The academic concept of Critical Race Theory (CRT), the Republican Party’s latest boogeyman, is drawing angry conservatives, apparently including members of far-right militias, to school board meetings across Colorado.
CRT is an academic concept that stipulates that racism is systemic and embedded in our institutions, but despite the fact that this decades-old framework is mostly found in institutions of higher learning, particularly law classrooms, conservatives in Colorado and across the nation have been convinced that it’s being “forced” on their kindergarteners, sowing division and “teaching our children to hate each other.”
That brings us to last week’s Cherry Creek School Board meeting, where parents raised alarm about CRT despite Cherry Creek school officials’ assurances that they are not teaching CRT in their classrooms.
Among them were members of a well-known local right-wing militia group that’s led by a former Marine who praised the shooting of Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
According to a CBS4 report, the Cherry Creek meeting was packed with over 100 people, some of whom felt their public school education didn’t include enough accurate teaching about Black history, and some of whom expressed concern about “negative emotional opinions” and “the potential psychological impact” on children learning about race in America.
In an apparent attempt to quell parents’ concerns over what they mistakenly believe is being taught to their kids, Cherry Creek School District Assistant Superintendent for Career, Innovation, and Student Engagement Sarah Grobbel said, “Critical race theory (CRT) is not a curriculum and it is not something that we have adopted in Cherry Creek Schools as a curricular resource,” according to The Villager.
Among the crowd were two apparent members of the United American Defense Force (UADF), the armed wing of the far-right conservative group FEC United, according to a photo taken at the event and posted on Twitter. Two men can be seen wearing official UADF gear at the meeting.
According to its website, group membership includes “discounts on ammunition; medical supplies; hard goods; soft goods; weapons, tactical, and CPR/ first aid training, as well as public safety notifications.”
In addition to weapons, UADF provides “access to legal protection for members in the event of having to discharge a weapon to stop a threat.”
UADF was behind October’s “Patriot Muster” rally at the Colorado Capitol that turned deadly after a private security guard hired by 9News to protect its reporters shot and killed a rally attendee who pepper sprayed him.
On Nov. 5, just a few days after the 2020 election when tensions were high, group members showed up armed and wearing tactical gear to a Lowe’s parking lot in University Village and told Colorado Springs police that they were “patrolling,” according to Colorado Springs Independent reporter Heidi Beedle.
UADF is led by former Marine and Benghazi security contractor John “Tig” Tiegen. During Black Lives Matter protests in Colorado Springs in June, Tiegen set up a sniper position on top of a parking garage in the vicinity of City Hall where demonstrations were occurring, and according to Beedle, “he claimed to be there to protect property from antifa looters” and “made comments that seemed to indicate his support for ‘gunning down protesters.'”
Requests for comment to UADF and Tiegen asking for confirmation that their members attended the meeting and seeking to know whether they were armed were not returned. This story will be updated with any response received.
FEC United has been urging supporters to get involved in school board meetings to oppose everything from CRT to mask wearing in schools to vaccination requirements.
In a June 22 email to supporters, FEC United urged parents to “rally and fight” against CRT at school board meetings. “Locally, parents continue to rally and fight against CRT in our schools,” the email reads. “This week, three of Colorado’s school districts have board meetings, which means an opportunity for parents to speak out,” it continued before directing members to the Cherry Creek meeting.
UPDATE (7/6): In an email to the Colorado Times Recorder, Joe Oltmann of FEC United objected to the characterization of the United American Defense Force (UADF) as part of FEC United. He acknowledged that FEC United “partners with UADF” but insisted that UADF is not a wing of FEC United and that they are separate organizations. UADF is indeed registered as a separate 501c4 from FEC United (though both organizations are registered at the same address.) Oltmann himself describes FEC United as “a combination of nonprofits” that allows for everyone to be able to participate in some form, as a member of either FEC or UADF. In the same email, Oltmann said that the Colorado Springs Independent‘s Beedle is “a radical leftist Antifa terrorist” and told our reporter Madeleine Schmidt that “when the Antifa fascist group is eradicated, your name will go down as one of them.”