After school orders quarantine, a father and his friends threaten principal, zip ties in hand

After school orders quarantine, a father and his friends threaten principal, zip ties in hand

Among the many weapons of choice carried by the domestic terrorists who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, one of the more common was the ordinary nylon zip tie. In addition to their well-understood industrial uses, these flexible, non-yielding fasteners are also commonly used by law enforcement as restraints.

Since they have a perfectly innocent utility, carrying them can hardly be considered a crime under normal circumstances. But when one has no such utilitarian intentions and proceeds to instigate a confrontation in a non-violent environment, such as a school, carrying zip ties can have only one purpose: to intimidate, frighten, or to inflict bodily harm.

An Arizona parent enlisted the assistance of two friends after his child was told to quarantine from possible exposure to COVID-19. Equipped with what have been characterized as “law enforcement zip ties,” the three then proceeded to enter their son’s school and threaten the principal.

As reported by Andrea Salcedo of The Washington Post:

When an Arizona school employee called a parent on Thursday to share that his son had come in close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, the dad was told his son must stay at home for at least a week.

Instead, later that morning, the man walked into Mesquite Elementary School with his son and two other men carrying zip ties before confronting the principal over the school’s quarantine policy, Vail Unified School District Superintendent John Carruth told The Washington Post.

In a meeting with the principal, Carruth said, the men threatened to call local authorities and conduct a “citizen’s arrest” if the student was not allowed to rejoin school activities immediately. That is when the principal, who explained that the school was following guidance issued by the local health department, ordered the trio to leave, Carruth said.

Mesquite Elementary School is in the Vail School District, which under Arizona state law follows the recommendations of the local health department (in this case, the Pima County Health Department). The principal and the Tucson-area school were simply following state protocol in requesting the child to quarantine, a fact that was repeatedly explained by the principal to all three of the intruders. Police arrived after the incident, which left the principal unharmed, after all three men had left the building.

The two individuals accompanying the parent are described in The Post article as a “local business owner,” and the other simply as a member of the local community. The father, identified by Justin Rohrlich of The Daily Beast as 40 year-old Rishi Rambaran, was later arrested, cited for trespassing, and released.

As Rohrlich reports, the “business owner” accompanying Rambaran was one Kelly Walker, who is quite active in right-wing self-promotion.

Walker, a local marketing strategist and copywriter, co-owns a coffee shop in Tucson with his wife and in-laws. The shop, which describes itself as “Tucson’s hub of Freedom and delicious coffee,” recently hosted a meet-and-greet with far-right author and convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza. Next month, Walker, who compared Thursday’s elementary school dust-up to Rosa Parks’ struggle for equal rights, will be welcoming Matthew Lohmeier, a disgraced Space Force lieutenant colonel who was relieved of his post in May over a self-published book warning of an impending “white genocide,” as well as a “neo-Marxist agenda” within the military “designed to patiently and methodically overthrow the US government and replace it with a communist dictatorship.”

Walker recorded a video of himself in his car en route to the school, and another of the confrontation with the principal, which he then proudly posted on Instagram. At the outset of the first video, Walker explains that his friend, Rambaran, had called and requested his assistance. Although he notes he has no children in the school system (he took them out to homeschool them), Walker claims he’s standing for his community in the video, by opposing what he calls “lawbreakers” who are “gonna bully their own people” with their “ridiculous sedition.” He also calls on fellow community members to assist him in this confrontation as “backup.”

Walker’s second video depicts the actual incident involving Principal Diane Vargo. In it, the third individual (who has not been identified) can clearly be seen holding the zip ties; Walker even proudly holds them out for the camera, saying “We’re just going in to talk … first.” Walker can be heard explaining his rationale to his anticipated Instagram audience, and the remainder of the video is filmed in the principal’s office, with the child (who appears to be about nine years old) present.

“I’m in touch with the legislature,” Walker proclaims as he harangues Vargo. “You are acting against the law … If you try to keep doing this you’re going to have a big problem.” He also claims to be “a scientist, who wrote about COVID.” In an unintentionally amusing moment, Walker declares that its not his desire to be “adversarial,” even as his thug friend stands in front of Vargo with zip ties at the ready. To her immense credit, Vargo remains calm and even seems bemused throughout the incident.

Rambaran, the parent, a burly man twice the size of the principal, then declares that the law has been violated because his child was forced to wear a mask, and declares that the principal may thereby be arrested: “I’m not joking.” he says to the principal’s assistant. Walker then chimes in and says, “We’re done playing games.” The principal then asks all of the men to leave, after explaining the protocols she is required to follow, and Walker refuses.

The content of the video was also summarized by an Associated Press:

“I have asked you to leave the office,” the principal at one point calmly tells the men, according to video posted on social media.

“No, we’re not leaving,” a man’s voice responds. “You’re trying to control the situation. You’re not going to control the situation.”

Rambaran becomes more menacing at one point, threatening to arrest the principal and reiterating that she “does not control the situation.” The video shows Rambaran speaking to his wife on the phone as well. Significantly, his son appears to bend over, holding his head in his hands at the 11:12 mark of the video, and maintains this position for about 30 seconds.

About 12 minutes into the video, the principal finally decides she’s had enough. With the unidentified man stalking about in her office, brandishing the zip ties with both hands, Rambaran stands up and declares he’s prepared to be arrested. Walker pontificates some more about his relationship to the attorney general and adds a few memorable untrue statements, such as “no one has ever said that masks stop transmission [of the virus].” The video ends before the trio leave the building.

This, of course, is merely the most recent incident of angry, misinformed parents essentially being egged on by bogus right-wing rhetoric. The threat of making a citizen’s arrest by means of forcibly restraining a school official is unique, however, and speaks to the hidden element of menace and violence that permeates all through this type of rhetoric. The only reason zip ties would be contemplated is if they expected a struggle to ensue. The added performative element to these incidents, in which everyone seems to be auditioning for some type of reality show, is equally disturbing.

At some point, the confluence of a still-misinformed, ignorant and frustrated public—a culture that essentially glorifies and extols the virtue of guns and melodramatic violence as a way to resolve disputes—and a continuing, lethal pandemic are bound to reach critical mass. As the delta variant continues to wreak havoc among the unvaccinated population,  and with the school year just beginning, the question seems no longer to be if something bad is likely to occur, but rather when and where.

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