Flanked by the Gadsden flag and a patriotic balloon display, Rep. Dave Williams (R-Colorado Springs), Rep. Ron Hanks (R-Canon City), Todd Watkins, and Peter Lupia indulged in conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, George Soros, and the Canadian Trucker Convoy during a candidate forum moderated by El Paso County GOP Chair Vickie Tonkins Friday night in Peyton, northeast of Colorado Springs.
Unlike other candidate forums, the Feb. 25 event at Peyton Junior-Senior High School didn’t feature any candidates who were actually running against each other. Williams is challenging U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado), Hanks is challenging U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Watkins is running for El Paso County Sheriff, and Lupia for El Paso County Clerk and Recorder. The ideologically homogeneous event began with Williams assuring the audience, “I support the issues you support.”
The 2020 election has been a major talking point for both Williams and Hanks, who was present for the Maricopa County, Arizona audit — which found no evidence of fraud — and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, but Lupia and Watkins both stated they believed Donald Trump won the 2020 election.
When asked by Tonkins, “Do you believe in the big lie? Would you enforce red flag laws? Would you enforce [COVID] mandates,” all four candidates answered that they believed Trump won in 2020; no, they would not enforce red flag laws; and no, they would not enforce mandates.
Lupia vowed to remove Dominion Voting machines and return to hand-counting ballots, despite the increased cost and reduced efficiency. “I will present a budget that will support that to the El Paso County Commissioners,” he said.
The conspiracy behind Dominion has been pushed by pro-Russian Douglas County podcast host and FEC United founder Joe Oltmann, who is currently a defendant in a defamation suit from former Dominion executive Eric Coomer, who Oltmann claimed was part of an “Antifa conference call” prior to the 2020 election.
Before the forum began, former Academy School District 20 Board of Education candidate Lindsay Moore announced her intention to run for District 1 El Paso County Commissioner, a seat currently held by Holly Williams, before repeating false claims about the 2020 election. Lupia said having Moore on the Board of County Commissioners would help him get rid of the Dominion machines in El Paso County.
The candidates were also unified in their belief that billionaire investor George Soros, known for supporting progressive causes, is secretly wielding wide power in Colorado politics and beyond.
During a question on whether the candidates would support a convention of states to address the budget and term limits, Williams said he would not support a convention because it would offer Soros an opportunity to interfere with the process.
Later, Tonkins asked candidates, “How are you going to limit funding sources such as George Soros?”
Williams claimed the best way to stop Soros was to “stop letting Democrats fund him” and argued to reform the tax code. Hanks claimed Soros funds district attorneys across the country. Lupia claimed that Secretary of State Jena Griswold, as well as Colorado Springs at-large City Councilor Wayne Williams and current El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Chuck Broerman are all involved in collecting funds from Soros.
Watkins said he would arrest Soros.
Tonkins added that Soros is funding Secretary of State races across the country, “What does that tell you about elections?”
The Anti-Defamation League notes that Soros conspiracies repeat anti-semitic tropes. According to its website, “Even if unintentional, politicians and pundits repeating these unsubstantiated conspiracies essentially validate the same hateful myths propagated by antisemites.”
Soros wasn’t the only conspiracy mentioned that evening. Lupia repeated debunked misinformation that U.N. troops were brought into Ottawa, Canada to arrest participants of the Trucker Convoy protest.
Moderating the non-competitive event, Tonkins reminded the audience three separate times throughout the evening that she is not endorsing any of the candidates, “Only asking questions in an open forum.”
In a Jan. 30 letter signed by Colorado GOP Chair Kristi Burton Brown, the state Executive Committee stated: “Tonkins behaved improperly in regard to her duty of neutrality during a Republican primary in two specific ways … First, at the January 10, 2022, meeting of the El Paso County Executive Committee, Chairwoman Tonkins approved an agenda item and allowed the presentation of a scorecard that rates Republican legislators with letter grades based on very specific criteria considered by an outside organization, but not readily known by everyone viewing the scorecard. The presentation of this scorecard with its letter grades, combined with specific comments about how legislators should behave offered by Chairwoman Tonkins, gave the impression that she opposed some Republican legislators and supported others – an action that is improper during the primary. … Second, the State Executive Committee finds that it was improper for Chairwoman Tonkins to use county funds to contribute to FEC United. It is the State Executive Committee’s understanding based on the materials submitted by petitioners that FEC United is a 501(c)(4) organization that takes sides in Republican primaries, particularly in El Paso County.”
Lupia, Watkins and Williams took part in a Feb. 15 caucus training, organized by FEC United, at Fervent Church in Colorado Springs, which has hosted El Paso County GOP and FEC United meetings in the past. Hanks has been endorsed by Oltmann.
During closing statements, Williams said Colorado needs another [Rep.] Lauren Boebert [R-Colorado] or [Rep.] or Marjorie Taylor Greene [R-Georgia]. This weekend Greene spoke at the America First Political Action Conference, an annual event organized by white nationalist Nick Fuentes, who praised Adolph Hitler during this year’s event.
Lupia said God called him to run, and Watkins assured the audience he would “stand in the gap.”
Hanks said that while the U.S. has the best government in the world, “It is manned with tyrants and incumbents who are vainglorious.”
In his final comments of the evening, Williams said, “Let’s go Brandon,” to universal applause.