Colorado congressional candidate Lauren Boebert is claiming that Black Lives Matter protesters in her hometown of Rifle, Colorado, were “paid and bussed in,” despite a complete lack of evidence to support this claim.
During a July 6 radio interview, Boebert, a Republican who recently upset five-term incumbent Congressman Scott Tipton in the Republican primary race for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District seat, said that protesters “created an illusion of division in our city.”
“In Rifle, Colorado, Black Lives Matter was paid and bussed in, and it really just created an illusion of division in our city and that’s just not true, and so that’s one aspect of it that I don’t favor,” Boebert said after an awkward pause when KOA News Radio’s Mandy Connell asked for her take on the movement and recent protests.
Boebert then characterized the Black Lives Matter movement as “trying to elevate one group or class above another.”
“If we want to come together and bring everyone up equally, we need to look at the constitution of the United States, the 14th Amendment right there, we all are equal under the law,” Boebert said. “The Constitution of the United States, it protects the individual. So trying to elevate one group or class above another, that’s where I think we start to see those conflicts.”
The Boebert campaign did not return multiple emails from the Colorado Times Recorder seeking evidence for her claim about paid protesters.
Boebert was apparently referencing Rifle’s Juneteenth march, which drew several hundred attendees, according to the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Some of those attendees, however, were anti-Black Lives Matter counter-protesters from groups like Back our Blue, many of them openly carrying weapons and revving motorcycle engines to drown out chants from the Juneteenth marchers.
Rifle resident Rebecca Trent, who helped organize the Juneteenth event in addition to a June 2 protest in Rifle, called Boebert’s claim about paid protesters “completely false.”
“Not a single person who was there was paid, OR bussed in,” Trent wrote in a Facebook message to the Colorado Times Recorder. “We are locals. My friends, coworkers, and family were there.”
“The fact that she made these claims with NO evidence to back her up is so incredibly frustrating considering how large her platform is, and how many people in our community listen to her,” Trent added.
Jasmin Ramirez of Voces Unidas de las Montanas, a Latinx advocacy organization, said her group provided support and did voter registration for the event. Ramirez also refuted Boebert’s claim and called it “irresponsible.”
“We’ve come to a place in American politics where it’s more prevalent to give an excuse than to be held accountable,” Ramirez said in an interview with the Colorado Times Recorder. “It’s easier to outrage a community over antifa and bussed protesters so that they come armed and ready to fight for their community than to acknowledge that we’re Americans, too.”
Colin Wilhelm, a Glenwood Springs attorney who’s a Democrat running for a local state House of Representatives seat, was also at Rifle’s Juneteenth event and dismissed Boebert’s accusation.
“That is patently false,” Wilhelm said in an interview with the Colorado Times Recorder. “Most of the people there I knew–as neighbors, people in the community, and from campaigning.”
Wilhelm described the Roaring Fork Valley as “a small city as a whole, made up of different neighborhoods and each town is a different neighborhood.” He said protesters from several towns within the valley, including Carbondale, New Castle, and his town of Glenwood Springs showed up to Rifle on Juneteenth.
“There weren’t any busses at all, other than the public transportation we have here,” he said.
Rumors about left-leaning groups bussing in protesters to descend and wreak havoc upon rural communities gained considerable traction on social media during June, when huge Black Lives Matter protests were taking place daily across the country, including in smaller towns. At least some of these rumors were promoted by white nationalist groups like Identity Evropa posing as antifa on Twitter.
Trent said she’s not sure where the rumor originated in Rifle.
“This kind of rumor was so frustrating to deal with, because the counter-protestors blatantly disregarded anything we had to say,” Trent said. “We made it VERY clear who was marching, and what we were marching for. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the false claim that any single person was paid or bussed in, because nobody was.”
Ramirez was confronted by one counter-protester who had apparently caught wind of the rumor.
“At the protest, I had a gentleman from the other side walk up to us and ask if we were antifa,” Ramirez said. “I said no.”
Ramirez said that she and other protesters felt unsafe due to the counter-protesters, who revved motorcycles around them as they marched and were carrying guns. Wilhelm echoed Ramirez, saying that the heavily armed counter-protesters created “a sense of fear” at the event.
“Let’s be real,” Ramirez said. “It made us unsafe.”
“The intimidation that they caused is really what disturbs me the most,” Ramirez said. “They wanted to make us feel like we couldn’t do that again and we weren’t welcome.”
“That was a really difficult day for a lot of people because the reality of how bad it was was made so much clearer,” Ramirez said. “As Latinos, we know that these people are our neighbors and that they coexist with us.”
“Division is here, it’s present,” Ramirez said of Boebert’s comment that Black Lives Matter created an illusion of division in Rifle. “It’s been here for decades in our school systems, in the way the community treats Latinos, the way that we don’t value health care workers, teachers, essential workers. There is a huge income gap from Aspen to Rifle. So to say that we are creating this narrative of division… I don’t even know what to say.”
“Lauren Boebert is intentionally creating division, not an illusion of division,” Wilhelm said. “We are in such a state in our country that we need to be willing to sit down and speak to people about the issues and listen to other people’s side instead of dismissing them as being bussed in protesters.”
In fact, Boebert has said that she was partly inspired to run for congress because of her view that Tipton, who she defeated in the Republican primary election in March, was too soft on immigration.
She was particularly incensed by Tipton’s vote in favor of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which aimed to address agricultural labor needs by allowing more farmworkers and their families to gain residency status in the United States and providing housing assistance.
Boebert criticized the move “to give at least one million illegal immigrants amnesty and then one billion of our taxpayer dollars to provide for their housing” during a talk radio interview in March.
Boebert is something of a local conservative celebrity for her strong opposition to gun safety measures and her restaurant Shooters Grill, where the wait staff openly carry weapons. She infamously reopened her restaurant to dine-in customers in defiance of Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ public health order.
Her Democratic opponent is Diane Mitsch Bush, a former county commissioner and Colorado state Representative. Bush has supported Black Lives Matter protests across the country and supports the police reform bill that was introduced in the U.S. House, according to her campaign website.