For most Anchorage residents, the scandal that ultimately took down the city’s mayor began a week ago last Friday when local TV anchor Maria Athens posted a bizarre Facebook promo for an expose on that night’s broadcast that promised to prove Mayor Ethan Berkowitz had been posting nude photos of himself on a website meant for underaged girls.
A curious many surely tuned in to KTBY Channel 4 that night to watch this salacious enterprise piece, but were treated to no such thing, as in the hours between the promo and the broadcast, the story was spiked by station management, and Athens was arrested after allegedly assaulting the same station manager — who also happened to be her fiance — as well as a police officer. Also in that time, the FBI and Anchorage Police Department announced there was no validity whatsoever to Athens’ claims of crimes against a minor.
Before she was hauled away to jail and then the Alaska Psychiatric Institute over that weekend, Athens tweeted out a photo of what appeared to be the bare ass of Berkowitz taken in his own bathroom.
The following Monday, Berkowitz admitted to an ‘inappropriate texting relationship’ with Athens, was shortly thereafter rebuked by the Anchorage Assembly for his admitted behavior and prior to the start of Tuesday’s regular Assembly meeting, the mayor’s chief of staff read a short letter announcing the mayor would be resigning his office 10 days hence.
A large crowd on hand at the Loussac Library stood up and cheered loudly and had to be repeatedly ordered to quiet down so the meeting could resume.
To most Anchorage residents, this is where the story of the mayor’s scandal ends. But the truth is that this effort to unseat the mayor by any means necessary began months earlier with the launch of a Facebook group called ‘Save Anchorage,’ whose members counted for most — if not all — of the cheering horde at the mayor’s resignation.
A group that began ostensibly as resistance to municipal plans to use CARES Act funding for housing the homeless, it became a lightning rod for opposition to any and all COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the mayor and eventually became a slough of anti-Semitism, racism, and adherence to the conspiracy cult QAnon that had its fingerprints all over Athens’ wild accusations against Berkowitz.
Save Anchorage began Facebook life on July 10, 2020 and by its own definition says that the group's primary goal is to, "create dialogue & action to Save Anchorage! We are a grassroots effort to create positive change within our community."
They are a Facebook group consisting of, some people from Anchorage, some people from Alaska and a lot of propaganda fake accounts from everywhere else.
The Save Anchorage Facebook group is not a political organization. They are not an organization or a corporation. A search of the Alaska Department of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing resulted in zero matches for, "Save Anchorage."
Mainly, they act like bullies attempting to legitimize themselves without legally organizing in the State of Alaska which would make them accountable for their actions.
The goal of Save Anchorage, and the recurring theme among its group members, is to destroy Ethan Berkowitz.
They don't seem to care about the homeless as they claim, but rather want to criminalize homelessness or ship disenfranchised human beings off to Portland.
The words "Nazi, dictator, Hitler, tyrant, Lord Farquaad, Pedowitz, Bagoshitz" are just some of the group-coined words the group spreads on social media to refer to Berkowitz, hardly hiding their anti-semitism.
Anchorage mayoral candidate Dave Bronson spoke to roughly 50 members of the group back in August, showing no pause about associating with a group associated with such hate speech.
Must Read Alaska, published by longtime GOP mouthpiece Suzanne Downing, as well as newer conservative blog The Watchman, and columns by Dan Fagan, a former Alaskan now living in Louisiana, are posted to the group enmasse, seemingly fueling vitriol and conspiracy theories within the group.
The personal connection between Athens and Downing first shows up in May 2018, when Athens promoted a conspiracy theory on her professional Facebook page related to Berkowitz's wife, who was involved in a tragic accident. This is a "theory" put forth by Suzanne Downing on her blog Must Read Alaska, which entertains a wild conspiracy to acquit the mayor’s wife after she accidentally struck a pedestrian back in 2009.
Athens referred to Berkowitz's wife as "First Lady Killer Mara Kimmel," on her professional Facebook page, the same day she accused Ethan Berkowitz of pedophilia.
Suzanne Downing, who claims not to be associated with Maria Athens, said she
spoke extensively with Athens in an off-the-record conversation after Athens' arrest, because, as we all know, when you're in legal trouble for accusing the Mayor of Anchorage of pedophilia and have threatened the life of a government official in a voice mail, an independent blogger like Downing should be the first person you speak to.
Athens used the Save Anchorage hashtag six times on Facebook between August and October in her professional capacity as a Lead News Anchor, being quite favorable in her coverage of people and businesses such as Kriner's Diner, a political enemy of Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.
The anti-semitic, homophobic and otherwise repugnant language of the Facebook group also promotes violence and racism, as affirmed by former Save Anchorage page administrator Joseph Lurtsema and current Anchorage Assemblywoman Jamie Allard when they attempted to tamp down on an alarmingly high and ever-increasing number of posts and comments promoting those topics in August — more on that later.
Save Anchorage's Facebook group members have also submitted posts and comments to the group promoting George Soros conspiracy theories and dangerous QAnon theories. The group is rife with anti-COVID, anti-mask posts, comments and photographs.
Facebook has removed offending hate speech posts and comments from the group on more than one occasion but thus far has opted to permit the group to continue to exist.
A week ago, members of the online group had already begun issuing denials of this yet-unwritten article in the Anchorage Press, with one Save Anchorage member alleging that pictures/documents in the article would not be verifiable. This is what the group does: they deny, deflect and lie with great ease.
Fortunately for the truth, screenshots are forever and each file in our report is date/time stamped and accompanied by a full screenshot of the material.
Heather Meadows: Where it all began
The origin of the Save Anchorage group begins in the midtown Anchorage neighborhood of Heather Meadows, which propped up a rather official looking neighborhood website.
Heather Meadows Anchorage began posting Must Read Alaska blog posts on July 2, eight days before Save Anchorage was created on Facebook.
An accompanying Heather Meadows Facebook page appeared on July 8, two days before Save Anchorage was created and is filled with posts about the Anchorage Assembly.
In the very first post made by the website (Page 4), you'll find an article from
Must Read Alaska titled, "Midtown neighbors hire lawyer to fight Berkowitz’s ‘Golden Lion drug center," an article that was written by Suzanne Downing the same day it was posted to the website — July 2.
Digital goes postal
Then, 11 days after that first post came thousands of Save Anchorage mailers that appeared in mailboxes all over the city.
Inside the Save Anchorage mailer was a sheet encouraging people to testify at an upcoming Anchorage Assembly meeting because people affiliated with the group were upset over building purchases to help the homeless in the midst of a global pandemic alleging misuse of Cares Act money.
Heather Meadows is clearly printed at the bottom of the sheet.
These Save Anchorage mailers were sent to Anchorage residents the week of July 13, an awfully quick mobilization considering they had only created their virtual bastion on Facebook seven days prior.
Save Anchorage mailers were also dropped off at gas stations and local businesses, where many were thrown straight into garbage bins.
Each mailed envelope had labels affixed listing the return address as:
PO Box 240287
Anchorage, AK 99524
A website does exist for SaveAnchorage.com and you'll note at the bottom of the page that the YouTube icon links to the Must Read Alaska Youtube channel in addition to the words “independent efforts” at the bottom.
On August 12, Must Read Alaska published a blog titled,
Referendum filed to stop city from using COVID funds for Berkowitz homeless hotels. In it, Downing writes:
"A referendum application was filed with the Municipal Clerk today to prevent the Berkowitz Administration from using the CARES Act funds to buy four buildings around Anchorage and turn them into services and rooms for Anchorage street people."
"The group backing the referendum passed the hat last month to raise money from homeowners in various neighborhoods in Rogers Park, College Village, Heather Meadows, Geneva Woods, and Spenard. The effort was coordinated with grassroots participants, many of whom are new to the political process."
In the same article is a link to download the Referendum Downing refers to in her blog post.
In the referendum you'll find the name Julie Brophy, who is listed as one of the 10 eligible voters in the above-linked referendum filed against the Municipality of Anchorage on August 12, 2020. She is also an admin/moderator of the Save Anchorage Facebook group.
That name led us to her Facebook friend Lori Vickery, who happened to post a public picture of people putting together the Save Anchorage mailers in July. We can reasonably infer that this is part of the "grassroots" effort Save Anchorage touts.
The PO Box listed on the Save Anchorage mailer in July? It was shifted in August when PO Box 240287 became the mailing address for a domestic non-profit, "Alaskans for Real Cures to Homelessness” (ARCH).
The Certificate of Incorporation for ARCH was granted by the State of Alaska on August 13, just one dayafter the referendum was filed against the Municipality of Anchorage. The PO Box used for Save Anchorage mailers is now being used for ARCH's mailing address (bottom left of the page).
One of the Directors listed for ARCH is William Gornto, a Save Anchorage Administrator.
We were unable to find a telephone number, email address, website or social media page for Alaskans for Real Cures to Homelessness (ARCH), but we did stumble upon an article about ARCH which, to reiterate, is now using the PO Box once listed on the Save Anchorage mailers.
The singular article about ARCH was printed in, you guessed it, Must Read Alaska in an article titled, "Anchorage homeowners are denied their petition to reverse ‘homeless hotel’ plan" written by Suzanne Downing, whose fingerprints are on everything related to ‘Save Anchorage’ and her blog posts are posted to the group at an extremely high volume, stoking the fires of the already elevated paranoia and delusion within the group.
You can probably also guess that ARCH doesn't give one more solitary shit about homeless people than the caring souls of Save Anchorage do.
Downing has taken pains to avoid directly mentioning the group; yet she's somehow managed to write blog posts on issues raised by the Save Anchorage Facebook group before anyone else, enabling her to launch a never-ending barrage of attacks against Berkowitz, while at the same time dumping her own "content" into the group. She goes so far as to "report" to her readers about the Mayor's police protection details on Oct. 11 and again days later, which seems an odd bit of information for an independent blogger to be privy to.
Oh, and by the way, despite her protestations of ignorance, Downing is a member of the Save Anchorage Facebook group.
Let's recap the timeline so far:
- July 2, 2020 HeatherMeadowsAnchorage.com website begins posting Must Read Alaska articles
- July 8, 2020 Heather Meadows Neighborhood Facebook page created
- July 10, 2020 Save Anchorage Facebook group created
- July 13-18, Save Anchorage mailings go out using a PO Box that would later be associated with a new non-profit, ARCH, in less than a month
- July 14 Heather Meadows Facebook page begins promoting the Save Anchorage Facebook group
- August 12 Homeowners file referendum against the Municipality of Anchorage
- August 13, ARCH incorporated as a domestic non-profit using the PO Box "someone" associated with Facebook group Save Anchorage
- September 14 ARCH article appears in Must Read Alaska
But back to Joseph Lurtsema.
Lurtsema owns a marketing business specializing in social media and rumors have swirled that the group was filling the Save Anchorage Facebook group with fake members that can be bought on sites, which promises 2,500 members for $49.
In an interview with Alaska Public Media, Mayor Berkowtiz said, “There are people who genuinely disagree with what I’m doing,” he acknowledged. “But a lot of the anger that’s been whipped up here has been done through some very orchestrated means and it is not genuine, grassroots but more astroturf in its nature.”
Astroturfing means deceptively presenting the illusion of a grassroots movement while obfuscating the true orchestrators For example, when a social media group pretends to be a locally grown grassroots effort, but actually inflates its numbers with social media profiles outside the area or profiles that are altogether fake. Remember the site mentioned above that promises 2,500 followers for $49?
Lurtsema does not hide his disdain for Ethan Berkowitz's politics, even though he was associated with Berkowitz five years before his own political awakening.
Lurtsema acknowledged the violent rhetoric in the group after posting announcements at the end of August asking people to stop "inciting violence which will not be tolerated." However, he ignored repeated calls to tamp down on hate-filled rhetoric. Among those in the group calling on Lurtsema to keep the discourse more civil was sitting Anchorage Assembly member Jamie Allard of Eagle River.
Lurtsema curiously left his role as Save Anchorage Facebook group administrator shortly after Allard made an appearance in the group, chastizing the group for its uncivil conduct.
Allard posted to the Facebook group in August lambasting the group for their behavior, asking people to "not post racist comments, no calling folks names." But despite her noble objections, Allard still aligns herself with the Save Anchorage group even after their repeated negative press coverage, including an article published in September by Alaska Public Media.
The Save Anchorage hashtag appears on Allard's official Facebook page 13 times dating back to July 24, 2020, 14 days after the Facebook group was created.
Assembly member Allard
The Save Anchorage hashtag also appears on a flyer promoted by Allard, soliciting donations in an effort to place Save Anchorage verbiage on the side of the Performing Arts Center, an effort that came after the PAC permitted the hanging of Black Lives Matter banners on the side of its building.
Allard's campaign logo appears on the same flyer posted to Facebook on October 2, and which was also posted by former News Net Alaska Anchor Maria Athens the same day just 31 minutes later.
To be clear, Allard is using her official Facebook page as a sitting Assembly member to raise funds for a group that is a Facebook group.
When reached for comment as to whether this was something commonly done by Assembly members, West Anchorage rep and newly named interim mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson responded via e-mail, “... we (the assembly) don’t ‘solicit funds’ on behalf of groups…”
Interestingly, in April and May of this year, Maria Athens interviewed Assemblywoman Allard, who also has a history of promoting Must Read Alaska blog posts on her official Facebook page, 8 times in fact since May.
So who got Maria Athens to go nuclear?
It is clear that Save Anchorage is a group that formed in July with the expressed purpose of fighting Berkowitz’s policies and trying to remove him from office.
The perfect storm for their cause came together in the late summer when only businesses that could accommodate outdoor seating were allowed to remain open. That’s when Kriner’s Diner, which had become essentially the home restaurant of the Save Anchorage movement, made itself the poster child for the resistance to the mandates by refusing to close to indoor dine-in customers.
Athens, in particular, had a tight relationship with Kriner’s, using her TV position to report numerous favorable stories on the restaurant’s ongoing feud with the mayor’s office.
No known evidence shows a direct attempt by the group to cajole Athens into going over the deep end and using her compromising photos of the mayor to drive him from office. But it was at Kriner’s where Athens left her anti-semitic death threats for Berkowitz, having taken Blakely there for lunch after an interview about her successful baking business in the Kenai.
It was in that interview that Blakely, also a Save Anchorage group member, told Athens that her daughter, a 20-year-old escort, had identified Berkowitz as a past client. The young woman steadfastly denied ever having met Berkowitz, but for some reason, Athens left the interview convinced she had ‘very reliable sources’ proving the mayor’s complicity in pedophilia. The rest is Facebook infamy.
Perhaps all the push Athens needed came from none other than ‘Q’, the mysterious progenitor of the rising conspiracy theory QAnon, posts about which appear often on the Save Anchorage Facebook page.
QAnon is a growing conspiracy cult that began in 2017 and purports that Democratic politicians and Hollywood elites are Satanists who are all part of an enormous pedophile ring that one day will be brought to justice by the cult’s Lord and Savior, President Donald Trump.
QAnon rhetoric is highly anti-Semitic, focusing conveniently on George Soros for a whipping boy, and considers homosexuality and pedophilia to be one and the same.
Listen for these QAnon dog whistles in these Must Read Alaska posts:
“Alaska’s largest newspaper has just been awarded a grant from ProPublica, a George Soros-funded organization that is a politically charged entity...In response to Gov. Bevin’s video, the Soros Foundation called Bevin “anti-semitic,” which has become a common counter-attack from the Left.”
Suzanne Downing, 12/13/18 Soros-laced gift to ADN will support ‘investigative’ journalism
“Three openly gay members of the Anchorage Assembly — Christopher Constant, Felix Rivera and Austin Quinn-Davidson — are sponsoring an ordinance requiring counselors and even clergy to endorse and validate same-sex attraction or gender confusion when dealing with teenagers. Hickey says the ordinance would be a huge win for pedophiles. Hickey believes Constant, Rivera, and Quinn-Davidson are sponsoring the ordinance forcing counselors and clergy to endorse homosexuality and transgenderism when dealing with teens to validate their own lifestyle.”
Dan Fagan, 7/30/20 Anchorage Assembly proposes Pedophile Enablement Act?
“Alaska, your country needs you now more than ever. Our nation’s cold civil war is raging. The next major battle in the conflict comes November 3, when Americans will choose between a freedom-loving, free market based, capitalist country or one controlled and micromanaged by special interest-oriented, power-hungry Leftists. If there’s a move to negate capitalism and usher in anarchy in the country, Soros’ cash is behind it. “
“So, what’s this crowd trying to normalize now? How about pedophilia and sexual exploitation of children. We witnessed the Anchorage Assembly and current Mayor Ethan Berkowitz enact a law this year that one Eagle River business owner says will greatly benefit child predators and pedophiles. The Left has become so radical, extreme, and certifiably insane, only the most brainwashed of fools could back their movement...Come April of 2021, we’ll see a voter revolt much like the one that surfaced in the recent Republican primary. The day of reckoning is coming.”
Dan Fagan, 9/15/20 ‘Cuties’ culture war ramps up as pedophilia normalized
“A review of the Gross campaign contributors shows over 41 instances of contributions from political action committees, totaling tens of thousands of dollars. In addition, George Soros, the billionaire anti-capitalist, has donated to Gross’ campaign. Two donations are included as an illustration, but the total from the Soros family is nearly $17,000.”
Suzanne Downing, 10/10/20 Al Gross donated to Bernie? Yes, & took cash from Soros
“Critics reached out to Must Read Alaska to say that the quick investigation of Athens’ kiddie-porn charge by the Anchorage Police Department, and their hasty statement that there are no merits to the charge is something that defies explanation. The quick closing of the case calls into question the integrity of Police Chief Justin Doll.” (Save Anchorage had held a "Back The Blue" rally 51 days before.)
Suzanne Downing, 10/13/20, ‘War of the Roses’ meets ‘Fatal Attraction’ as Ethan Berkowitz uses his powers to attack Maria Athens
It’s possible that Downing knows that she may have finally gone too far, calling into integrity of the sitting Chief of Police based solely on the terroristic ramblings of a clearly ‘hostile and unwell’ individual.
In her Must Read Alaska post on Monday, Downing considerably backed off her plainly libelous assertion that Berkowitz is a pedophile, penning the blog: ‘If it wasn’t Mayor Berkowitz, who was the Alaska politician who likes kiddie porn?’
Downing speculates whether this supposed ‘short’ person is, still 100% certain this person exists: “A state worker? A lobbyist? An elected official? We don’t know and the media has left that trail unexplored whilst trying to find ways to slut-shame the anchor and make her entire existence not credible.”
No one ‘slut-shamed’ Maria Athens. Maria Athens revenge-porned and bullied Ethan Berkowitz and could face a considerable prison sentence as a result.
Downing once again will walk away from all her nonsense unscathed, probably with more conspiracy-crazed followers than ever before.
Such is life in a society with a free press, but the importance of this report is to remind the great majority of normal, sane Anchorage residents who don’t give their souls over to racist and homophobic conspiracy theories, that your elected government is under clear and present danger.
The days of public structure being something we can take for granted are gone. When Save Anchorage begins showing up to Assembly meetings with assault rifles, how long before they wear down the will of our public servants and take over the Assembly, then City Hall and the police- as they've also suggested?
When asked about the possible threat, Assemblyperson Chris Constant said, "While we know many of the followers are bots, we as a community have to reckon with the fact that many good people are being pulled into the toxic maelstrom on that page. We have to reach as many of them as we can. By and large Anchorage is filled with good people. I have many conservative friends who I can disagree with politically and we can still engage socially and work together. Hopefully folks will wake up to the nature of the group and leave. In the face of the bullying tactics, the overt threats of physical harm, the overt anti-semitism and homophobia, our biggest task over the next several months is to save Anchorage from Save Anchorage."