After state Rep. Ken DeGraaf (R-Colorado Springs) nominated his GOP colleague Scott Bottoms to be speaker of the Colorado state House in January, Bottoms – who, like DeGraaf, had only just been sworn in for his first term in the Legislature that morning — startled some in the chamber by speaking up and seconding his own nomination.

His brash bid for speaker had no real chance of succeeding, but it seemed to comport with Bottoms’ larger plan. As he promised to do on the campaign trail the year before, Bottoms displayed his leadership aspirations, and he quickly made a name for himself at the state House as a vocal conservative Christian hardliner against abortion, LGBTQ rights, and gun control, among others, and introduced or supported multiple bills on those subjects.

His frequent testimonies were painted through the lens of his faith, reflecting the fact that, before January, he had never held political office.

Bottoms is a pastor at the Church at Briargate in Colorado Springs – a duty he has continued to perform while serving as a legislator. 

State Rep. Scott Bottoms (R-Colorado Springs)

After he arrived at the Capitol, he drew more than the occasional headline by calling the objects of his opposition “demonic.”

“Anything to do with CRT [Critical Race Theory] is demonic,” he once said during a discussion of school curriculum. “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.”

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Toward the end of his first legislative session, statehouse Republicans staged a walkout in protest of Democrats’ decision to limit debate on a property tax bill. State Rep. Matt Soper (R-Delta) said he used a group chat to instigate the walkout. Bottoms would later claim to have influenced some of his GOP colleagues to also leave the chamber. The rest of the Republican caucus soon followed.

Discussing the walkout during a sermon at Briargate, Bottoms had the following exchange with a member of his congregation:

“[They followed] because you’re the real leader there!”

Bottoms: “Just don’t say that on the microphone. I know that. I know that’s true. It took me about a month and a half to recognize that’s the reality. I don’t necessarily like that, but it is. I don’t dislike it.”

Is Bottoms the Republican Party’s leader, as he says he is? The Colorado Times Recorder has reviewed multiple recordings of his sermons from 2017 onwards in hopes of gaining greater insight.

Inside Bottoms’ House District

For the past several election cycles, Colorado’s political power has drifted further to the left – partially due to changing demographics and effective organizing by Democrats, but also due to extremism and conspiracy theories increasingly seeping into the Republican mainstream. Colorado Springs, once an unassailable GOP stronghold, elected its first non-Republican mayor in several decades earlier this year. Though new mayor Yemi Mobolade is an Independent rather than a Democrat, this still leaves Colorado Springs’ political future uncertain, and Democrats have stated their intent to redouble efforts to flip the city.

Colorado GOP Chair Dave Williams.

Even in the midst of this, House District 15 (HD-15) in Colorado Springs has remained highly conservative. Before last year, when Bottoms defeated his HD-15 Democratic opponent by nearly 20 points, it was represented by Dave Williams. Williams was such a MAGA hardliner that he pushed to have his name presented on the ballot as Dave “Let’s Go Brandon” Williams, arguing in court that the anti-Biden catchphrase was an integral part of his identity. 

Though he left his statehouse seat for a failed primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Williams would later find success leveraging his extremism to become chairman of the Colorado GOP. From his seat, Williams has since waged war on Republicans he considers to not be conservative enough, including his former opponent Lamborn.

Bottoms carries a similar streak of political zealotry. Shortly after his election, he was one of only two elected officials (the other being embattled former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters) to attend a protest calling to oust the current GOP leadership, helmed at the time by Kristi Burton Brown. During the protest, representatives of various “patriot” groups accused Burton Brown and other GOP leaders of failing the electorate by putting insufficiently conservative candidates on the ballot. 

Brad Onishi, a California-based commentator and teacher who has studied Christian nationalism at length, told the Colorado Times Recorder that for many politicians like Bottoms, political zealotry and religious zealotry go hand in hand. Onishi has chronicled the rise of the modern religious right in his book “Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism — And What Comes Next.”

“[Christian nationalists] would say that they would love for their religious practice and views to be the policies,” Onishi told the Colorado Times Recorder. “I mean, in essence, that’s why Christian nationalism scares me, is because if you have politicians who think, ‘My religious views should be the policies.’ Then you have a situation where they are saying Christian views should be the ones ensconced in law, whether that is how I feel about abortion, whether that’s how I feel about trans rights, whether that’s how I feel about immigration, guns, we can go on.”

At many times, the line between Bottoms’ faith and his politics is so blurred it may as well not exist. He has said outright that he sees the Democratic Party as a vessel for Satan’s influence on the world – thus making it his religious duty to combat their agenda.

“Satan declared war on America a long time ago. And he has found a group and an identity that he can get his stuff done through. And it didn’t used to be, 50 years ago,” Bottoms said in a sermon on August 30, 2020. “But it is now the Democrat Party.”

Demons of the Colorado Capitol

To Bottoms, Denver is one staging ground for a worldwide battle between light and darkness. He says that much of this war is carried out spiritually, through prayer – but that Christians are not the only ones praying. 

“Whoever prays the most is who’s going to win this. If the ungodly liberal mentality prays stronger than the godly conservative mentality, we will lose this thing and our country will forever be changed,” Bottoms said in a November 29, 2020 sermon, weeks after Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election. “Yes, you got liberals out there praying. They’re saying, ‘Man, we need this to happen. This is the most important thing. This has got to happen.’ What is that? That’s praying. They [liberals] just don’t know exactly who they’re praying to. But that’s okay, because Satan knows.” [CTR emphasis]

With both chambers of Colorado’s legislature held comfortably by Democrats, Bottoms sees the Capitol as an epicenter of demonic corruption.

“I have noticed this and felt this so strongly, every time I step into the state capitol. You can feel the battle,” Bottoms said in a June 22, 2022 sermon. “You can feel it. You can sense this squeezing in your spirit. That’s a demonic stronghold. Demonic. And these are real battles. They’re real situations going on in the spiritual realm.”

GOP Lawmakers Align with Bottoms

While Bottoms may be the most vocal and full-throated on this issue, he is far from the only Colorado Republican for whom conservative policy and evangelical zealotry go hand in hand. 

Another example is state Rep. Richard Holtorf (R-Akron), who in January also supported Bottoms’ bid for speakership. While Holtorf has not brought up demons or Satan on the record, he has made similar comments about “evil” taking place in the state capitol, as well as calling Democrats “godless heathens” on more than one occasion.

“May God bless all of us here for those that are carrying the cross for Christ, those that are here trying to promote our biblical teachings, trying to fight the good fight on this earth against evil, and I will tell you that there is evil in this building,” Holtorf said, standing at the steps of the Capitol, addressing an overtly Christian conservative rally in May.

Two of Bottoms’ other statehouse allies, Brandi Bradley and Stephanie Luck, see things a similar way. Bradley has used her faith to justify anti-LGBTQ sentiment; last year, before winning election, she attended a protest against a Highlands Ranch drag show, holding a sign that read, “It’s OK To Take A Stand For God.” Luck, similarly, used her faith as the starting point for her staunch opposition to abortion, which she has previously maligned as “legalized genocide.”

House Minority Leader Mike Lynch has echoed some of these ideas, speaking alongside Holtorf and Luck to say that the Democrat-controlled government has “forgotten God” by allowing abortion.

Even when Republicans are not as vocal as Bottoms, some still flock to his policy positions. During the 2023 legislative session, Bottoms proposed two bills concerning abortion: one redefining personhood to include fetuses, and another requiring medical professionals to provide information on medically dubious abortion pill reversals. Though both were killed swiftly by the House Health & Insurance Committee, the committee’s three Republicans – Mary Bradfield, Matt Soper, and Ron Weinberg – all voted to move the bills forward. 

The Swamp-Drainers

While legislators are elected by voters, the Colorado Republican Party’s leadership is selected by local precinct delegates. Delegates are mainly activists with a vested stake in running the party beyond election day. Bottoms has followed a national trend of Republicans who espouse far-right ideology calling people who share that alignment to take over delegate positions and steer the direction of the party.

“Many, many people in our church are now delegates. I’m amazed by that,” Bottoms said in a March 6, 2022 sermon. “I’m pumped up over that because why? You’re the ones choosing who gets on the ballot. That’s doing something.”

A straw poll conducted at the Colorado Republican Party’s 2023 fundraising dinner – attended mainly by the die-hards who devote time and treasure to party politics – found that 87% of the attendees preferred Donald Trump as their presidential candidate. For their vice presidential pick, 50% preferred the dinner’s featured guest Kari Lake, a one-time Arizona gubernatorial candidate who made a name for herself by following in Trump’s conspiratorial footsteps, including the claim that her own narrow defeat in 2022 was part of a “CIA coup.”

Bottoms himself is also a die-hard Trump supporter. In the past, he has conflated Trump’s political career with aspirations for his version of Christianity to be in charge of the government. From his perspective, attacks on Trump also double as attacks on Christianity.

“They’re coming for Trump at Mar-A-Lago, but they really are coming for the church,” Bottoms said in a September 7, 2022, sermon, following the FBI’s raid on Trump’s home the previous month. “That’s the next step. They’re coming for the church. And if everybody just lays down and lets the FBI literally become Nazism, they’re going to come for the church now.[CTR emphasis]

In the Colorado GOP’s elections this year, Republican committeemen have selected leaders who align closely with the far-right politics exemplified by Bottoms.

Some have directly referenced similar ideas of demonic influence. Bottoms’ legislative predecessor Dave Williams, as chair of the Colorado GOP, sent out a controversial email attacking the LGBTQ community during Pride Month, which showed an image of the words “PRIDE MONTH” fading into the word “DEMON.”

Bottoms and Williams are so closely aligned that Williams endorsed his successor’s statehouse campaign last year, writing that Bottoms “has been an outstanding Christian conservative leader in the community who stands ready to fight for the grassroots, limited-government values we hold dear.”

Williams did not respond to a request for comment on whether he, as Colorado GOP chair, would support Bottoms again. In October, Williams spearheaded a rule change that allows party leaders to endorse or oppose candidates in Republican primary races, provided those candidates qualify for the ballot via petition rather than assembly. Previously, GOP leadership was required to be neutral in primary elections. 

This was one of multiple recent attempts by the current GOP leadership to instate policies geared towards promoting hyper-conservative candidates and demoting moderates. 

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Two other state party officers – Vice Chair Hope Scheppelman and Secretary Anna Ferguson – have both promoted election conspiracies in the past. Ferguson has also pushed QAnon-tied conspiracy theories about America’s top Democrats being pedophiles. 

Conspiracy theories around Democratic leadership and child sex trafficking are another proclivity shared by Bottoms. In a July 26, 2020 sermon, Bottoms claimed to have spoken about such matters with Denver police officers during the Democratic National Convention (DNC)’s visit to Denver.

“And this was right around the time that the DNC, the Democratic National Convention, came to Denver, and [the police officers] were talking about how they [the DNC] are shipping in hundreds and even thousands of young girls and young boys – these are underage boys and girls – to be available for the DNC,” Bottoms told his audience.

Bottoms has also said that while he aligns with QAnon believers on child sex trafficking, he believes that they are “a little bit weird in some things.” Sex trafficking is no small issue for Bottoms; he has previously spoken highly of groups that claim to focus on rescuing victims of trafficking.

“There’s a guy I met about a year and a half ago that does that he that this is what he does for a living. He works for a private corporation that’s financed by wealthy people. He travels around the world and gets kids out of sex trafficking,” Bottoms said in a sermon on January 13, 2021. “… I was like, I so want to do the job that you are doing. I say this unequivocally, judge me for it however you want. I have no problem shooting a sex trafficker. I wouldn’t even blink. I wouldn’t even bother me a little bit.”

Bottoms’ implication that the Democratic establishment is engaged in criminal activity aligns closely with Trump, who has frequently accused his opponents of being corrupt or criminal, and vowed to put them in jail.

Onishi explained that Trump’s focus on political attacks is, for many Christian nationalists, part of the appeal. “What [Christian nationalists] want is somebody that will put social orders or put the American body back in order,” he said. “They need someone who will realign it. And it might take force. It might take actions and policies that seem kind of cruel, that seem kind of harsh. But that’s what we need. […] So Trump is somebody who comes along and he is so good at saying, ‘I’m going to punish the enemies.’”

Trump has escalated his punitive rhetoric since his defeat in 2020. In a speech on Veterans’ Day, he promised to “root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections.”

For his part, Bottoms has not been as clear on what he would like to see happen to political opponents; however, in the past, he has predicted a non-violent “civil war” if policies he opposed continued to be carried out by those in power. In a May 24, 2020 sermon, he said such a conflict might occur if the state or federal government issued a second round of lockdowns.

“I have to be careful because I don’t want you to think something I’m not saying. If the governors or our country tries to shut down the country again like they just did. … I believe it’s going to be civil war. Now, what I think when I’m saying this is, it’s going to be nonviolent civil war. It’s going to be in the courts. It’s going to be people protesting and, you know, being sprayed by water hoses or something,” he said.

Bottoms returned to the prospect of civil war in the days following the Jan. 6 Insurrection, though he again stressed nonviolence.

“I’m not a person who says let’s invade the capital. That’s not how I think. But I also think there will be a time when you have to stand up or shut up. And that may be physical war in our country. … I believe where we are right now is the only time in our history that has been this crazy and this dangerous and this volatile is the beginning of the civil war. We are again at that place,” he said in a sermon on Jan. 10, 2021.

Colorado GOP Chair Williams also predicted civil war more recently – specifically, if Trump is removed from the ballot, or if what he sees as election fraud continues.

“Pretty soon you’re not going to be able to resolve your differences through the ballot box,” said Williams. “It will be done, you know, in a civil war, and we don’t want that. No one wants a civil war.”

This is part one of a two-part story. Read part two here.

12/8/23: Updated to clarify Bottoms’ statement on the house Republicans’ walkout.