Over the last week, more than 18,000 acres of Southern California’s Cleveland National Forest have been torched and over 21,000 Riverside County residents have been evacuated from their homes as fire authorities struggle to contain what they’re calling the Holy Fire, which began in Holy Jim Canyon on Monday afternoon. The cause? Arson. And according to police, the man responsible lives in the only cabin in the canyon to be unaffected by the blaze. On Tuesday afternoon, Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, was arrested and charged with two counts of arson, one count of felony threat to terrorize, and one misdemeanor count of resisting arrest, and he could face life in prison if convicted.
According to fire authorities, Clark is suspected of setting the blaze in part because of a threatening email he allegedly sent to volunteer fire chief, Mike Milligan, which stated, “The place is going to burn.”
“Our strongest evidence is through our witness statements,” Orange County Fire Authority Battalion Chief Shane Sherwood said, according to The Desert Sun, noting that the felony threat to terrorize steams from threats that Clark allegedly made to neighbors. “We believe the fire was an intentional act.”
Sometime before his arrest, Clark gave a bizarre on-camera interview in which he denied knowing how the fire started, and then rambled about not having slept for 20 days and being targeted by gangs.
Milligan said that last week, Clark ran through the Holy Jim community screaming, and has a long history of feuds with his neighbors and local authorities. According to the Orange County Register, Clark has accused Milligan running drugs, claimed he could read minds, and in an encounter with police before his arrest, stripped off all his clothing. The newspaper’s review of court records revealed that a man with his same name and birthday was held involuntarily at a mental health treatment center in 1996, and in 2012, Clark’s mother was granted a temporary restraining order against her son, about whom she alleged, “There is no peace in my home when he is here.”
However, Clark’s biggest beef may be with, well, reality. JJ MacNab, a writer who focuses on anti-government extremism, gave Clark’s eight years of social media history a thorough review and discovered that he’d been active in the “sovereign citizen” movement since at least 2010, and was a member of an alternative-government group called the Republic of the united States of America (RuSA), which believes that the country has been under the control of an imposter government since 1871. Clark’s Facebook activity, she says, suggests he “believes in just about every kooky conspiracy out there, including QAnon, Pizzagate, Jade Helm 15, flat earth theories, NESARA, Jesuit conservancies, shape-shifting lizard overlords.”
“The guy was like a canary in a coal mine,” MacNab tweeted. “He was always one of the first true believers to glom onto whatever conspiracy theory was new and sexy that month.”