This Saturday’s Douglas County Pride Fest was protested by a number of different groups — Able Shepherd, a nonprofit that provides mass shooter training to churches and schools, Patriot Front, the white nationalist group arrested en masse for conspiracy to riot in Idaho last year, the Rocky Mountain Active Club, the local chapter of the white supremacist fight club started by Robert Rundo, and the Proud Boys.
Founded by former Navy SEAL Jimmy Graham, Able Shepherd is a “standard-setting, nationally-recognized progressive tactical training program in Denver, Colorado.” On Saturday Graham brought his skills to bear against Douglas County Pride Fest’s family-friendly drag show. Graham is also a fellow with Colorado Christian University’s Centennial Institute, which has regularly hosts speaking events featuring homophobic and transphobic speakers. Among those standing with Graham’s group of approximately 70 men, wearing matching shirts that read “stand to protect children” on the front and “Jesus loves you (and so do I)” on the back, was Bill Jack, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for House District 45, losing to Lisa Frizell. In 2015, Jack filed a civil rights complaint against a Denver bakery for refusing to make a cake with the message, “God hates gays.”
Jack attended the Aug. 15 Castle Rock City Council meeting. “I can tell you what I witnessed last year at the Pride Fest last year was nothing less than sexual grooming, legally,” he said during public comment. “Not just should be illegal, not just immoral. It was evil. It was prurient. It was disgustingly insane, the actions that were performed. It was demeaning to the individuals performing them, and it was corrupting to the community of Castle Rock. … I urge you to take action to protect the innocence of the children. You may or may not be accountable before the electorate, but you certainly will be accountable before the righteous judge of the universe, who values those children.”
Graham’s group also has ties to Colorado schools. During an October, 2021 candidate forum, Douglas County School District Board of Education President Mike Peterson mentioned Able Shepherd. “You need planning, partnership, and proficiency, before events happen,” he said. “That’s partnering with our law enforcement experts, partnering with our other folks in the community. Groups like Able Shepherd.”
On July 25, 2022, Monument Academy, the El Paso County charter school that has passed a number of resolutions targeting transgender students, signed a resolution partnering with Able Shepherd.
Able Shepherd has also conducted training with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, and Sheriff Darren Weekly has appeared as a guest on Graham’s “Protector Culture” podcast. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office told 9News that no arrests or citations were made during the protest. Rep. Bob Marshall (D-Highlands Ranch) attended the event and shared his thoughts on social media.
“A bunch of yahoos intended to intimidate event goers at [5 p.m.],” he posted. “Went then and saw ridiculous behavior by a bunch of fascists. Ten year-old next to me was crying scared for his sister from those there ‘to protect children.’ … If DougCo had law enforcement w/any integrity, there should be charges.”
The night before, the Douglas County Fairgrounds were vandalized with graffiti reading “groomers.” The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is investigating it as a hate crime.
Able Shepherd’s Operations Manager Melissa Papulias released a statement denying the involvement of Able Shepherd, as an organization, in Saturday’s protest.
“The Founder/CEO of Able Shepherd, Jimmy Graham, acted as a committed husband and father of 4 amazing school aged children, an upstanding community member, and a citizen standing on his 1st Amendment rights,” said Papulias in a news release. “Mr. Graham’s acts of involvement were not that of the company, Able Shepherd, but solely as an individual citizen. As such, Mr. Graham’s attendance as an individual should not be conflated with his role as founder/CEO of Able Shepherd.
However, photos of the event appear to show that Graham, Papulias and three other employees of Able Shepherd — Parker Mansour, Todd Brock, and Jeffry Spain — almost half of the staff listed on Able Shepherd’s website, were present during the protest.
Papulias did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
In addition to Able Shepherd, members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front stood in a field outside of the event with a banner reading “strong families make strong nations.” Last June, 31 Patriot Front members were arrested at a pride event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho for conspiracy to riot. Three of those arrested were Colorado residents: Nathan David Brenner, a 26 year-old from Louisville, Forrest Clark Rankin, a 28 year-old from Wheat Ridge, and Connor James Ryan, a 23 year-old from Thornton. Ironically, one of those arrested, Jared M. Boyce, 28, of Springville, Utah, pleaded guilty in April to nine felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and a misdemeanor count of dealing in material harmful to a minor.
Alongside members of Patriot Front were members of the Rocky Mountain Active Club. Active Clubs are a kind of neo-nazi fight club, started by Robert Rundo, a founding member of the Rise Above Movement. Rundo was charged earlier this month for conspiracy to violate the Anti-Riot Act. According to the indictment, Rundo and others “directly participated in attacks at political rallies in Huntington Beach on March 25, 2017; in Berkeley on April 15, 2017; and in San Bernardino on June 10, 2017. In the months following these events, the defendants allegedly trained for future events and celebrated their assaults, which included online posts with photos of RAM members assaulting people.”
Active Clubs have been involved in protests against LGBTQ events in a number of states.