Residents demand apology from LBCC board president who accused colleague of spreading QAnon conspiracies

A dozen members of the public expressed strong support during Wednesday’s Long Beach Community College Board meeting for a trustee who was accused of holding extreme right-wing views aligned with the QAnon conspiracy by the board president.

Several residents also called for Uduak-Joe Ntuk, who made the allegations against Trustee Virginia Baxter in a series of emails to the Post, to publicly apologize to Baxter and resign his position as board president.

Ntuk said nothing about the matter during the meeting, but on Thursday said he would not apologize or resign.

During the meeting, supporters of Baxter spoke of how they’d known her for three or four decades and found the allegations against her “ludicrous” and “vile.”

Baxter is a “knowledgeable and caring person” who deserves respect for her “commitment to equity and fairness,” said Felton Williams, a former Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education president. Williams then called for Ntuk to make a public apology to Baxter.

Commercial real estate agent Brian Russell said he has known Baxter for 40 years. “Any allegations, other than that Dr. Baxter is dedicated, cares for the students and is an inclusive leader and community leader are just not accurate,” he said.

Charlotte Joseph, a retired LBCC faculty member, read from a letter calling for Ntuk to step down as board president.

Other supporters submitted written comments, some of which were read into the record by attendees. Naomi Rainey Pierson, president of the Long Beach branch of the NAACP, said in her written comments that she has known Baxter for over 30 years, and found Ntuk’s statements against Baxter “heart-breaking.”

“I was born in Mississippi during the tumultuous civil rights era, and definitely know and understand racism,” said Rainey Pierson. “Dr. Baxter is not a racist. She supports African Americans and other people of color.”

Both Ntuk and Baxter are running for reelection in November to their respective seats, though Ntuk is running unopposed.

Ntuk made the allegations against Baxter when the Long Beach Post asked him to weigh in on a statement from Baxter’s opponent in the Nov. 8 election. Her challenger, Juan Cepeda-Rizo, said he’s running to unseat Baxter in part because the LBCC board had become dysfunctional, with embarrassing arguments among trustees spilling into public and into the court system.

Ntuk said that assertion was correct, at least when it comes to Baxter: “Virginia Baxter traffics in QAnon conspiracies and misinformation which has contributed to disfunction on the board,” Ntuk wrote in an email to the Long Beach Post.

When asked for specifics, Ntuk wrote: “In my opinion, on multiple occasions Virgina Baxter has made comments about QAnon conspiracies, including replacement theory, vaccine skepticism, and our ethic studies/critical race theory courses are bad for LBCC students.”

But when asked to provide examples, Ntuk softened his accusation, saying Baxter, “has not explicitly declared to me that she is a member of QAnon. I have heard her say at meetings on multiple occasions about various conspiracy theories that overlap with QAnon and other conservative rhetoric. She made many false, baseless, and false conspiracies comments that undermines the work of the board to serve our students and community.”

In an email Thursday, Ntuk first said that while he supported the speakers’ rights to defend Baxter, their experiences and his “are not mutually exclusive.”

“I do not have an apology and certainly not a resignation for speaking truth to my lived experience with my colleague,” Ntuk said.

Ntuk then followed up with a second email containing what he described as “evidence” of his claims against Baxter. Included in that email was a five-page letter dated June 21, 2021, by Ramchandran Sethuraman, the head of the LBCC library who has since retired, and an email thread between Baxter and former LBCC Trustee Jeff Kellogg, who Ntuk defeated in 2018.

None of the materials included in Ntuk’s second email referenced QAnon, which is a right-wing extremist group that falsely believes former President Donald Trump is at war with a shadowy cabal of Democrats who molest and eat children.

In the letter, written after philanthropist MacKenzie Scott agreed to give LBCC $30 million, Sethuraman heaps praise on LBCC Superintendent Mike Munoz, Ntuk and the rest of the trustees.

Sethuraman praises Ntuk in the letter for his “genuine integrity, honesty, transparency and providing a more inclusive leadership” that “enabled us to beat Jeff Kellogg, a leader with abundance of wealth and canvassing power.” Sethuraman then said in his letter that “we need to redouble our efforts” to ensure that “White supremacy does not gain a strong foothold in our campuses.”

In the email thread between Baxter and Kellogg, which is dated June 22, 2021, the two poke fun at the Sethuraman’s letter. “Now you don’t have to be nice to Dr. Seth!” Baxter wrote.

“Don’t remember him or ever having a conversation with him,” Kellogg responded. “He sounds like a big supporter of mine and white people in general. Lol!”

“Yes but he loves me!!” Baxter replied.

When asked about the email thread, Kellogg said he did not remember it, but expressed surprise that Ntuk considered it evidence that Baxter believes in far right-wing conspiracies.

“In politics today, you can get stereotyped very quickly,” Kellogg said, denying anything in that email thread was racist. “These allegations are really not fair and not appropriate.”

Baxter, who was first elected to the LBCC Board in 2014 and has been affiliated with the college for the past five decades, has denied holding any views even close to that of QAnon. She thanked her supporters at the close of the Wednesday trustee meeting, but said nothing else about the controversy.

She did not immediately respond to call for comment.

During the meeting, Sunny Zia was the only board member other than Baxter to acknowledge the controversy. She said that she has “not seen anyone as kind-hearted” and “dedicated to students” as Baxter, and that she stands “with the public who spoke tonight.”

LBCC board president accuses colleague of spreading QAnon conspiracies—then backtracks

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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.
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