From Berner to M4L: The Dramatic Political Transformation of Dr. Aakash Ahuja

Once a self-declared "Progressive", Dr. Aakash Ahuja's campaign for Hart School Board gains backing from Moms for Liberty and the GOP establishment in Santa Clarita.



June 15, 2024 - Patrick Gipson, the far-right Republican candidate who is running against incumbent Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo in California’s 40th Assembly District, officially endorsed the campaign of Dr. Aakash Ahuja, who is running to unseat Independent incumbent school board member Linda Storli in Trustee Area 1 of the William S. Hart School District.


“I’m confident Dr. Aakash is more than able to excel as a school board member. We share the same values, and I trust that Dr. Aakash will put our children’s safety first,” Gipson said in a statement released by Dr. Aakash’s campaign.


Dr. Aakash, who is often called simply “Dr. Aakash”, also has the full support of leaders in the rightwing group “Moms for Liberty”. He earned the endorsement of Anna Griese, who is an elected member of the Saugus Union School District (SUSD) Governing Board and also a Moms for Liberty member. Karen Frost, the head of Los Angeles County Moms for Liberty, responded to the announcement on Dr. Aakash’s campaign Facebook page, “That’s great! I think highly of both of you!”


“Thanks a ton for your support,” Aakash responded to Frost. “Yes, Anna has been instrumental in helping the kids and parents.”


In 2023, Karen Frost led an effort to change the policy of the William S. Hart High School District to force teachers and administrators to out LGBTQ+ children. This led to a packed Hart School Board meeting on November 15, 2024, that saw a large turnout from the community in support of LGBTQ+ kids.


Now the Los Angeles County Moms for Liberty are targeting school board seats in Santa Clarita Valley with candidates that align with their ideas, and Linda Storli’s seat is one of their targets. Storli, a former Republican turned Independent, has supported LGBTQ+ issues while in office, which has drawn the ire of Frost and her allies.


Dr. Aakash was not always so Conservative. Dr. Aakash's political views have significantly shifted over time. In 2020, he identified as a "Progressive" similar to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, even seeking the endorsement of the local Democratic Party for a run for Santa Clarita City Council. When he failed to woo local Democrats in 2020, Aakash drifted to the far-right elements of the Republican Party.


In 2020, Dr. Aakash Ahuja made an appearance at a rally for Christy Smith for Congress that featured then-Senator Kamala Harris. Aakash, wearing an emerald green sports coat, stood out at the event. Dr. Aakash weaved his way through the crowd, shaking hands and striking up conversations with people. His spiel, practiced and surface-level, changed with each encounter. He told people that he considered himself to be a “Progressive” and that he supported the presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Despite his efforts, conversations remained one-sided, his attempts to connect with most of the activists falling flat. Never before had Dr. Aakash attended an event with the local Democratic club, the Democratic Alliance for Action (DAA) nor had he volunteered on any Democratic campaign.

His main reason for attending, however, seemed to be to get a photo with Sen. Kamala Harris. Dr. Aakash positioned himself strategically, managing to photobomb a picture of her with a group of ecstatic Christy Smith supporters, including members of Moms Demand Action.


Dr. Aakash wasn't entirely unsuccessful at wooing folks from the Bernie Sanders crowd. A lone Saugus School Board member named David Barlavi found himself drawn into conversations about Progressive ideals and policy ideas with Aakash. Barlavi held Zoom meetings with Dr. Aakash where he became convinced that he was the most Progressive choice for City Council next to Chris Werthe, a veteran and engineer who had been campaigning for almost two years. While Aakash's charm might have backfired on most, a select few found themselves strangely captivated by him. Rumors circulated that Dr. Aakash was prepared to dump tens of thousands of dollars of his own money into the City Council race. Barlavi was enthusiastic and pushed Dr. Aakash’s campaign wherever he could. The other Democrat who was running in the race was Kevin. After interviewing Kelvin Driscoll, a former Assembly candidate, Barlavi rejected him and endorsed Dr. Aakash, in direct opposition to DAA and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, which had endorsed both Chris Werthe and Kelvin Driscoll.


During his 2020 campaign for Santa Clarita City Council, Dr. Aakash Ahuja sparked outrage among local Democratic activists when photos of him surfaced posing with a chained tiger. The photos appear to have been posted by Dr. Aakash on his Instagram account. This gained him the nickname "Tiger King" in Democratic circles.

Dr. Aakash's carefully cultivated online image (mostly of him posing with numerous American flags) took a sharp turn for the worse when a series of photos on his Instagram account surfaced. They depicted him posing triumphantly beside tigers that were visibly lethargic and restrained by thick chains. Outrage among local Democratic activists was swift. The timing couldn't have been worse. With the "Tiger King" documentary fresh in everyone's minds, the photos were a stark reminder of the exploitation and abuse these magnificent creatures often endure. Social media erupted with accusations of hypocrisy, with netizens mockingly christening him "The Tiger King." Aakash, known for his relentless pursuit of positive PR, was apoplectic. He lashed out, furiously blocking anyone who dared to criticize him. This defensive reaction only further fueled the fire, turning a PR nightmare into a full-blown public relations meltdown.


Dr. Aakash released a video on his campaign Facebook page explaining that he took the photos on a trip to Thailand with his father. He said he was told that the tigers were "living in harmony" with local monks. Dr. Aakash also questioned whether or not the people who were making a big deal of the photos had some other "political agenda" to stop him because he was "an outsider who generally wants to do good for the city." Dr. Aakash then released another video explaining that he was blocking certain Santa Clarita voters on Facebook to prevent them from stealing his photos.

On September 24, 2020, Dr. Aakash Ahuja released two videos on his campaign Facebook page. In one video, Dr. Aakash spoke about the photos that surfaced of him posing with sedated and chained tigers. In the second video, Dr. Aakash explained why his campaign decided to block certain Santa Clarita voters and Democratic activists on Facebook.


Dr. Aakash ran his campaign like he was running for Congress. He had a full campaign staff that he paid. Dr. Aakash's campaign manager, tasked with building a public image for the doctor and running his campaign for City Council, found himself drowning in a sea of unfocused energy. Dr. Aakash's failures were allegedly taken out on his employees. Tensions boiled over, causing the campaign manager to walk, leaving Dr. Aakash's public aspirations floundering alongside his office efficiency.


After Dr. Aakash’s losses in the 2020 City Council election, he switched parties from Democrat to Republican. In 2022, he ran for City Council a second time, but eventually dropped out and endorsed Denise Lite, a far-right anti-vax and anti-immigrant candidate. Dr. Aakash wholeheartedly surrendered himself to the Republican Party, attending campaign rallies and fundraisers, and even serving on the Los Angeles County Republican Party Central Committee. In April 2023, Dr. Aakash attended a fundraiser for the Republican Assembly District 40 Central Committee at the home of Denise Lite.


One of the most alarming developments regarding Dr. Aakash is his alignment with Moms for Liberty, a group designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This organization has a sordid history with white supremacists, including posing for photos with members of the Proud Boys while flashing racist hand gestures. Although Moms for Liberty officially repudiated these affiliations after footage emerged from one of their conferences where a speaker praised Adolf Hitler, white supremacists continue to have an outsized presence within the group across the nation.

The Telegram Channel "Moms for Liberty Uncensored", while not considered official communication from the organization, serves as a sounding board for Moms for Liberty members' most radical beliefs. The channel reveals associations with white supremacist organizations and pushes racist and homophobic ideas.

Furthermore, the group Moms for Liberty Uncensored on Telegram provides a platform for members to express their true thoughts and feelings about issues related to race, gender, and LGBTQ rights. The posts on this channel are shocking, featuring Holocaust denial, pro-segregation arguments, and praise for Confederate soldiers from the Civil War. The group frequently shares racist images, Confederate flags, and footage from the white supremacist organization Patriot Front. 

The official Telegram channel for the Patriot Front shows members of its "Network 14" chapter defacing buildings in Santa Clarita, CA with racist propaganda and attempting to intimidate immigrants coming across the U.S./Mexican border.

In April 2024, the Patriot Front posted photos, claiming that they had stenciled white supremacist propaganda on the side of a building in Santa Clarita. The stencils feature the Patriot Front slogan “Life, Liberty, Victory”, which is supposed to signify their opposition to laws giving civil rights to non-white minorities and LGBTQ+ people.


What makes the advocacy of Moms for Liberty's embrace of Dr. Aakash's political campaign so ironic is that the Patriot Front and other white supremacist groups that align themselves with Moms for Liberty would be unlikely to support Dr. Aakash, himself an immigrant, despite their agreement on issues such as restricting LGBTQ+ rights and censoring books.

Karen Frost, the Chair of the Santa Clarita-based Los Angeles County Moms for Liberty campaigned at a gun show in Kern County (left) to gather signatures for three ballot measures that targeted LGBTQ+ children. Frost has also appeared on Fox News (right) as a spokesperson for Moms for Liberty to talk about abortion, advocate for book bans, and other anti-LGBTQ+ policies.

Within the local chapter of Moms for Liberty, Karen Frost, chair of the Los Angeles County Moms for Liberty, has been attending gun shows and other events around California to gather signatures to put a radical anti-LGBTQ+ proposition on the ballot. The “Protect Kids of California Act of 2024” is a combination of three ballot initiatives that intend to force schools to out LGBTQ+ children to their parents, stop transgender children from playing in sports, and ban gender-affirming care for minors. All three initiatives failed to gather the 546,651 signatures required by the California Secretary of State by the April 29, 2024 deadline, and the Secretary of State declared the initiatives to have “failed” on May 10, 2024. Frost has also appeared on Fox News as a spokesperson for Moms for Liberty to talk about abortion, and speak out in support of book censorship, and other anti-LGBTQ+ policies. Her support of Dr. Aakash's campaign for school board cements his status as the Moms for Liberty candidate in the race.


Dr. Aakash Ahuja's transformation from “Progressive” to the darling of Moms for Liberty and the Republican Party has been astonishing, but he may have finally found his political home. Despite struggling to find his footing over the past four years, he is now running for office with the full backing of the GOP political establishment in Santa Clarita.

Santa Clarita Weekly

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