At a press conference earlier this week the entire Colorado Republican slate, from statewide candidates Heidi Ganahl and Joe O’Dea to Statehouse and school board hopefuls, joined together to talk only about “kitchen table” policy issues. The subtext was clear: With the primaries over, the party doesn’t want to talk about stolen elections or other far-right conspiracies.
Given Ganahl’s refusal to reject the Big Lie and Republican state Chair Kristi Burton Brown’s previous job running conspiracist group FEC United, the party’s newfound insistence on economic policy was already going to be a tough sell. But one of their statehouse candidates is going to make it even tougher.
Standing behind O’Dea, Ganahl, and Pam Anderson, the GOP’s Secretary of State candidate, at Tuesday’s press conference was Steph Wheeler, GOP candidate for Denver’s House District 2, which encompasses the southern portion of Colorado’s capital city. She used to work for the conspiracist group FEC United, the far-right organization that launched in opposition to COVID-related public health restrictions but has since become focused on 2020 election fraud along with multiple other fringe conservative conspiracies.
Running as a Republican in Denver has always been a difficult proposition. Nevertheless, just like their Democratic counterparts running in deep-red Douglas County or Colorado Springs, Denver GOP officials still need candidates willing to carry the party’s message and turn out voters, not just for a long-shot statehouse contest but also for statewide races that could be much tighter.
Stephanie Wheeler says she’s bringing a Republican message of fighting crime, fighting drugs, and holding public schools accountable to the doors of her Denver neighbors.
Wheeler also brings a resume that could distract voters from her main issues. Until this February, Wheeler worked as the lone staffer of FEC United. Additionally, Wheeler remains a member of and continues to volunteer for the United American Defense Force (UADF), a militia that appears at events and is affiliated with FEC United.
“I did everything for FEC and honestly both organizations, said Wheeler. “I was the only paid employee.” She later clarified that while she was being paid by FEC United, her ongoing work with UADF is as a volunteer.
Wheeler co-hosts a podcast with UADF founder John “Tig” Tiegen, a former Marine and security contractor best known for his role defending the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya. He was also a Colorado spokesman for the Trump Campaign.
Wheeler was FEC United’s spokesperson, hosting livestreams, authoring emails, and giving radio interviews on behalf of the group, from its early days in 2020 until February of this year. She also co-hosts a podcast, the Modern Patriot with Tiegen.
Wheeler sat down for an interview with CTR in June. She shared her experience knocking on doors in her district, describing the encounters as largely positive.
“I think that people are excited to see a young female running for office,” says Wheeler. “I’m a single mom of two and we’re all just trying to make it work. It’s important for people to see that there are other people trying to raise their families and begin to effect the change that they want to see. … The fact that over 60% of our kindergarten-through-third graders in Colorado are not reading at grade level is pretty horrendous, especially considering the allocations of funds. We’re giving our money to the government; they need to be held accountable for the services they’re providing to us as citizens.”
Last October, the Colorado Times Recorder broke the news that Colorado Republican Party Chair Kristi Burton Brown had previously served as president of FEC United, where Wheeler was also working at the time. Burton Brown then tried to distance herself from the group, telling The Denver Post that it was only for a short time and that group’s mission had since shifted.
Asked if her work with FEC United and UADF, which may be an illegal entity, created any problems for the state party given Burton Brown’s statements, Wheeler said it had not, citing their previous work relationship at FEC United, which was founded by Joe Oltmann, a leading election conspiracist in Colorado.
CTR: “Once it came out in legal documents that [Kristi Burton Brown] had been FEC United’s president, she distanced herself from the group. … When you told the party you wanted to run for office, was the fact that your were the only paid employee of FEC United and UADF a challenge? Have you had those discussions with the GOP? Is this going to be a problem or not?”
Wheeler: “So we haven’t talked too greatly on that issue, quite honestly. We having worked together in the past; she very much knows my work ethic and what my values and principles are and how I’m able to speak to people. And I think that it’s important to bring communities together. And I honestly don’t believe that’s going to be that big of an issue.”
FEC United works on many conservative issues, but it’s best known for promoting the “Big Lie” conspiracy that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.
Asked if she believes her own ballot was counted, Wheeler says yes. She cast her mail ballot using a dropbox and tracked it using the Denver Clerk’s BallotTrax system. Wheeler declined to say, however, whether she believes that the national results were stolen.
“I think that there is not enough truth in and transparency in all levels of government,” said Wheeler. “I think that the fact that we’ve allowed this issue — that we are entitled as citizens of this country to have an absolute confidence in. The fact that there are so many people that have questions. There are so many people that doubt that. It’s a divisive issue. It’s a shame. I think that there should be more solutions proposed just to fix the divisiveness in our country.”
While Wheeler avoided stating a clear position on the Big Lie, she hasn’t been afraid to float some truly eye-popping conspiracies in her role as podcast host alongside UADF founder Tiegen. In a January episode of their Modern Patriot podcast, Wheeler mused that the federal government might have intentionally caused deadly wildfires and tornadoes in order to reclaim property from its citizens.
“I have a theory, I know it’s a little bit out there,” said Wheeler. “Between California and now here with the fires, and then the five states affected by the tornadoes, It’s super-odd. If you look at the pattern that happened with the tornadoes, that is not natural. That doesn’t just happen. Maybe a coordinated effort to dampen private property ownership? Remember the communists in 2021 and 2020, when they were saying, ‘We’re going to take your homes from you. We’re going to make sure you can’t rebuild?’ These are people who want everyone on the system. They don’t want people to own private property. What easier way — a non-confrontational way — than with natural disasters? Because at that point what are you going to blame? Climate change! We know their agenda there!”
During our interview in June, the Colorado Times Recorder asked Wheeler directly about her conspiracy theory.
CTR: Do you think any of that is true?
Wheeler: I think that it’s a conversation, right? I mean, I think that there are actions being taken that I have intentions, but…
CTR: What actions?
Wheeler: This doesn’t feel necessarily relevant to the campaign.
CTR: You want to be a member of the state Legislature of Colorado. If you think that any level of government — whether it’s the state government or the federal government — is actively taking measures against its own people to generate fear or control or take back private property for the government. … you said you thought that the government had something to do with the tornadoes that went through the Midwest.
Wheeler: Tig and I on the show have banter and conversation. It’s a little bit different than the step of making legislation and taking on this role.
CTR: Right. But legislation comes from the people who propose it and discuss it and write it. And if you say this is worth a conversation, that means there’s some element there where you’re saying this might be happening?
Wheeler: I think it will be interesting to know what technology we have available. I can’t predict whether anything malicious is happening. I think that the investigation to the Marshall fires proved what occurred there. And, you know, everything warrants an investigation when it comes to things like that — an arsonist in Colorado or in California in certain settings. And then, of course, a lot of accidents that can happen…
CTR: But none of those investigations pointed to government being responsible.
Wheeler: No. So that’s why I’m saying having an investigation proves what’s occurred and that’s good.”
When pressed, Wheeler ultimately agreed with this reporter that the federal government did not create tornadoes, but defended proposing the conspiracy as appropriate for a podcast topic of conversation.
Asked about her ongoing work with Tiegen and UADF, Wheeler says she’s focused on UADF’s efforts to combatting human trafficking. “We’re getting ready to roll all of that out on our website,” said Wheeler. “We’re laying the groundwork to offer resources and support for both human trafficking survivors and domestic violence survivors.” UADF’s website currently states, “We are expanding our partnerships with anti-human trafficking organizations to combat modern-day slavery.”
Yesterday the Denver Republicans invited its members to attend an upcoming fundraiser for Wheeler featuring Tiegen.
“This rare, intimate event will feature a first-hand account of the Benghazi attack, a Q&A session with John ‘Tig’ Tiegen, and light refreshments.,” states the invitation. “The afternoon will be a fundraiser with all ticket revenue benefiting Stephanie Wheeler for Colorado. Additional contributions to John ‘Tig’ Tiegen’s 501(c)3 non-profit are highly encouraged (bring your checkbook)!”
Last November while working with FEC United and UADF, Wheeler attended an all-day event in Ventura, CA at which she introduced Tiegen and Oltmann who then pitched UADF and FEC United to the audience. During his remarks, Oltmann recounted his founding of FEC United and noted that “radical leftist” reporters described him as a right-wing militia member, a term he embraced.
“When I stepped in the middle of this and started FEC United, the radicals leftists started writing articles about me calling me a right-wing militia member,” said Oltmann. “I didn’t mind the word militia, It’s in the Second Amendment, figured that it’s kind of a good thing.”