Jill Alter sits at a table in a Windsor cafe, looking over a pile of papers filled with hateful stories about her. She's laughing at what they charge: that she's a murderous black witch, that she's involved with the Ku Klux Klan, that she has the ability to possess and destroy other people with her mind. But it's a page containing a libelous rant about her father that finally cracks her dismissive veneer.
"My dad?" she gasps, lifting up a finger to wipe a tear forming in her left eye as she reads a screed accusing her father of being a sexual predator. "Oh, now that's different. Now that pisses me off.'"
Alter, a mother and cafe owner, has for most of this year been the subject of a personal attack that she largely cannot control. The gibberish about her father is just the latest in a slew of muck that finds her the object of a civil suit.
The press releases started arriving back in late May: "Beware of Black Witch Jill Alter at Harmony Festival. She is planning to take it over with her witchcraft. . . . Unite to stop the murderous Jill Alter. Look and you will see, this is a real warning." Then flyers popped up all over western Sonoma County. Online boards became littered with long diatribes that were at best, jealous, and at worst, allegations of double murder. Alter has been the subject of incomprehensible accusations, one of which reads, "You are misusing my sacred tools . . . not to mention those planet evolvers who just got abused by your excessive black magic, rather than dying from your psychic scripts, based on information stolen from mining my mind." After months of this, Alter agreed to speak with the Bohemian at our request about what it's like to be vilified.
"At first, I asked why," Alter says. "I got hung up on that. Why me? I'm the kind of person who gets bothered if someone I don't even know would be thinking such terrible things about me and spreading it around the county. But I came to the realization that she has a mental illness, and I don't think there really is an answer as to why."
The "she" Alter refers to is "Cammie" (we have changed her name). Alter says that Cammie is essentially a customer gone bad, a former regular at Kaya Organic Espresso in Guerneville, which Alter operates with her husband, Brian. Cammie had some ideas about a co-op housing project and struck up communication with Brian regarding the Russian River-based tourism project called EcoRing. But Cammie's text messages to the couple quickly got longer and more frequent, and Cammie began recording other customers' conversations at the cafe without permission.
One night, Cammie showed up at the Alter's home demanding to speak to their eight-year-old son to warn him about his mother's life-threatening powers of mind control. "That's when I decided, 'You know what? I'm getting a restraining order,'" Alter says. "'I'm not going to take this as a joke anymore.'"
But the attacks just got worse. Cammie began charging that Alter is part of the Mafia, that she has a drug ring, that she performs "wackdoctorie" and has robbed Brian's very soul with her sexual energy. Cammie also consistently links Alter's alleged mind control to the real-life deaths of two Guerneville residents--claiming Alter psychically caused their demise--and to a Santa Rosa man who was fatally run over in a recent traffic accident.
Alter turns somber at the mention of it, sorry for the friends of the deceased. "Not that anybody believed it," she sighs, "but it brought that back up for everybody and reopened that wound."
Luckily, area residents have been good to Alter. "We are very blessed with Guerneville's community," she says, "they've been really supportive. I don't know how many people have told me, 'Oh, I was in Occidental and saw posters all over town about you, and I took six down,' or someone else will say, 'I was at Hardcore Espresso and saw a poster about you and took it down.'"
Representing herself in pro per, Cammie is demanding $40,000 from Alter in a lawsuit whose charges include "demand for payment due to damages caused by defendant's attempts to replace plaintiff in a jealous rage to keep her American dream and become a healer with shaman Brian Alter (after murdering other healers, all part of the maturity learning curve, of course)."
Alter's ability to laugh has helped her, but one thing continues to bother her."Maybe 100 people read it, and 90 people know it's bullshit. But there are those 10 random people who might not know me," she says. "Who knows if the little things she puts up everywhere affect the one or two new people passing through town?"