Incorporated in 1961, Broomfield, CO is a smallish town of a little more than 74,000 people as of the 2020 census. Nestled in the southeastern corner of Boulder County, it was likely named for the type of sorghum grown there, known commonly as broomcorn as it was used in the manufacturing of brooms.
Over time and multiple annexations, Broomfield stretched across four counties, creating a boondoggle in terms of dealing with so many county seats and sales tax bases, and eventually, in 1998, the city secured an amendment to the Colorado State Constitution making it the smallest stand-alone county in Colorado.
And despite that fact, it appears big-city politics are at play when it comes to the diminutive municipality’s City Council election, where mud is being slung and Holocaust appropriation isn’t offlimits.
Ward 5 City Council member Heidi Henkel is running for reelection, but she has been squarely in the sights of conservative groups for months. According to Henkel, she caught their ire due to her endorsement of “common sense” gun legislation that placed some restrictions on perceived 2A rights.
“Just simple firearm ordinances like banning open carry, those sorts of things,” Henkel said in a phone conversation with me on Oct. 31. She started seeing herself compared to authoritarian figures from history’s worst examples, up to and including Adolf Hitler in comments on Facebook posts.
“And then last February I had someone put a sign in my yard saying that I’m a proud household without a gun or something like that,” said Henkel. “I’m used to having signs either on my property or put out about me, and they did that to all of our council members and not just me.”
(It’s important to note that while “Moms Demand Action” appeared printed as the sponsor of the signs, they denied any involvement- saying at the time they neither printed nor distributed the signs.)
There was a failed recall prior to this election as a result of her stance on guns, which Henkel waves away, but then the signs took an even more sinister turn. She got a call from a constituent who saw a new sign — placed illegally on public property — that was a recasting of her “Heidi Henkel” verbiage into “Heil Henkel” — recalling the “Heil Hitler” salute used by denizens of the Third Reich.
“She said, there’s something horrific out here and it’s antisemitic,” Henkel said. “You need to go get it…it was put in the median on 44th on public property.” Henkel’s husband Scott — who served in the U.S. Army — went and removed the sign.
Considering the unprecedented wildfire of antisemitism being reported across the state — and the nation — today in the wake of the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel and the Israeli response, this kind of rhetoric moves from just “bad taste” into “dangerous” territory.
“What was really disappointing is that I have quite a few Jewish families that were sickened to hear about it. And they tried to go to Facebook to the Broomfield Republicans and say, Hey, what is going on? Are you guys denouncing this? And they said, well, if Heidi wouldn’t treat her constituents a certain way, basically, then we wouldn’t have that.”
At least one person took to the Broomfield County Republicans Facebook page to complain about the ugly tactic and suggest it was the work of her opponent in the race, Adam Gobetti, who has denied any involvement, but also said he “got the joke,” and raised the possibility that Henkel’s campaign may be behind them). The county party’s inline response left much to be desired, where they chose not to condemn the act and instead just pushed blame elsewhere:
Several days later, again avoiding the word “antisemitism” — of which Holocaust appropriation is certainly an example — the Boulder County GOP published a message decrying “hate and discrimination of all types.”
The Boulder County Democrats released a statement as well that serves as a far better example of how to respond to such rhetoric:
“The Broomfield County Democrats are saddened and disturbed by this demonstration of antisemitism. Comparing Councilmember Henkel to Hitler is a grotesque act that is harmful to Broomfield and especially our Jewish community.
“We live in a time where antisemitism is all too prevalent and misguided stunts like this one only serve to minimize the very real danger our Jewish neighbors face every day.
“We call on Councilmember Henkel’s opponent Adam Gobetti, the Vote Yes Recall committee, Maria Boutrous, and the Broomfield County Republicans to join us in repudiating this disgusting antisemitic act.
“Regardless of our political differences, we hope that we can all agree, Hate Has No Place Here.“
Ultimately, while the responsible party for shifting the conversation in this election cycle into a far uglier place may never be revealed, it’s up to those stumping in public and responsible for running the elections to make it clear that this kind of nonsense isn’t acceptable.
And that means addressing it head-on.