Awaken Church, which has five locations across San Diego county, has frequently sparred with county officials over COVID-19-related health regulations. The church has become a focal point in the regional fight against such measures, and some pastors have increasingly turned to conspiratorial rhetoric in sermons./ Photo by Jakob McWhinney
The RMNNT group meets at Awaken Church's Balboa campus. The group focuses on voter education and training candidates to run for office. / Photo by Jakob McWhinney

Once a month The RMNNT, a conservative political activist organization, meets in a small room on the second floor of Awaken Church’s Balboa campus. The group is run by husband-and-wife duo Alana and Scott Sorensen, and its messaging is stark. The RMNNT’s website states it seeks to raise up an “army to effectively influence local politics” and “take back” the San Diego region by educating voters and training candidates to run for office. A video advertising the group warns that “America is either on the brink of destruction, or greatness. It will take a remnant to save her.” 

But during a meeting in August, the vibe was more akin to a community center than a barracks. Miniature water bottles, candy bars, salted peanuts and other snacks sat against a wall while a group of mostly middle-aged individuals found a seat. Small pieces of paper with QR codes giving attendees access to a document called “The Beginner’s Guide To Civic Activism,” created by attendee Mary Davis sat on each table. The guide contains information meant to demystify the often-convoluted political process, from ways to engage elected officials to public meeting procedures and terminology.  

In an email, Davis wrote that she created the guide to shorten the learning curve for others. In the guide, Davis suggests strategies for success – be a lumberjack, not a Viking, Davis writes. As in, don’t throw axes, use them to cut down trees. Though written from a conservative perspective, the guide provides a useful framework through which to approach activism, regardless of one’s political affiliation. 

Alana, who led that night’s meeting, described The RMNNT as a partner ministry with Awaken. She said she and her husband have been attending Awaken for 12 years and that they started the group because many conservatives who wanted to get involved in politics just didn’t know how. The pandemic, during which she said many conservatives were surprised by the control exerted by the government with things like mask requirements, charged people up.  

“More conservative people have gotten educated and more involved and are waking up,” Sorensen said. “We’re really trying to educate people that the local level is where things need to change.” From taxes to schools to abortion, Sorensen believes conservatives have the winning arguments. “We just need to get better at expressing them to people who don’t understand politics,” she said. “We could be a model for everyone else.” 

Like Awaken Church, The RMNNT has repeatedly posted misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines causing injury or death, referenced the “plandemic” conspiracy theory that purports the pandemic was designed to exercise greater control over the population and claimed the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Individuals associated with the group have also frequently popped up at local school board and supervisor’s meetings to tout variations of those beliefs. 

Sorensen said that of the around 150 people who have attended their candidate trainings, six have ended up on local ballots in the 2022 general election. Jesse Vigil and Keren Dominguez are running for Chula Vista Elementary school board seats one and five respectively. Davis, the guide’s author, is a candidate for the Alpine Community Planning Group, Rich Truchinski is running for the Tri-City Healthcare District and Morgan Magill is running for the Lakeside Community Planning Group. Also on the ballot is Awaken Church pastor Andre Johnson, who’s running for Encinitas Union school board.  

While some likely stand little chance of being elected, others, like Davis, could simply be appointed because there are so few candidates running.  

The majority of the candidates did not return a request for comment, but both Davis and Vigil sought to create distance between themselves and the group, saying they’d only ever attended a couple of meetings.  

Sorensen allowed each of the candidates in attendance to introduce themselves. Davis described herself as an accidental activist motivated to get involved by the pandemic. Dominguez said she hoped to bring parents’ voices back to schools and Truchinski said despite not knowing anything about the medical industry he just decided to throw his name in the hat. 

“I’m just going to be going in and learning and find out what they’re doing and voting against anything unconstitutional, anything that’s just insane. And then voting for the stuff that’s good,” Truchinski said. 

Sorensen said she also took the leap into electoral politics at the encouragement of Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey. She ran for – and won – a seat on Central Committee of the Republican party of San Diego County.  

“I just kind of jumped in with two feet,” she said. “Didn’t have any idea what I was doing, like a lot of you guys. It’s been an interesting couple of years learning all about being inside the tent and I encourage you to do it.”  

The RMNNT has also drawn some higher-profile regional politicians and candidates to meetings in the past, including Bailey, County Supervisor Jim Desmond and San Diego Unified School Board Candidate Becca Williams. They also hosted an informational session for voters prior to the 2020 election with conservative filmmaker and provocateur Dinesh D’souza and Awaken pastor Jurgen Matthesius. 

Photos show the small room packed with dozens of people for some meetings, like a March one with Awaken Church attendees. But during this late-August meeting, only around twenty individuals gathered to listen to guest speaker John “Woody” Woodrum. Woodrum has long operated largely on the periphery of local conservative politics. He lost his bids to become a congressperson in the 53rd Congressional District and a write-in campaign for San Diego mayor but was eventually elected to California’s Republican executive committee. He also served as the California volunteer coordinator for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.  

Throughout his hourlong talk, Woodrum guided the attendees through aspects of local and statewide electoral politics, like how to get appointed as a state elector. He urged them to get involved with local campaigns  they believe in, and gave campaign advice for individuals running – like to not let your religion be something that hurts you. Christianity is a deep motivating factor for Woodrum, and for many of the event’s attendees, but he advised people to stick to kitchen table issues like inflation, energy prices and taxes, lest they divide potential voters. “If you go out there and you start evangelizing, (people) can argue with you,” Woodrum said. 

Another recurring theme was Woodrum’s belief that communist forces were encroaching upon American politics. At the beginning of his talk, he distributed some documents to the group, like a general election voting guide anchored in biblical principles and a list of what he said were communist goals taken from the 1958 book “The Naked Communist.” Many of those goals, he claimed, had already been accomplished. He laid the blame largely on the church, which he said had failed to forcefully stand up against communist influence, though he noted he’s beginning to see something of a revival. 

“If the church continues to fail, I think we get maybe two more election cycles. And if we don’t pull things back to the way that they were, and bring them back towards the center, we’re going to lose this country,” he warned. 

Many of the meeting’s attendees were inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic to get further involved in politics but talk of masks and vaccines was scant. Many seem to have moved on to other political battles, such as abortion and LGBTQ issues, or as Woodrum put it the “LGBTQXYZ agenda.” He’s long been vocal about his views on homosexuality, which on a defunct website he ran for San Diego’s chapter of The Eagle Forum he described as being linked to sexual abuse experienced as children – an untrue claim.  

“There’s a whole arm of the gay community that is involved with pedophilia,” Woodrum claimed. The primary reason they’d pulled back from targeting young people was because of optics, he continued. Still, Woodrum believes that teachers are indoctrinating students with gender-diverse ideologies in classrooms, and the only way to push back against this, he told the attendees, was by unseating individuals elected to local offices like school boards. 

“They’re doing it to your children, your grandchildren here in the state of California,” Woodrum asserted. “And what are you doing about it?”  

“We’re here,” replied one attendee. 

The Content Bouncing Around My Mind Palace  

  • Despite a statewide expansion of transitional kindergarten offerings, and early implementation by San Diego Unified, some parents are still left in a bind when it comes to after school care.  
  • Imagine spending 4 hours on public transportation to get to and from school each day. After cutting back on bus transportation and a later start time, that’s what some students at the prestigious Preuss Charter School are faced with
  • Pandemic fallout continues in the education world, as parents have brought a lawsuit against many of the region’s largest school districts alleging they violated students’ constitutional rights by failing to provide adequate instruction during distance-learning. More COVID-related news: In a review of San Diego Unified’s ledgers, the Union-Tribune found the majority of the more than $260 million in COVID-19 bonus money spent by the district went to employee salaries and benefits.  
  • The San Diego Promise program, an initiative launched in 2016 by the San Diego Community College District that provides qualified students in the district two years of free tuition and other financial grants to offset the costs associated with attending college, had previously been limited to graduating high school seniors who would be full-time college students. But the district recently announced that not only did they have a record number of students enrolling in the program, but that through private funding they’d been able to expand it to non-recent high school graduates who are foster youth, veterans, formerly incarcerated or undocumented. 

What We’re Writing  

  • Our series of profiles on the candidates for San Diego Unified board has wrapped up with pieces on Shana Hazan and Godwin Higa, who are running for the board’s sub-district B seat. Despite agreeing on quite a lot, Higa, a longtime educator and former principal, and Hazan, a former nonprofit executive are taking starkly different paths to get elected. 
  • As part of our “Whatever Happened To…” series, I checked in on how a massive overhaul of Memorial Prep, which incorporated facilities for children from preschool through high school, has affected enrollment. The middle school had long suffered from low enrollment, and in 2015 had the unfortunate distinction of being the middle school most avoided by parents in the San Diego Unified School District. 

Jakob McWhinney

Jakob McWhinney is Voice of San Diego's education reporter.

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1 Comment

  1. As a 70-year-old Ironman, I shop at Trader Joes for my health while most folks frequent Vons. It’s called the brand, the familiar like Campbell’s Soup over some soup with a silly name. Voting is exactly the same. Some lone ranger candidate comes along who professes the good and voila, the voters discount this weirdo and seek the brand. It’s all about branding. Democrats and GOP are the brand nonpareil. They exemplify the weak link within American voters. Voters will believe almost anything. SAD! So, they follow the party line. 14,000 fools voted in D2 SDCC for the top two contenders. SAD! The brand! These voters are so out of touch they will believe anything especially if it is backed by the brand. The brand! I’m Smiechowski a weirdo! Never vote for a weirdo as you may discover truth.

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