White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly offered a blunt reaction Wednesday to a Southern California teacher’s disparaging comments about American troops.
Speaking on Fox News Radio, Kelly, a retired four-star general, listened to Gregory Salcido’s viral classroom rant — in which the high school teacher and Pico Rivera city councilman called members of the military “the lowest of our low” — and said: “Well, I think the guy ought to go to hell. I just hope he enjoys the liberties and the lifestyles that we fought for.”
Salcido has become the subject of harsh criticism — and, he says, violent threats — over a video in which he’s heard insulting members of the military fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The video was reportedly taken during a history class Salcido was teaching at El Rancho High School, as he launched into a rant about how long the wars overseas have dragged on.
“Because we have a bunch of dumbss over there,” Salcido said in the video, which is peppered with profanity. “Think about the people who you know who are over there. Your freaking stupid Uncle Louie or whatever. They’re dumbss. They’re not like high-level thinkers, they’re not academic people, they’re not intellectual people. They’re the lowest of our low.”
Amid mounting backlash — including calls for his firing — Salcido has been condemned by his fellow council members and placed on administrative leave by the school district, whose superintendent has said “there will be disciplinary measures taken.”
A special Tuesday night school board meeting in Pico Rivera, a small city on the outskirts of Los Angeles, was “standing room only,” according to a reporter who covered it, and some attendees wore military garb or brought American flags. “Several people in the audience wanted to speak directly to why Salcido, 49, has not been fired,” the Whittier Daily News reported.
But the newspaper noted that Salcido’s comments were not among the two items on the brief agenda, and El Rancho Unified School District Board President Aurora Villon said near the start of the meeting that “we will not entertain public comments that are not part of the agenda. So at this point, we will move on.”
That did not sit well with the attendees, who wanted to talk about Salcido.
“I don’t understand why it’s not going to be a topic of discussion,” said one attendee in a Navy hoodie. “This is why you have so many people here. . . . You should allow us to speak.”
Meeting attendees cheered.
“At this point, we’re going to move on,” Villon said.
People weren’t having it, slamming Salcido and berating the board.
“As your elected officials, you need to give us an opportunity to talk, to discuss this,” Villon pleaded, before noting that comments about Salcido will be welcome at the school board’s next regular meeting, on Tuesday at Pico Rivera City Hall.
The Daily News wrote that Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials “are anticipating huge crowds” there and at the Pico Rivera City Council meeting a week later.
There is also a Friday protest being organized through Facebook: “Remove Councilman Gregory Salcido from El Rancho High school.
“Patriots from all over Southern California are uniting at El Rancho High School to stand up for the men and women of our American Military, in support of students, and to ensure the faculty is being held accountable for false indoctrination and not meeting the ethical standards our students deserve,” the protest organizers wrote.
The Salcido video appears to have been surreptitiously recorded. It was published Friday on Facebook by a woman who tagged the post from Connecticut and said the student who filmed it was a friend’s son. She urged her followers to help her “make this go viral,” and the video spread widely, with millions of views, after it was picked up by conservative media outlets, including Fox News Channel and Breitbart News.
The person taking the video — identified in local media reports as an El Rancho High senior whose father is a veteran — appears to be wearing a Marines sweatshirt.
“So, if you join the military, it’s because you had no other options,” Salcido is heard saying. “It’s because you didn’t take care of business academically, because your parents didn’t love you enough to push you and then you didn’t love yourself enough to push yourself.”
The El Rancho Unified School District has not responded to requests for comment.
But the Whittier Daily News reported Monday that Salcido has been placed on administrative leave as the district investigates his comments.
“One thing we are telling people for sure is that the commitment of the board and the superintendent and the staff is to really get to the bottom of this for the community,” Superintendent Karling Aguilera-Fort told the newspaper.
The superintendent had earlier told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that “we acknowledge it is his voice based on the research of the incident so far and knowing it came from one of our classrooms.”
The Daily News also reported that “security was stepped up at City Hall and the school, and phones rang off the hook at both sites with callers demanding [Salcido] resign both posts.”
Aguilera-Fort, along with school board officials and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Capt. Pat Valdez, “met with school faculty to discuss safety issues in light of the controversy and how to move forward teaching students.”
Salcido did not return a request for comment sent to the email address on his city biography page, which said he was a graduate of El Rancho High School, where he now teaches, and has served as the city’s mayor three times. He also serves as a member of the city’s History and Heritage Society Committee.
He told the Los Angeles Times that he had been receiving threats since the video was published.
“Because of the many vulgar and violent threats against my family I do not have any comment on the situation at this time,” he said in an email to the newspaper.
Valdez, of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, told the Tribune that he had ordered patrols of Salcido’s home. He also sent deputies to the home of the student who recorded the teacher’s rant.
“We are monitoring social media where there has been very strong opinions on both sides,” Valdez told the newspaper. “Our priority is keeping people safe, especially students and school and city staff.”
In the video, Salcido is heard speaking in loaded terms about foes of the United States, saying the military was losing to “dudes wearing freaking robes and chanclas [flip-flops]” in the Middle East.
“The data is in, we don’t have a good military,” he said. “We couldn’t beat the Vietnamese. They’re a bunch of people this freaking big throwing rice at us.”
He also criticized military recruiters in public schools.
“It’s a lie that our military is freaking bing,” he said. “Why, after the national anthem, do we have a killing machine fly over the freaking stadium? You know, the stealth bomber comes in. Everyone’s all like, ‘Yeah.’ Like, ‘That’s what we kill people with, woo.’ Why would that be something we celebrate?”
Pentagon spokeswoman Amber Smith told Breitbart that she had seen the teacher’s remarks and that they were “very uninformed.”
A Facebook page that appeared to be Salcido’s showed a long list of angry, abusive and vaguely threatening comments. Some posted the teacher’s phone number and email address and, on Twitter, what they claimed were addresses for Salcido’s home and office.
“If you ever said some s like that to me you would be brain dead,” one commenter wrote on Facebook, before the account disappeared.
Another referred to the relative proximity of Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base located about two hours away from Pico Rivera.
“Camp Pen just down the road for Marines,” the commenter wrote. “You might want to move mother f–!!!”
A person who identified himself as a former student of Salcido’s wrote in to defend him.
“This ‘man’ is a wonderful educator,” the person wrote. “Taught me to see the other points of view in the world, and know when to recognize ignorance when it arose.”
Pico Rivera, a predominantly Latino city of 63,000, was founded by veterans after World War II and maintains a strong connection to the military, its mayor, Gustavo Camacho, told The Washington Post.
“I and my fellow council members strongly disagree with Mr. Salcido’s point of view,” Camacho said in a phone interview. “Quite frankly, we denounce his statements.”
Camacho estimated that at least 35 percent of residents had veterans in their families.
“We have four veteran posts. Every family here is connected to an individual who has served or is currently serving,” Camacho said. “There is no doubt that the majority of folks are disturbed by this, but as a family we’ll overcome this.”
Camacho told NBC Los Angeles that the city was “looking at all options. . . . But one option I have the authority to exercise is I will be removing him from all committees.”
This is not the first time Salcido has been in the news.
In 2010, he was placed on administrative leave after a parent complained about his classroom conduct, according to the Whittier Daily News. About two years later, he was again placed on leave after the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department received a complaint that he struck a student, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.
The student who recorded the video is a 17-year-old senior whose father and two uncles are veterans, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
“It was so disrespectful to my dad and my uncles and all veterans and those still in the military,” the student told the newspaper over the weekend, noting at the time that “he wished to remain anonymous because he doesn’t want any repercussions from friends who support Salcido.”
But on Monday, CW affiliate KTLA identified the student as Victor Quinonez, who told the station that he hopes to join the Marines — like his father.
Quinonez’s mother, Karen Rodriguez, told KTLA that Salcido should lose his teaching job.
“I don’t think that somebody with that mentality — and not being able to refrain themselves from the things that they express about — should be . . . in a school environment,” she told the station.
Salcido, KTLA reported, also made her son “stand in front of the class to justify why he wants to become a Marine after graduating this year.”
Said the boy’s father, Vincent: “It’s not . . . about freedom of speech. That’s fine; [Salcido] can say what he wants. But to say it to the youth is wrong. To bully my son is wrong, to discriminate against people who want to be in the military is wrong.”
The video was taken in a history class earlier in January. Victor Quinonez said he was surprised by the attention it has received.
“It wasn’t meant for anyone else, but my mom shared it with a few friends,” he told the Tribune, “and now it’s this.”