All four candidates for Douglas County sheriff are Republicans facing off in a primary next June, and while their experience in law enforcement and ties to the community are similar, the difference — to the advantage or detriment — could come from FEC United, a conservative advocacy group with its militia arm, United American Defense Force (UADF), and founder and leader of the group, Joe Oltmann.

John Anderson, Holly Kluth, Lora Thomas, and Darren Weekly have all announced their campaigns for Sheriff of Douglas County.

Anderson and Thomas both have backgrounds in law enforcement and both ran for the same office in 2014, losing the nomination to the current term-limited sheriff, Tony Spurlock. Thomas was the last to enter the race, announcing her campaign for sheriff on Dec. 10. She is currently a Douglas County commissioner, after serving as coroner from 2011 to 2015.

Kluth formerly served as the undersheriff for six years in Douglas County until she was replaced by Spurlock in 2020 following an internal investigation. Weekly is currently the captain of the Investigations Division in the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department who claims to have Spurlock’s endorsement in the race.

Douglas County was once a traditionally reliable Republican stronghold in the south Metro area. With rapid population growth, the demographics have shifted somewhat, creating a crucible of polarized political strife in recent years as a node of QAnon adherence in Colorado, with school board races garnering national attention, and public health orders and the agencies authorizing them facing forceful political challenges.

As a resident of Douglas County, Joe Oltmann’s voice has played in all of those arenas of political debate.

Oltmann’s public profile has grown significantly since his early days, hosting “The Conservative Daily Podcast” and its predecessor “Conservative Daily Radio” under the pseudonym Joe Otto, where extremist conservative positions and rhetoric are unplugged and unfiltered.

Recent episodes of his podcast feature Oltmann unapologetically and literally calling for members of the press and politicians — including Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis and many U.S. senators — to be hanged for treason, and featuring an interview with Q-Anon shaman and convicted insurrectionist Jake Angeli.

Oltmann himself was present at the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. last January with other strategists, organizers, and Trump collaborators in the lead up to and during the rally which turned violent with rioters storming the nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6.

A principal purveyor of election fraud conspiracies, Oltmann is most notably famous as a plaintiff in the defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting System’s Eric Coomer, along with Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, as well as local and national news outlets and conservative talk show personalities.

After Oltmann founded FEC United and joined forces with John “Tig” Tiegen’s UADF, establishment Republicans appeared ready to collaborate with Oltmann. The current chairwoman of the Colorado Republican Party, Kristi Burton Brown — then the vice-chair — served as president of the group in 2020.

Controversies involving FEC United and UADF, along with escalating violent rhetoric and backing unfounded and baseless election fraud conspiracies have caused notable Republicans in the state to distance themselves from Oltmann, while others have embraced his stance and his support.

George Brauchler, a former district attorney and perennial GOP candidate for statewide office, distanced himself a bit from Oltmann earlier this year, saying, “I know the Joe Oltmann as the entrepreneur, as the giant taxpayer, and as the person who’s created a bunch of jobs and opportunities. The part of Joe that pursues the stolen election thing, that’s just a place where we just part company.” Previously, Brauchler refused to challenge Oltmann’s contention of widespread election fraud.

Last week, Eli Bremer, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate to unseat Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), released a statement in which he criticized Oltmann’s call for hanging political opponents that he considers treasonous, saying he would not attend events affiliated with Oltmann or where Oltmann would be featured as a speaker. He called on other Colorado Republican Senate candidates to do the same.

In the Douglas County sheriff’s race, the candidates are faced with a similar decision as their campaigns ramp up. And so far, the four are being cautious in vocally condemning or aligning with Oltmann, weighing the potential liability with the possible benefit of being associated with him.

Lora Thomas did not return a request for comment on this story, but she signed a pledge with FEC United last September stating her commitment to conservative tenets and principles.

Thomas’ campaign for commissioner in 2016 received help from her rival candidate in the sheriff’s race, John Anderson. He held a fundraiser for Thomas that raised $20,000 and contributed in-kind donations to her campaign. Since then, however, their relationship has turned adversarial. Thomas’s power as a county commissioner has ebbed recently, with her commissioner colleagues outvoting her on several votes since last November.

When asked whether he sought support or collaboration with Oltmann or FEC United, candidate John Anderson said, “I don’t really have any comment at all. You know, I haven’t pledged to anybody, really, to be honest with you. I just am a candidate for the race. And if people support me, they’ll support me, and that’s where we go.”

In March, Anderson appeared with Oltmann at a “Free DougCo” rally in support of abolishing public health restrictions, where Oltmann implied that, if necessary, he’d defend his “way of life,” and would not relent “without blood spilled.” UADF members were in attendance to provide security at the event.

On his Facebook page, Anderson posted a photograph with Joe Oltmann from a Toys for Tots fundraiser earlier this month, and wrote, “Thank you Joe Oltmann for stopping in and spending several thousand dollars for children to have a great Christmas.”

Holly Kluth told the Colorado Times Recorder that while she has seen Oltmann speaking at conservative gatherings, she has not signed a pledge with FEC United and is not seeking their support. She said that Spurlock has not endorsed her candidacy.

Darren Weekly does have the support of Spurlock, but said he would not sign the FEC United pledge. It was only recently, he claims, that he came to know of Joe Oltmann and FEC United. When asked if members of the group had approached him or appeared at his campaign events, Weekly said, “No, they haven’t, not for me. I haven’t seen them before. I was actually unaware of the group until I saw a tweet from George Brauchler. I had never heard of them before. … And that’s the first time I had seen anything on the group.”

Regarding any future commitments to groups or individuals, Weekly added, “The only place I’m going to sign — and that I’ve ever signed — is my oath of office to the citizens of Douglas County.”