A who’s who of leading figures in Colorado’s far-right election denial movement gathered in Castle Rock on Thursday night for a lengthy town hall meeting that featured a host of baseless conspiracy theories and at least one threat of political violence.
The “emergency” meeting, organized by right-wing activist and FEC United founder Joe Oltmann, came two days after the arrest of Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters for obstructing investigators’ attempts to seize an iPad under a search warrant.
Peters arrived at Friday’s event, held at The Rock Church, to a standing ovation from the assembled crowd. She said she was still dressed in the same clothes she wore when she turned herself in to be booked on misdemeanor charges of obstructing a peace officer and obstructing government operations at the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office earlier on Thursday.
“When you do the right thing, you don’t have to be ashamed,” said Peters, who was seen to attempt to kick a police officer in a video of the Feb. 8 incident. “I won’t back down. They don’t like that.”
The iPad seized by authorities allegedly contained prohibited recordings of a court proceeding involving Peters’ deputy clerk, Belinda Knisley, who faces burglary and cyber crimes charges in relation to a workplace misconduct investigation. Peters, a Republican who has consistently promoted false claims that the former President Donald Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 election, is separately under investigation for allegedly allowing unauthorized access to Mesa County voting systems during a security update in May 2021.
Just before Peters’ arrival, prominent election conspiracist Shawn Smith — who works with the U.S. Election Integrity Plan and is an ally of MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell — rallied the crowd against Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, whom he accused of being complicit in election fraud.
As the crowd chanted “Lock her up,” Smith said that he believed in “due process” and “justice.”
“I think if you’re involved in election fraud, then you deserve to hang,” he said to applause and shouts of agreement from the crowd. “Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.
“I’m not endorsing violence, I’m saying when you put your hand on a hot stove, you get burned,” Smith continued. “And you ought to see it coming. That’s what happens to tyrants.”
Griswold responded to Smith’s threats on Twitter Thursday night.
“This video may be tough to watch, but I am sharing it so we can all see clearly: The threats against election officials like me are happening every day,” Griswold wrote. “We must stand up to these blatant attempts to end democracy as we know it.”
Joining Peters and Smith on stage at Thursday’s event, which featured an hours-long question-and-answer session, were John Eastman, a former visiting conservative scholar at the University of Colorado Boulder and Trump attorney who authored legal memos advocating for the former president and his congressional allies to overturn the 2020 election; Republican U.S. Senate candidate and state Rep. Ron Hanks of Penrose; Todd Watkins, a candidate for El Paso County Sheriff; El Paso County Republican Party chair Vickie Tonkins; and GOP gubernatorial candidate Danielle Neuschwanger.
Network of election deniers with GOP ties
Oltmann, who organized the event, was instrumental in popularizing the unfounded conspiracy theory alleging that Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems helped perpetrate widespread fraud. Along with other top Trump allies, he faces a defamation lawsuit brought by a former Dominion employee in Denver District Court.
A former digital marketing executive, Oltmann founded FEC United in 2020 after emerging as a prominent organizer of protests against COVID-19 public health measures. The group is affiliated with the United American Defense Force, a militia group led by former Trump campaign surrogate John Tiegen, who has predicted another U.S. “civil war” as a result of the country “being forced into communism.” Colorado Republican Party chair Kristi Burton Brown formerly served as FEC United’s president, Oltmann has disclosed in court testimony.
On his “Conservative Daily” podcast, Oltmann has called repeatedly for the mass executions of “treasonous” journalists and political opponents, including Gov. Jared Polis and multiple U.S. senators. He spoke in December of being “able to build gallows all the way from Washington, D.C., to California,” instructing his followers to “go out there and get some wood.”
Eastman decried the “attacks” that he and others in the election-conspiracist movement have experienced, and told the crowd that they are facing “pure evil.” He again raised the oft-discussed possibility of a legal challenge to Colorado’s open-primary law, which allows unaffiliated voters to choose to vote in either party’s primary election. Eastman solicited donations to a legal fund that will bankroll the case and said the lawsuit would be filed “next week.”
The open-primary law, Eastman said, “is guaranteed to let the establishment control who the party nominates, and prevent you all from taking back control of your destiny.”
Hanks drew cheers when he boasted to the crowd Thursday of going “to the Capitol” on Jan. 6, 2020. The first-term state lawmaker launched his Senate challenge against incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet with a video ad featuring the explosion of a simulated Dominion voting machine.
Polling has consistently shown that more than three-quarters of Republican voters continue to believe the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Hanks, who won two early straw polls in a crowded field of GOP Senate candidates, said that his campaign is gaining “remarkable” momentum.
“I’m the only Senate candidate talking about election integrity,” Hanks said. “And the reality is, that’s what people want to talk about.”
This article originallly appeared in Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: [email protected]. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.