Employees with ties to SPLC-designated extremist group found in Cobb schools district office

education icon with silhouette of teach in front of class, holding a baton to a board.

by Rebecca Gaunt

A tip from a whistleblower triggered an investigation that uncovered three employees in the Cobb County School District main office with ties to Gary DeMar, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the extremist leader of the anti-LGBTQ hate group American Vision, based in Powder Springs.

All three are part of the office of strategy and accountability: Julian Coca and Eric Rauch in the communications department, and the head of the office, Chief Strategy and Accountability Officer John Floresta.

DeMar regularly espouses anti-LGBTQ views and advocates for a theocratic government governed by the Old Testament.

DeMar’s support of the death penalty for LGBTQ people as a method to keep them closeted was the impetus for the hate group designation. He has also voiced support for death sentences against adulterers and abortion doctors.

Cobb County School District central office

The Courier made multiple attempts to speak with the district and the individual employees named in the story, and sent detailed questions regarding the views of DeMar and American Vision via email. It also reached out to DeMar with questions about his current views.

Floresta was the only one who responded to the Courier. In an email, he wrote, “We aren’t interested in the personal or political views of any of our staff and are equally disinterested in the doxxing of veteran classroom teachers who don’t share your, or the SPLC’s, opinions. Our only focus is on success for Cobb County’s children.”

Hired in 2018, Coca is CCSD’s director of content and marketing, which is part of the office of strategy and accountability. His previous work in media and marketing is tied to DeMar and an interwoven network of businesses overseen by leaders of American Vision.

Rauch works in the media department as a digital content specialist. He also has an extensive and current work history tied to DeMar and American Vision.

An open records request for his CCSD personnel file included a previous work experience verification form describing Rauch’s former employment at American Vision. It was signed by DeMar and dated Oct. 14, 2022.

Prior to heading the school district’s communications department, Coca, writing as Onan Coca, was a prolific writer for extreme right-wing political websites. 

His writing and editing career appears to have focused on political content mills that surged in popularity on Facebook during the 2016 election.

The investigation also indicated that Floresta, a high ranking district employee, contributed to Eagle Rising, one of the sites run by Coca, to which DeMar was also a contributor, editor, and founder.

Coca was the chief editor for Eagle Rising, which was part of Liberty Alliance Media, LLC., an Atlanta-based company founded by Brandon Vallorani. 

An archived copy of Liberty Alliance Media’s “About Us” also listed DeMar as an advisor and American Vision as a partner company. 

Vallorani was vice president of American Vision from 2004-2010, alongside DeMar who was serving as president. According to his LinkedIn, Vallorani remains on the board.

Vallorani’s website boasts over a dozen start-up businesses for conservative and religious markets, which have made the Inc. 500 list six times. For one of his ventures in March 2020, Vallorani partnered with Dr. Steven Hotze, a Texas-based right-wing activist, to market the Dr. Hotze Immune Pak to treat COVID-19 on his website. In December 2020, the FDA cited the company for violating the law with unapproved and misbranded products. The vitamin pack was added to the FDA’s list of fraudulent COVID-19 products.

Some of Coca’s work is gone, along with the websites that presumably lost profitability in the post-Donald Trump era, but plenty is still spread across the web, either posted in secondary locations or archived by the Wayback Machine.

In one of Coca’s Eagle Rising posts from 2014, and preserved at Archive.org, he announced that Liberty Alliance Media made the SPLC annual hate list and linked to an article by DeMar on Godfather Politics.

In another piece for his site Eagle Rising, and still available on the Conservative Truth website, Coca wrote, “Dogs are treated horribly in Muslim countries! I mean Muslim people really, really hate dogs. So liberals – you can pretend that the mistreatment of women, the abuse of children, the persecution of Christians and the murder of homosexuals doesn’t matter… but can you ignore the attacks on dogs?”

In an article for Constitution.com that was reposted to another site, Coca attributed the existence of HIV/AIDS to the LGBTQ community’s “negative and immoral behavior” and wrote “being homosexual is one of the most deleterious choices one can make for their health.”

In August 2016, Coca wrote an article about a scientific study co-authored by Johns Hopkins University faculty members Paul McHugh and Lawrence Mayer which argued “that the current cultural trends to defend homosexuality and gender confusion are misguided at best, and culturally destructive at worst.” Coca concluded that this “confused morality…may literally be destroying our future.”

The study was published in The New Atlantis Journal, which is funded by a Christian social conservative advocacy group. It is not a peer-reviewed publication.

Several Johns Hopkins faculty members collaborated on an October 2016 op-ed for the Baltimore Sun, saying the report mischaracterized the current state of science on gender and sexuality.

600 students, alumni, and faculty signed a petition asking the university to disavow the paper.

According to the New York Times Magazine, Liberty Alliance Media and its multitude of pages, really found its niche while Trump campaigned for the presidency. Coca is quoted in the August article Inside Facebook’s (Totally Insane, Unintentionally Gigantic, Hyperpartisan) Political-Media Machine as saying that the company had 50 million followers and had $12 million in revenue for 2015. According to the article, no documentation was provided to back that up.

In November 2016, The Financial Times published an article about misinformation spreading on social media. It described Vallorani’s inspiration for creating Liberty Alliance in the article Alt-news sites face post-election identity crisis. He already had an online store selling Tea Party merchandise, but it was in 2009, when he made money from Google’s Adsense platform, that he decided to create a news site. Facebook drove most of the traffic to the external sites with ads. Writers’ pay was based on clicks. 

An April 2018 Bloomberg article, Facebook’s Battle Against Fake News Notches on Uneven Scorecard, dug into Mark Zuckerberg’s challenges curtailing fake news and the perception from conservatives that he was targeting right-wing sites.

Coca was quoted in his capacity as the Eagle Rising editor, saying he believed Facebook’s changes were affecting both sides of the political spectrum.

According to the notes from the July 19, 2018 school board meeting, Coca was hired as the director of content and marketing for CCSD effective July 23. His previous job at the time of hire is listed in the notes: editor-in-chief/communications director for Romulus Marketing, a Dallas, Georgia company.

Romulus Marketing, another Vallorani start-up, describes itself as a conservative marketing, media, and management company. Doing business as Keep and Bear, it gained national attention marketing a Build the Wall knock off Lego kit, with a Donald Trump figure in a red MAGA hard hat.

Around the time he was hired by the district, Coca’s Twitter account appears to have been deactivated. He appears on the district website, not as Onan Coca, like his byline, but as Julian Coca.

Floresta’s byline turned up three times in relation to the Eagle Rising website.

Both Coca and Floresta are 2003 Liberty University graduates. According to social media posts, Coca’s kids call Floresta “Uncle John.”

A piece credited to Floresta called “Does Public Education Stink?” from 2013 was reposted on the Friends of Liberty blog, with an author link back to the now defunct Eagle Rising.

The Wayback Machine at Archive.org also returned an Eagle Rising article, only partially available, credited to Floresta titled “In Education, It’s the Free Market’s Turn.” Available in full, the 2013 piece on common core standards includes his author bio.

Floresta joined CCSD in 2003. He has worked for the district for much of the time since, aside from stints of one or two years he listed on his LinkedIn in the Fulton County School District, Marietta City Schools, and at Georgia State University. He was promoted to chief strategy and accountability officer in April 2018, prior to the hiring of both Coca and Rauch.

Rauch has current ties to DeMar. His LinkedIn doesn’t include his position in the Cobb schools’ media department, but it does list his employment at American Vision as director of communications from 2005-2009 and vice president of product development at Liberty Alliance Media from 2009-2016. 

Rauch was initially hired as a contract employee, but records indicate he was hired for a full-time position in September 2022. Coca is named in the paperwork as the authorizing administrator.

His Facebook account indicates that he is currently vice president of marketing at Tolle Lege Press, a publishing company founded by Vallorani that lists DeMar as an advisor. His personnel file also lists him as the vice president of Romulus Marketing from 2009-2019.

American Vision

Founded in 1978, American Vision’s official mission is to restore America to its biblical foundation.

In DeMar’s 1987 book “Ruler of the Nations” he laid out the Bible as a blueprint for government and opined that AIDS is a divine punishment from God.

He wrote, “Homosexuals who practice behind closed doors are out-of-bounds- for the courts…such behavior may not be dealt with by courts in history, but will be dealt with by God, either in history (e.g. AIDS) or eternity. The law that requires the death penalty for homosexual acts effectually drives the perversion of homosexuality underground, back to the closet, to the dark realm of shameful activity.”

In 2007, DeMar wrote, “Even though there may be a genetic link to explain aggression, rape, gambling, and racism, few would claim that these behaviors are acceptable. What makes homosexuality different?”

A 2009 piece titled “Homosexual Marriages: Square Peg, Round Hole,” he wrote, “If a child keeps hammering a square peg into a round hole after he’s been shown that the round peg goes into the round hole, we must assume that his intellectual abilities are somewhat diminished. Does it ever register with homosexuals that maybe God is telling them something when they get life-threatening diseases because of their sexual practices and can have no children no matter how hard they try? Like Dr. Frankenstein, homosexuals take God’s design of marriage and manufacture an artificial monster from its parts.”

Islam is “a dead-end ideology” and LGBTQ people are “all about recruitment and intimidation,” according to a post from 2014.

In a blog post from 2019 on the American Vision site, DeMar wrote, “If we should follow the animal world regarding homosexual penguins and thereby regard human homosexual behavior as normal, then we must be consistent and follow the animal world regarding rape, eating our young, and eating our neighbors and thereby decriminalize these behaviors as well.”

DeMar remains an active writer and user of social media. A year ago, he announced on Facebook that one of his books, “Whoever Controls the Schools Rules the World,” is now available in French.

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.