Reproductive rights activists are saying they were the target of a Nazi slur last month at a campaign event for Colorado’s Republican candidate for governor.
The activists were protesting at the July 13 Walker Stapleton campaign event to raise awareness about threats to abortion rights following the recent announcement that President Trump would appoint Brett Kavanaugh to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. The event, which was hosted by the Jefferson County Republican Party, featured Stapleton and U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO).
According to five protesters, following the event, a man they had previously seen walking from the venue to his car carrying a “Walker Stapleton for Governor” yard sign drove up next to them and yelled “Sieg Heil” out the window while holding his arm outstretched in a Nazi salute.
“He was so close we could have touched the car,” said Katie Farnan of the progressive activist group Indivisible Front Range Resistance.
The man, they say, then sped off in a teal Volvo.
“I was shocked, and as he drove off started to chase his car,” said Justine Sandoval of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, who snapped photos of the vehicle but was unable to get close enough to see his license plate.
Witnesses say his “Walker Stapleton for Governor” yard sign, which they saw him carrying to the parking lot, was visible from the back seat.
They then described his appearance and clothing to an event attendee, who, the witnesses said, identified the man as Russ Haas, a member of the Jefferson County Republican Men’s Club. They did not get the name of the attendee who named Haas.
The Colorado Times Recorder located the vehicle that was captured in photos taken by Sandoval following the incident in front of Haas’ home address, which is listed on campaign finance documents from his 2002 run for RTD director.
Hass could not be reached for comment.
Following the incident, Sandoval asked the Jefferson County Republican Party on Facebook if that behavior is to be expected of their supporters, and, notably, they did not condemn the use of Nazi slurs at their events.
Instead, they suggested that the protesters themselves were behaving like Nazis.
The Jefferson County Republican Party appears to have deleted its responses to Sandoval from its Facebook page. The party chairman, Joe Webb, didn’t return an email seeking an explanation.
Alex Ferencz of ProgressNow Colorado, who’s Jewish, was among those targeted by Haas. She issued the following statement to the Colorado Times Recorder:
“My Jewish grandfather fought Nazis in WWII. I’m a Jewish Marine Corps veteran. Blood, sweat, and tears have been spilled by Jewish people for this country. The fact that that excuse for a man thought it was okay to pull over and yell “Sieg Heil” in my face is disgusting and disturbing. How dare he think that is appropriate. How dare he spit on the graves of those brave people that died to keep us all safe. What I can’t wrap my head around how he could have justified it if he wasn’t a classless white supremacist. To me, he is either a Nazi or he is a man that has no idea how impactful words are. Either way, I hope those in his family that come after are better than him.”
Haas recently spoke at a meeting for the Jefferson County Republican Men’s Club, which described him as a “political pundit and activist.” Conservative politicians like Stapleton and former Colorado Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo have recently given speeches to the club as well.
Haas once served as chairman of Colorado’s Republican Resolutions Committee, and currently serves as a board member of the Colorado Union of Taxpayers, which advocates “for the rights of families and individuals to keep their hard earned dollars,” according to its website.
The vice president of that board, Dan Kopelman, also serves as president of the Colorado Jewish Republican Coalition. Still, he didn’t have much to say about the alleged incident when asked about it by the Colorado Times Recorder.
“If it’s true, it’d be very disappointing,” said Kopelman. “But I don’t know who said it, and I don’t know who accused it and I’ve seen plenty of made up news, so I really don’t have anything beyond that.”
The Stapleton campaign did not respond to emails requesting comment and asking if the candidate would condemn the behavior of white supremacists.
Stapleton has been the subject of controversy in recent months due to a family history of involvement with the Ku Klux Klan in Denver.
As was pointed out by a recent article in the New York Times, Walker Stapleton’s great-grandfather Benjamin Stapleton, once the Mayor of Denver, was a highly influential member of the Klan during his time in office. And during Walker Stapleton’s first campaign for statewide office in 2010, when he ran for treasurer, he praised his great-grandfather in a campaign ad and pledged to continue his family’s record of “public service.”
Stapleton has yet to condemn his great-grandfather’s actions despite recent news coverage around the issue and a grassroots campaign to change the name of Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood, which honors the late mayor.