A podcast host said he feared retaliation Wednesday after receiving private messages he perceived to be threatening, as a result of his publishing an interview with Jennifer Van Laar, a former campaign consultant who filed a formal complaint against Assemblyman Dante Acosta and Sen. Scott Wilk. The complaint, filed with the Assembly’s Rules Committee, accused them of coordinating to defame her after the 2016 election.
The Talk of Santa Clarita podcast host Stephen Daniels said he was “shaken” about the ramifications of posting the podcast after receiving messages on social media from Nathan Imhoff, a partner and creative director with Stark Social Media Agency.
Daniels published the podcast online Tuesday morning and was instantly contacted by several people, including Imhoff.
“I worry they’re going to come after me,” Daniels told The Signal. Daniels went on to say the messages lasted for about four hours.
“I kept saying, ‘Leave me alone,’” Daniels said. “It was like harassment.” Private messages shared with The Signal verified the claims Daniels made, which included Imhoff saying he could “cold cock” Daniels.
Imhoff spoke with The Signal on Tuesday in a conversation he recorded, declining to give comment on the record. Imhoff read a message he sent to Daniels that said he “would never dream” of hurting Daniels, who later confirmed that account.
Imhoff’s business partner, Deanna Miller, called a Signal reporter Wednesday, but declined to make an on-record comment.
Daniels and Imhoff previously discussed Imhoff’s presence on social media during one of Daniels’ podcasts last March where Imhoff was a guest. When asked by Daniels what Imhoff’s criticism was with him, Imhoff said he no longer had a “beef” with Daniels.
“I think at the time, I felt like left-leaning people were trying to hijack all the conversations, if you will,” Imhoff said, adding that community groups on Facebook favor a liberal view.
“I’m a big enough man to admit I was absolutely wrong about you Stephen and this show,” he said at the time. “You have come up leaps and bounds and your production went up and you have been absolutely fair.”
Imhoff said on the podcast that he is a partner for a social media company (Stark Social Media), “but what I do there isn’t really social media per se, so I get the misconception, but yes, I am on Facebook a lot.”
Imhoff admitted to Daniels he can be harsh online in the podcast.
“I’ve been a little bit harsh sometimes,” he said. “I’ve actually apologized to people for maybe being a little too harsh, you being the example.”
Prior to starting his work highlighting veterans for The Signal, Bill Reynolds filed for a temporary restraining order against Imhoff for threats made online. The order was granted after a hearing in January 2015.
A search on Stark Social Media Agency’s website confirmed Imhoff is a co-founder. Among the company’s clients were Assemblyman Dante Acosta (for his City Council campaign), Sen. Scott Wilk, Cameron Smyth’s 2016 City Council campaign and the city of Santa Clarita, according to the Stark Social Media Agency website.
Officials with Wilk’s office did not return requests for comment. Smyth declined to comment. While the campaign logo for Rep. Steve Knight’s congressional campaign appears on Stark Social Media’s website, campaign spokesman Matt Rexroad said the congressman is contracted with a company called ELab.
Daniels interviewed Jennifer Van Laar, a senior contributor for conservative website RedState, because she filed the formal complaint with the Assembly’s Rules Committee in December.
“I am writing to report that Assemblyman Dante Acosta improperly used Assembly resources to attempt to harass and intimidate me in February 2017, while a defamation suit I filed against him was pending,” Van Laar wrote in the complaint. “In addition, he participated in a coordinated effort with Senator Scott Wilk and others to defame me and destroy my career.”
On a public Facebook thread Tuesday that has since been deleted, but was captured via screenshot by The Signal, Imhoff wrote to Daniels: “BTW, we quarantined Van Laar in the 2014 Knight campaign because she started hinting of a similar stunt.”
When asked what Imhoff could be referring to, Rexroad said he was not aware. Knight’s congressional spokesman Chris Jusuf said he had “no idea” what Imhoff meant, but said the congressman takes harassment allegations seriously, a stance backed by Van Laar in her complaint.
“He is committed to treating all people with respect and takes all accusations of misconduct seriously,” Jusuf said.
In an interview with The Signal, Van Laar said she knew after the 2016 election that she was under retaliation from local Republican officials.
“You won’t even get asked,” she said, regarding job opportunities. “There’s still retaliation going on now.”
The Signal could not independently verify Van Laar’s claims. Assembly Rules Committee officials said no decision had been made on the complaint.
When asked by a political blog whether he and Acosta collaborated or discussed retaliating against Van Laar, Wilk said, “No.”
Wilk also said allegations he tampered with the business contracts of Van Laar’s business partner were “not true.”
Calls requesting an on-the-record comment from Acosta’s office were not returned.