The mayor, two councilmen and several San Juan Capistrano residents tried to talk Councilman Roy Byrnes Tuesday into backing away from comments earlier this month that the council majority was acting like Hitler, Mussolini and the Ku Klux Klan.
However, Byrnes stuck to his guns – mostly.
At the last City Council meeting on Feb. 4, Byrnes criticized the council majority for trying to interfere with petitioner gatherers collecting signatures that would put a recall of Mayor Sam Allevato on the ballot.
While Byrnes apologized Tuesday if he offended anyone, he still referred to the three councilmen who showed at Vons and stood near recall petitioners’ table on Jan. 19 as “goon squad,” “a government street gang” and “posse.”
“This was precisely the government sponsored street intimidation that was perfected in Germany in 1933,” Byrnes said.
Allevato interjected: “Mr. Byrnes, I’m going to stop you. Right now. You’re not going to refer to Nazi Germany again in these chambers. I will take a recess.”
Byrnes tried to keep going. “I will continue. Folks, I have more to read.” But his microphone cut out.
Moments before, several residents had addressed the council during the open comments portion of the agenda, demanding Byrnes apologize.
“To compare us a fellow councilmember a fellow human being to the evil you did is evil itself,” said Kathy Hooper. “Any good you might have done has been destroyed by the words and your actions.”
John Campbell, a self-described Allevato supporter, said he was “shocked and disappointed” at the negative culture created by Byrnes’s wording.
“I’m ashamed of your reference,” he said.
Steve Behmerwohld also took issue with Byrnes’s criticisms because he wasn’t present at the Jan. 19 incident in front of Vons.
“To make a statement of this magnitude at all is offensive, to say the least. To make a statement like this based on hearsay is total indefensible,” he said.
After a 10-minute break, Byrnes continued his prepared statement.
“Have a committed an error? Yes,” he said. But his sentiments that prompted the comparisons remain.
“I did not intend nor did I in fact call the council members Nazis,” Byrnes said. On the other hand, what the council majority did that day was not only similar to the Nazi paramilitary “ brownshirts” in Germany in 1932-22, “it was identical.”
“I was determined not to remain silent in the face of what I consider and what I believe was street intimidation, official street intimidation by government, because it was the council that was doing that,” Byrnes said.
“I did not think of you as Nazis what I saw in my mind, our government in SJC following in the pathway of the pre-Hitler Germany,” he said.