Colorado Springs voters who are concerned that Rep. Dave Williams’ (R-CO Springs) primary defeat against U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) might mean that there won’t be anyone in Denver to introduce dead on arrival bills about abortion, transgender people, or public education can rest easy. Scott Bottoms, the Republican candidate for Williams’ district, has got them covered.
“House District 15 has not been represented for everyday people,” says Alvin Sexton, Bottoms’ Democratic opponent. “The current Representative, Dave Williams, has not done anything for his community or the state of Colorado. Scott Bottoms is going to follow in his footsteps. Scott Bottoms has no plan. He’s running on moral issues only. He is not taking into consideration the real issues that we face, like the housing crisis, water crisis — we’re running out, it’s polluted. We have kids that are being bullied because they are trans and he is one of the leaders supporting this, and he supports conspiracy theories. I’m running to stand up to people like him and run for everyday people.“
Bottoms took part in a town hall event in Eastern El Paso County on Saturday, where he discussed demonic influences in public education, like furries and transgender people.
“I get very vocal about the things that are happening, the immorality that we’re seeing across the country, the brokenness, corruption, all kinds of stuff,” said Bottoms, who is the pastor of the Church at Briargate. “And I think it just came to a point where it was more of let’s stop talking and start doing it. And so I decided to jump in and do this. I will continue to pastor for my church.”
Bottoms is one of many conservative candidates in El Paso County with close ties to evangelical communities that have been galvanized over social issues like critical race theory and the rights of transgender students. Last year, Colorado Springs school districts 49, 11, and 20 flipped their boards with the election of staunchly conservative candidates. Since the elections, those three districts have received multiple letters from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which takes issue with what it sees as violations of the separation of church and state from newly elected leaders like District 20’s Aaron Salt, who took part in the Hold the Line event at The Road Church in May, and District 49’s Jamilynn D’Avola, who frequently targets transgender students and cites Christian “historian” David Barton in her board comments.
“From what I’ve seen, Jamilynn is really trying to use her Christian beliefs to justify making rules in school,” says Sexton, who alongside HD14 Democratic candidate Rob Rogers has been a regular presence at board meetings. “She’s been on record saying that she doesn’t believe that we should have LGBTQ clubs in schools because she’s worried we’re going to turn straight kids gay for some reason. And that’s not the case at all. And, you know, we have these clubs so people feel accepted in school, and that’s what we should be striving for — acceptance.”
District 49 board member Ivy Liu, who was removed from her board assignment as treasurer following incidents of anonymous harassment directed at other board members, was present at Saturday’s town hall event. ”How are you guys in either the Senate or in Congress going to do to stop this indoctrination of our children?” she asked. “We have people in office right now and both elected offices and also higher level management decisions such as superintendents who are pushing this crap. And what are you going to do to help those of us at the ground level to fight this?”
In his response, Bottoms discussed demonic influences and transgender students. “I’m working with board members to directly attack some of this stuff and say, we’re taking this back for our kids,” he said. “This is our children and our grandchildren, and we’re letting them be taught some stuff that is — it’s demonic is what it is. Okay. This isn’t just, ‘Well, do we believe this or do we believe this?’
“This is demonic stuff. Another thing that I’m going to try to do when it comes to legislation, this is a big shot in the dark, but this is what I would try to do, is if you’re some kind of teacher, counselor, administrator, somebody in a school district and you encourage a six or seven-year-old girl to go mutilate herself because she was kind of a tomboy at the time, I’m going to put legislation through that says that is pedophilia and you’re going to go to prison. Yeah, this is a big deal.”
Gender affirming surgeries, which change or remove secondary sex characteristics, are not performed on six or seven-year-olds, not just because the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care recommends surgery wait until patients reach the legal age of consent, but because six or seven-year-olds have not developed any secondary sex characteristics to be surgically removed or modified.
During the event, Bottoms continued to rail against things that are not actually happening. “Until somebody is held accountable for this gross negligence of authority in positions — we have these transvestites that dance around in the schools,” he said. “If you do it in any other setting in society, go to the library, any of this in a setting in society and you voluntarily do that with little children. You’re going to jail for it. You do it in the public schools, and you don’t go to jail. It’s liked, it’s wanted, And so we’ve got to start hammering some really big stuff, some big laws and some push it, even if, like you said, we’re not going to be able to get some of these laws through. I get that. But you get up and you push and you keep pushing and you keep pushing up until somebody starts going, Wait a second, we might have a problem and then we can get something out.”
After the town hall, Bottoms was asked to clarify his comments about transgender students in schools. He claimed that schools are actively forcing students to be transgender. “Well, I don’t have a — I don’t have anything wrong with transgender people,” he said. “What I’m having a problem with is when they force this on children. A seven-year-old girl doesn’t have the ability to make that decision. It just is not possible. We’ve got these teachers and administrators that are forcing your stuff on these kids, and I think they need to be held legally accountable for that. It’s against the law to do that. And we see where these are and we see where these politicians are a part of this, where they’re saying, yeah, these people can do this. Well, it’s not okay. Yeah. This is against the law that the transgender laws are not are not for these elementary and junior high kids. They’re just not. And so we need to get that out of the schools. We need to get that thought process out of the schools and then hold administrators and hold teachers and hold counselors accountable for this. Teachers are less accountable because they’re being made. Counselors are kind of the next step. And then you’ve got administrators that are actually making these decisions and they need to be held legally accountable for the attack on these kids.”
Recently, the Fremont County School District attempted to pass a modest transgender policy that would simply reiterate the district’s compliance with Colorado’s broad nondiscrimination protections for students. Following widespread backlash from teachers, like Ashley Mulso at Cañon City High School, and local politicians, like Cañon City Mayor Pro Tem John Hamrick, the district tabled the policy indefinitely.
When asked to identify a specific school or district where children are being forced to adopt a transgender identity, Bottoms repeated a debunked urban myth about furries being allowed to use litter boxes in public schools.
“They are allowing a child to identify as a cat and use a litter box in the girls’ bathroom, he said. “That is grooming a child, that is developing this child. We don’t allow pets in school if they really see this child as identifying as a pet, there’s a disconnect all the way across the board. And I believe that’s child abuse. Somebody is not standing up and saying, no, this is not okay. This is not right for me to do this. That’s an example that’s happening in one of our schools.”
That particular anecdote was spread by Nebraska Sen. Bruce Bostelman, a conservative Republican, who repeated the false claim during a televised debate on a bill intended to help students who have behavioral problems. Bostelman has since apologized and retracted his statements.
When asked again if Bottoms could point to any examples of schools in Colorado forcing students to be trans, he said, “I won’t. I can, but I won’t. One of these is actually in court right now because the parent was not even told it was happening. The child was being provided puberty blockers and set up for surgery, and the parent had no idea. That’s not okay. That’s against the law.”
Bottoms was likely referencing the case of Jeff Younger, a Texas man who was engaged in a bitter custody dispute involving his transgender child. Younger used his case, which had become a rallying cry among the anti-trans right, as part of his failed bid for a Texas House seat.
When asked to clarify his statement about “demonic” school curriculum, Bottoms pointed to critical race theory, which is not taught in Colorado schools. “Anything to do with CRT is demonic,” he said. “They’re literally trying to say something that happened, didn’t happen. Anything that starts the beginning of our country other than 1776 is a lie. That’s a blatant lie. Lying is not a God thing. There’s only one other option: Demons.”
Bottoms’ solution to demons in public school? “Prayer,” he said. “Let God come back and get the Bible back in school.”
For Sexton, Bottoms’ anti-trans positions and belief in demons is a recipe for disaster when combined with legislative powers. “Whenever you are a state representative, you can’t make legislation based off of your own personal religion because you’re going to be making laws for people who have a lot of different religions,” he says. “There’s people out there who don’t believe what you believe. So as a state representative, I feel that we have to concentrate on problems that are factual, that we can actually prove and work on those for the people.”
While Sexton does not view cat-identified students using litter boxes or demons as legislative priorities, he does want to address affordable housing, water quality, and teacher pay. “We have a large influx of, out-of-state or corporation investment firms coming in and buying up our homes at an alarming rate,” he says. “Sure, it’s only between like 10 and 18 percent [of homes purchased], but I’m just worried about if we let this trend continue, what’s it going to be like in 20, 30 years? Are my children or our future children going to be able to afford homes? The second is a water issue. We need a creative way to solve it because we’re running out, and it’s contaminated with PFAS. And the third one is, I really believe there is a solution to get teachers paid more.”
While it’s not surprising that the secular left is dismissive of the dangers posed by demons, that does little to dissuade believers. According to reporting in the Sentinel in 2020, exorcisms are on the rise. The Sentinel cited Virginia Commonwealth University religious studies professor Andrew Chesnut, who said the driving force behind the surge of exorcisms since the 1980s has been the spread of Pentecostal churches that highlight the conflict between demons and the Holy Spirit.
“Demons, as most Western culturally-minded people would know them, are derived primarily from a Christian point of view,” explains Jason Cordova, president of Colorado’s Crypto Science Society, which is dedicated to studying strange and unusual phenomena, and a current graduate student studying folklore at the University of Tartu in Estonia. “The idea of the fallen angel that is up to no good and interfering with our daily lives here on Earth. Cross-culturally, different cultures do look at mischievous spirits, there are stories of entities and spirits that can cause trouble. Most notably, say in Celtic lore, the jinn, for Arabic and Islamic folks. Broadly speaking, many cultures throughout the world do recognize mischievous or problematic entities. Of course, it’s the cultural context in which we relate to them.”
Bottoms isn’t the only Colorado Springs figure to invoke demonic entities. Recently, Ted Haggard, the former pastor of New Life Church, who stepped down in 2006 after he was the center of a scandal involving methamphetamine and gay sex, called new allegations of sexual misconduct “demonically inspired rumors” during a July 31 sermon. Yeurashka Graham claimed he was possessed by a demon when he allegedly murdered his 74 year-old mother last year.
Can demons, in addition to spreading salacious rumors and inspiring murder, influence academic research like the 1619 Project that casts our founding fathers in an unflattering light?
“To be perfectly honest, I think that sounds like a convenient excuse, really,” says Cordova, who claims to have personal experience with such entities and exorcisms. “I think, unfortunately, those who claim to have a little bit more knowledge of these sorts of things have a history of manipulating it to serve their means. A perfect example of that running away — a theocracy manipulating the population into believing that they were under full scale attack by the influence of the devil in a very physical, real way here on Earth — was in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1690s.”
Cordova notes that most denominations have protocols in place to ensure that accusations of demonic activity aren’t abused. “Protestants have an approach to it with a kind of council of review to figure out really what’s at the bottom of it,” he says. “Just like with anything politically, they have the authority to decide whether or not it is demonic or otherwise. The Catholic Church, they have a very select, very specific group of priests. Not just anybody can be an exorcist. They need to be trained to do so. On the Protestant side, individual people, parishioners, can go to classes, pay the church hundreds of dollars to go through a training course to be an exorcist and to be able to identify demonic influence. But again, the folks holding the keys to that information are those the same ones [making accusations].”
Cordova warns that exorcisms should only be considered after mental health conditions or abuse — victims of demonic possession often report strange bruises and other injuries — have been ruled out. “Belief is a very powerful thing,” he says. “I feel that when it comes down to it, it really is a matter of belief.”
Pentecostal — and other charismatic and evangelical — churches are also at the center of the New Apostalic Reformation, a movement that embraces the concept of ‘dominionism.’ During May’s Hold the Line event, where D20 board member Aaron Salt made an appearance, Colorado’s Republican U.S. Representatives Lauren Boebert and Doug Lamborn also spoke. Lamborn praised The Road Church’s pastor, Steve Holt, for his embrace of the “Seven Mountain Mandate,” which holds that the seven pillars of society — education, religion, family, business, government and military, arts and entertainment, and the media — should all be under the control of the church, in order to hasten the return of Jesus Christ. This idea has been popularized by pastors like Lance Wallnau, who championed Donald Trump’s presidency, comparing him to the Biblical figure Cyrus. Wallnau recently preached about the seven mountains during MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s “Moment of Truth Summit.”
Sexton says he and Rogers have been working to fight the spread of Christian nationalism in Colorado Springs. “My first experience was when I went to the ‘Whose Children Are They?’ viewing at a local church, and they were playing this movie,” says Sexton. “And this movie essentially made the people believe that the teacher unions are the ones who’s making curriculums in the state of Colorado and that we are teaching our children and showing them pornographic images. That’s just not true. It’s nothing but hyperbole — the whole meeting was. And second was the event [was] with [Colorado Rep.] Stephanie Luck [R-Pueblo], where Stefanie Luck is going to different churches all across Colorado, breaking down house bills, and from there she is exaggerating them and making them sound awful. In reality, if you just read the House Bills, you would see it is the complete opposite and nothing she is saying is true. And this is what I’m seeing. Churches are being used as a political battleground right here in El Paso County, and even if you go out towards the west, to Lauren Boebert’s district. I was in Aspen this week. I spoke to the Pitkin County Democrats and they said that they’re having the same problem out there. So it’s not just El Paso County, but El Paso County is the center of it, but it’s happening all across Colorado.”