A screenshot of Saddleback College Professor Tom DeDonno during a lecture on video game design.

A South Orange County community college says it is investigating a professor for incorporating extremist propaganda about the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol into a recorded lecture for an online course about video game design.

In the lecture, professor Tom DeDonno, who chairs the Computer Information Management Department at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, said the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection was staged to implicate Trump supporters, called the killing of Ashli Babbitt by Capitol Police during the attack a “joke” and said all of it is part of a larger campaign from the Chinese military to impose an “atheist theocracy” on the U.S.

The course that included the pre-recorded lecture was Introduction to Video Game Design, which is intended to teach video game design concepts such as strategies, scripting and game history, according to the course syllabus.

Saddleback, which is a public community college with about 20,000 students, launched the investigation following a complaint from a Long Beach student who also contacted the Post about the lecture. Reporters at the Post were able to watch the lecture before it was removed this week.

Jennie McCue, a spokesperson for Saddleback College, said the school is looking into the student’s complaint. She said it’s unknown how long the inquiry will take.

“The inappropriate content on Jan. 6 has already been removed” from the lecture, said McCue.

Screenshot of slide from Intro to Video Game Design lecture by Saddleback College Professor Tom DeDonno.

McCue said DeDonno is still employed at the school, but couldn’t comment on any past complaints that might have been directed against him, saying it was a personnel matter.

DeDonno did not return several calls and emails for this story.

The lecture in question concerns the role military strategy plays in the development of video games like Age of Empires and Civilization. It was apparently originally recorded on Feb. 17, 2021, according to its document name and statements DeDonno makes at the start of the lecture.

The student who complained about the video said it’s not unusual for remote learning classes to include lectures recycled from earlier semesters. There were about 20 students in the video game design class, according to the student.

In the lecture, which runs a little over an hour and a half, DeDonno shows slides and talks at great length about the design elements that go into strategy games, which are often based on real historical events, such as the battles fought by the Spartans against the Persian empire or the Scottish insurgent William Wallace. For much of the lecture, DeDonno goes into detail about why wars have been fought historically, as well as the concepts of strategic objectives and tactical advantages.

Then about an hour and 15 minutes into the lecture, DeDonno put up a slide titled “Modern Day Warfare.”

“We’re actually in another war now,” DeDonno says. “The only problem is it’s not looking good for us.”

Over the next 10 minutes, DeDonno described to his students how he believes the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol was a “false flag operation” that’s part of a current assault on this country by the Chinese military, which has “taken full control of our mass media, our mainstream media,” he said during the lecture.

DeDonno, through slides and his own statements, told his students that the Chinese military is using “racism” to “divide and conquer” the U.S. so that it can impose a “government atheist theocracy” on the country. DeDonno also insisted that the Chinese military is using fifth-generation mobile networks, known as 5G, to “spy on Africans,” conspired with Mexican drug cartels to flood American streets with fentanyl and strongly hinted that COVID-19 is a biological weapon purposely released by the Chinese government.

One of the ways DeDonno claimed China has attacked the U.S. is by using leftist forces to stage the Jan. 6 Capitol riot to look like it was carried out by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

For evidence, DeDonno said video footage of the attack showed people storming the Capitol wearing helmets, even though “Trump supporters don’t wear helmets,” he insisted. DeDonno also said the killing of Ashli Babbitt by Capitol Police was a “staged murder.”

There is no factual evidence for any of DeDonno’s assertions. The U.S. Department of Justice has charged more than 900 individuals with crimes related to the assault on the Capitol. More than 325 of those charged have since pleaded guilty, according to Politico.

The Long Beach student, who asked not to be identified because of the possibility of retribution, watched the lecture on Sept. 24. The student was taking DeDonno’s course because they “thought it would be fun.” The student said they had not witnessed DeDonno say anything objectionable in any prior course lectures.

“What is happening?” the student said they wondered when DeDonno began talking about Jan. 6. “This is unprofessional, and I can’t be the only student that was uncomfortable.”

That day, the student emailed Penelope Skaff, Saddleback College’s Dean of Counseling, stating that the material was not appropriate for any course, much less one concerned with video game design.

“At no point should we be discussing something like the January 6th attack, or individual freedoms and vaccines, and quite frankly, it’s disappointing that this person is a representation of this school,” the student said in the email.

According to emails provided by the student, Skaff responded within the hour, saying that she appreciated the student’s “thorough” email and would share the concerns with DeDonno’s dean.

Though Skaff told the student that someone from the college would follow up the next week, the student said no school official has reached out since that initial Sept. 24 email.

The deadline for the student to drop the class had passed prior to Sept. 24, according to the student. Since then, the student said they have not participated in any further coursework for the class.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now, honestly,” the student said. “I don’t want to drop the class and have it on my record. I’d like to just wipe it from my record and move on.”

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Anthony Pignataro is an investigative reporter and editor for the Long Beach Post. He has close to three decades of experience in journalism leading numerous investigations and long-form journalism projects for the OC Weekly and other publications. He joined the Post in May 2021.