Like many of the local races in El Paso County this year, the race for the District 5 El Paso County Commissioner seat features a “grassroots” Republican candidate, Dave Winney, hoping to unseat a Republican incumbent, Cami Bremer. Winney was originally a candidate for Colorado Secretary of State, but dropped out of the race at the urging of QAnon influencer Juan O Savin after Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters announced her candidacy.
Savin is an influential figure in the world of QAnon, rubbing shoulders with actor and QAnon adherent Jim Caviezel. Many Savin supporters also believe he is secretly John F. Kennedy Jr., a bizarre aspect of the amorphous QAnon conspiracy that led followers of Michael Protzman, also known as Negative48, to occupy Dallas’s Dealey Plaza last December. Savin is also a fan of seminal conspiracy theorist, grifter and author Bill Cooper. Savin featured audio of Cooper, who was killed by Arizona deputies in a shootout 2001, in his Jan. 6 documentary, “The Called (Makings for a Perfect Day)“
Savin is a fan of Cooper, who peddled JFK assassination conspiracies before becoming a fixture in the UFO conspiracy community in the 80s, before going on to host his own radio program and writing the deranged conspiracy tome Behold A Pale Horse.
“Whatever you want to take [QAnon] as, I have listened to stories that [Savin has] told online for many years,” said Winney after his appearance at an El Paso County Commissioner candidate forum at The Church For All Nations in Colorado Springs Monday night. “I’ve studied history for 40 years and I’ve studied the scripture for 50 years and I’ve really intensely studied what’s going on in this country for the last seven years, and what I find is that it doesn’t even hold a candle to what he’s talking about with history, putting it in context, talks about biblical things that come out, puts in context, and what’s going on right now, puts it in context with what’s going with our country — both the history and scriptural context. It’s really parallel to what we’re seeing in this country. What I enjoy about Juan is that he tells stories using context that we all — what he’s looking at is the big picture and putting things in context on Youtube. I think he’s excellent in many ways as a storyteller. I think he’s a real patriot and loves his country.”
Savin has put together a coalition of far-right, conspiracy-embracing candidates for secretary of state positions across the country, called the “America First Secretary of State Coalition,” co-founded former Nevada legislator and current Nevada Secretary of State candidate Jim Marchant. Critics have noted that the group is a coordinated effort to install 2020 election deniers into official positions that both control election operations and play a crucial role in certifying election results.
“I was running for Secretary of State for eight months, traveling the state of Colorado,” said Winney when asked about the America First Secretary of State Coalition. “When Tina Peters announced, on Feb. 14, that she was going to run, and I had already, before then, supported her. I loaded up a car and drove out there to support her and Sherronna Bishop when the bad people that are in office were using other bad people to attack her and Sherronna Bishop. It’s bad. They’re still attacking her, because Tina Peters did this bizarre thing. She obeyed the law, and it accidentally shed light on people who were not obeying the law, so now she’s being relentlessly attacked. When she decided to run for Secretary of State I stepped aside, and endorsed her.”
In March, Peters was indicted by a Mesa County grand jury on 10 charges, seven felonies, related a breach of security in relation to Mesa County’s Dominion voting machines. Winney, like District 1 El Paso County Commissioner candidate Lindsay Moore and El Paso County Clerk and Recorder candidate Peter Lupia, believes Dominion Voting Systems is part of a conspiracy to steal elections.
“These systems are fixed, they don’t need to be fixed, they’re fixed,” said Winney during a March podcast appearance alongside Savin. “I did heavy duty security for IBM where they were developing microchips years ago. Then I created the entire data security department at American Century Mutual Funds when they had two million investors because it was time, they needed data security. I worked in hardware, I worked in software. One thing I would say to expound on what Juan just made the point, when you develop hardware with backdoors and it’s crooked and it’s developed for crime, or for being compromised, let’s say, then there’s no way to fix that. If you develop software with backdoors and you have basically — so it’s corrupt. You have hardware that’s corrupt, you have software that’s corrupt. It’s designed that way. I hear Republicans a lot of times when I’m running around the whole state of Colorado, running for Secretary of State before Tina Peters jumped in, I say it, if something is designed for corruption I hear Republicans going, ‘Let’s clean them all up and then recertify them.’ First of all, they’ve never been certified by law and Tina Peters has made that point very clearly. These machines were never able to be certified by law. Texas proved that and they rejected the Dominion systems because of that. When something is not even certified, but it’s been developed for corruption then there’s no way to uncorrupt that and ‘recertify’ it to make it good. It’s impossible. I agree 100% with what Juan just said, and this is what they’re trying to propagate on us. ‘Oh, these things are OK and good’ or they can be cleaned up and recertified or whatever. That’s impossible. Peters is dangerous to them because she is proving that.”
Like Lupia, Winney also supports the ideas of anti-abortion extremist Matthew Trewhella, whose book, The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates: A Proper Resistance to Tyranny and a Repudiation of Unlimited Obedience to Civil Government, has become popular in far-right conspiracy circles. When asked, during the forum, how each candidate would hold developers accountable for funding infrastructure projects in El Paso County, Winney said, “I would suggest everybody in the audience buys the book, The Doctrine of Lesser Magistrates. We don’t serve, in the county, at the pleasure of the state government. It doesn’t happen. All of these governments serve at the pleasure of the Constitution of the United States and the state constitution.”
Such non sequiturs were Winney’s hallmark Monday night. Winney answered the first question, regarding each candidate’s number one priority, with a nod to two other members of the “grassroots” slate of candidates in El Paso County. “I’m going to follow, a little bit, the lead of [Rep.] Dave Williams [R-CO Springs], because when we’re talking about public health and public safety, I’d like to give a shoutout to someone who’s a real coroner, which is Dr. Rae Ann Weber,” he said. “[COVID restrictions] came out of the Coroner’s Office, believe it or not, and it came out of the Board of Commissioners because they abdicated their responsibility to Dr. Leon Kelly to do just that. I’ll give a shoutout to Todd Watkins who will be a real sheriff and will straighten up the Sheriff’s Department. Beyond that, all these policy things, they’re all important. All of them are number one.”
Weber’s Republican opponent, incumbent Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly, who is facing backlash from the “grassroots” candidates for Colorado’s COVID-19 response, called her “a completely unqualified far-right political activist.”
Winney also voiced support for El Paso County Sheriff candidate Todd Watkins, a member of the anti-government Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. When asked how each candidate would respond to mandates from the state or federal government, Winney said, making a pun, “When Todd Watkins is our sheriff and I’m on the county commission, then if I say to Todd, ‘We need to get together and talk about election integrity,’ or something like that, and meet me for coffee. That becomes a valid government man date. All other government mandates are completely invalid, they’re against the constitution. We should defend the constitution against enemies both foreign and domestic, and boy, do we have a bunch of domestic [enemies]. We have people that are Democrats that self-identify themself as Republican. We’ve got to stop that. We have people that love — when we’re kids we love to play musical chairs, but as adults we’ve got to stop that. No more musical chairs with elected officials.”
Winney’s comment about musical chairs is a dig at his primary opponent, Bremer, who is also the spouse of former U.S. Senate candidate Eli Bremer. The “grassroots” candidates have used the close political connections between Bremer, District 1 Commissioner Holly Williams, who is married to Colorado Springs at-large City Councilor Wayne Williams, and District 2 Commissioner Carrie Geitner, who is married to Rep. Tim Geitner (R-Monument), as a talking point during this election. Bremer did not attend Monday’s candidate forum.
Hoping to face the winner between Winney and Bremer is Democrat John Jarrell, a librarian who says his main priority is affordable housing. “It all starts with House Bill 21-1117,” he said. “There are steps you can take, working with other commissioners, to get compliant with that particular bill, so that in the future you can require developers to build a certain amount of ‘attainable housing,’ as the county master plan likes to call it. Once we take those steps then we’ll kick it back to the voters and see where you want to go from there.”
Jarrell was soundly booed when he suggested that instead of mandates, citizens should have relied on personal responsibility in the form of mask-wearing and vaccinations to prevent lockdowns and business closures. Jarrell also stood out from Winney by his refusal to support making El Paso County a “sanctuary county for the unborn,” an effort that has been suggested, unsuccessfully, in Park and Weld Counties.
“Not only would I not support us being such a sanctuary county, but if I were to get on the board of county commissioners, I would make sure to do everything in my power to prevent the county from trying to subvert Colorado’s abortion laws and prevent people from other counties that don’t have easy access to medical care, or people from other states on our border, from entering our county and getting that medical care,” said Jarrell.
Winney supported the idea of banning abortion in El Paso County. “Why would we want to murder the little poor children that were never a party to a crime,” he said. “It should be a sanctuary county, and I will do everything I can to be a part of this effort.”
Primary ballots have already been mailed out in El Paso County and must be returned by June 28.