San Francisco PR consultant Ryan Chamberlain was apprehended by the SFPD on the night of June 2. The well-connected social media and campaign consultant allegedly possessed explosives in his apartment, and was described as being on “armed and dangerous.” But in a letter he wrote to personal contacts via iCloud that many interpreted as a suicide note, Chamberlain recalled the road to his depression.
Many of the examples he cited involved his time as a political consultant in San Francisco. “He’s a classic political operative — crafty, cynical, but also really nice,” Adriel Hampton, a former SF Examiner political reporter, told the Guardian. “I always liked him, even when I was busting him in a story.”
Some San Francisco political insiders were up in arms about the FBI’s manhunt for Chamberlain, and the law enforcement agency’s assertions that he was a dangerous individual.
“I’ve known the guy for a decade,” wrote Alex Clemens, founder of prominent San Francisco PR firm Barbary Coast Consulting, in a Facebook post. “I hired him as a contractor for a month or two in ’09 to handle some social media efforts for a client in North Carolina. And that for the second time in a few months, I am head-spinning surprised to learn of these allegations against another SF political operative. What. The. Hell?”
As a City Hall insider and San Francisco political moderate (and former member of the Republican Central County Committee), Chamberlain helped run former Mayor Gavin Newsom’s successful mayoral campaign as a field organizer. In a letter released on Chamberlain’s iCloud June 2, he singled out the aftermath of that experience as one of his life’s major losses.
“Getting left out of the Newsom win was hard,” Chamberlain wrote. “But I was always able to override it by forcing some common sense onto my brain … but every time it would somehow come back … I’d hit bottom again.”
What did he mean by “getting left out” of the Newsom win? Apparently he thought he’d be awarded a job in exchange for his efforts, but that never happened. Political consultant Johnny K. Wang, who worked on the Newsom campaign with Chamberlain, filled us in on the details of working alongside Chamberlain during Newsom’s first mayoral bid.
“We started off working for free,” Wang said. “Then we worked seven days a week, day and night, with extremely low pay. We gave it our all. The people in the campaign became like brothers and sisters, because they practically lived together. The understanding was, in return, ‘you’ll take care of us,’ because we are good workers and we have proven our loyalty.” Instead, Wang said, “We were burned by the campaign,” an outcome that he said Chamberlain was particularly upset about at the time.
Yet Wang insisted that in more recent history, Chamberlain had been acting normal and exhibited “zero signs” that he was capable of domestic terrorism. He said his last contact with Chamberlain had been at the end of 2013.
Many details of the FBI’s targeting and pursuit of Chamberlain were still sketchy as of press time.
The FBI alleged that he possessed explosives, but would not elaborate on what type of explosives agents claimed to have found in his home. Another unanswered question: How did the FBI come to the conclusion Chamberlain was a suspect in the first place? Was Chamberlain digitally surveiled, as he hinted in his online note?
“The whole thing is weird,” Wang said. “None of the FBI’s stories make sense. First he’s a domestic terrorist, then he’s made no threats to anyone. What do they know for sure? I’m assuming they know something, because you don’t start a raid and a national manhunt without some facts.”
“It’s unacceptable,” Wang added. “I want to see some real bomb making materials. I want to see a car that’s rigged to explode. Because otherwise, it’s just accusations.”
There are many unknowns, but Chamberlain’s note revealed that his political losses weighed heavily on him. One such loss was in 2006, when he helped run the group SFSOS, which politically battled San Francisco progressives. The group aided Rob Black, then a candidate in the District 6 supervisor’s race, in a campaign against progressive Chris Daly, who prevailed.
A Fog City Journal report, shortly before the election, described Chamberlain’s disdain for Daly.
“As Chamberlain speaks, he gets more inflamed about Chris Daly,” FCJ wrote. “Clearly, he believes in the work he’s doing.”
Chamberlain was so impassioned against Daly that he wrote a free e-book called The Case Against Chris Daly.
Daly said he holds no grudges. “In terms of what’s been going on,” he told us, “I’ve felt a bizarre mix of vindication and pity.”
As San Francisco media add context to Chamberlain’s story, right-wing bloggers have tried to paint Chamberlain as the second coming of Leland Yee — another liberal gone wild.
But by San Francisco standards, Chamberlain was a far-right “Marina moderate.” He was far from a lefty liberal.
“There are some folks on the Internet trying to malign the guy as a San Francisco leftist,” Daly told us. “I mean, the guy isn’t.”
In Chamberlain’s letter, he wrote of making progress with what he described as feeling “dark.”
“I was still fighting,” he wrote in the note to his friends. “One day at a time, I was pushing through…Today was going to be a good day. I got great friends…. But so much was broken from this past year-and-a-half, and from moments way back before that, I guess it was just insurmountable, and the time’s up.
“Thank you. I’m sorry. I love you.”
Rebecca Bowe contributed to this report.