 restrictions. And for that matter, the church would stay open. Such a move was bound not to be well-received in California, and even less so in Santa Clara County, which had been particularly aggressive in enforcing lockdown rules. But McClure had seen the devastating effects that enforced isolation had on his congregation. For example, one man said his church attendance kept him from entertaining thoughts of suicide as the quarantine merged with other difficult life events. Another found that church attendance gave him the strength to stave off his urges for alcohol and drugs as the crushing isolation took its toll. A woman said that the fellowship at Calvary Chapel San Jose helped save her son, who struggled with substance abuse after the lockdown cost him an apprenticeship in plumbing. A pastor was able to tie the woman in with a program that she credits with saving her son’s life.

On August 21, 2020, the church was hit with a cease-and-desist letter from the county. At issue were the crimes of meeting indoors, failure of members to mask and social distance, and, of course, singing. Two days later, a pair of officers from the COVID-19 Business Compliance Unit were at the church and saw at least 100 people doing all of those things. As Zweig writes:

So began a series of issuances of fines for violations every single day, beginning in August, and running through the spring of 2021. The fines began at $1,000 each. Per the terms of the public health order, there was no grace period, and the amounts doubled each day that the violations were not corrected until a maximum of $5,000 per day was reached. By October 27, 2020, the county had already fined Calvary $350,000.

By the time September rolled around, churches in the county still could not meet indoors. But shopping malls could operate at fifty percent capacity. In October, churches could have either 100 people or twenty-five percent of their capacity on campus. Museums could accommodate fifty percent of their capacities, and stores had no limits. But at this point, Santa Clara County was determined to bring the hammer down on Calvary Chapel San Jose. To do that, they needed evidence.

And cue the “Law & Order” sound effect, again.

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Author: HP McLovincraft

Seeker of rabbit holes. Pessimist. Libertine. Contrarian. Your huckleberry. Possibly true tales of sanity-blasting horror also known as abject reality. Prepare yourself. Veteran of a thousand psychic wars. I have seen the fnords. Deplatformed on Tumblr and Twitter.

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