I arrived at Radiance Church in Commerce City shortly before noon on Tuesday and took up a parking space in the thin band of midday shade cast by the trees at the small parking lot’s far edge. I was nervous in a way I had not expected to be. I have handled plenty of hostile interviews as a reporter, and even enjoyed them from time to time, but this was different. 

It was not an interview, it was an event, and I don’t do a lot of event coverage. And though I had come to the event in the complete absence of hostility, I had no way of knowing what would greet me when I got there. After all, the last time I had been around a group of people affiliated with the Truth & Liberty Coalition was when about 50 of them followed Truth & Liberty executive director Richard Harris to protest my talk to a crowd at the Woodland Park public library in February. On that occasion, Harris’ crowd (but, for the most part, not Harris himself) spent 90 minutes hurling invective, castigating my motives, and attempting to catch me wrong-footed. For my part, I spent 90 minutes answering their questions, explaining my position, and thanking them for coming. All in all, it was a good evening.

Sitting in the church parking lot at eleven-fifty-something AM on Tuesday, the source of my slight nervousness was not that I haven’t covered many events, or that some of these very people have quite literally protested me in the past. Nor was I nervous because I imagined that the gaggle of kindly old white people queuing at the registration table was going to set upon me and beat me with clubs. I was nervous because, this time, I was the intruder. I was on their turf, at their event, like they had come to mine. But, I reminded myself, I had not come to protest them, or to interrupt them, I had come to listen to them. 

The politically active Christian organizations I write about have often criticized my characterizations of their beliefs, and I have often asked them in response to tell me which terms they would prefer to be described by. If I can accurately convey the truth to my audience in a way which my subjects also believe is fair, that’s a win-win. I don’t ask the question as a gotcha; I think it’s important. I write about Christian nationalism because it’s important, and because I want people to understand it. Sometimes my subjects have transparent reasons for not wanting to be described in certain terms (like, for instance, Christian nationalist), and I persist in using those terms because, despite the subjects’ protestations, those terms remain the most accurate descriptors available. Using any other would hinder our understanding. But I am less concerned with the terms used for broad categorizations than I am with the terms and descriptions used for the actual beliefs encapsulated by those terms. If I can describe a belief system in a way that both adherents and opponents of that belief system believe is accurate, there can be actual dialogue. So when subjects reach out and say I have described their beliefs inaccurately, I ask them how they would prefer to be described. Almost every time I ask the question, though, the email chain falls silent.

I attended the Truth & Liberty event in Commerce City on Tuesday in an attempt to answer that same question: how do they describe themselves, and their own beliefs? I do not have to agree with any of their conclusions to accept that Truth & Liberty – which is based at the Woodland Park headquarters for Andrew Wommack Ministries International – is a relevant organization. As a longtime political consultant myself, I have a great deal of respect for what it takes to build an effective political organization like Harris has built at Truth & Liberty. As their footprint and online audience expands nationally, I believe they warrant attention and understanding. And as they embark on a robust campaign to impact Colorado’s political landscape, I think their beliefs and their organizing tactics demand examination.

I reminded myself of this as an SUV pulled into a spot nearby, a decal on the passenger side door reading STOP GOVERNMENT OVERREACH in all-caps. The driver, an older white gentleman, unfolded an American Flag-patterned sun screen and placed it in his windshield. I got out of the car and went to the check-in table.

There was no trickery involved: I signed up for the event under my own name, did not hide that I was a member of the press, and had no plans to do anything but listen, take notes, and write about it later. Frankly, I wasn’t even planning to interview other attendees. It was their event, and I wasn’t there to change it. I wanted to see it as they intended it to be. So I checked-in, hung a lanyard-affixed name badge around my neck, grabbed a pamphlet, and found a seat in the back of the room. According to advertisements for the event, I could expect presentations by Harris and another Truth & Liberty cofounder, Bill Federer, who once warned that the homosexual agenda could turn the United States into an Islamic nation

The flier for Tuesday’s Transform Colorado event in Commerce City

The pamphlet I grabbed and the other printed materials placed around the room bore the logo for Transform Colorado, an entity Truth & Liberty has traditionally used for political spending, such as on the voter guides they publish annually. On T&L’s social media pages, “Transform Colorado” and “Truth & Liberty” are often used interchangeably. According to Transform’s website, the group’s goal is to help “Christian leaders restore biblical values in the public square.” The political projects they are pursuing this year in Colorado are part of that goal. 

This year, via Transform Colorado, Truth & Liberty is hoping to turn its political program up a notch. Transform intends to release voter guides targeting 27 districts in Colorado, including a number of Congressional districts, per remarks by Harris on a June 3rd Truth & Liberty livestream. Unlike in past years, though, the voter guides are only the tip of the organization’s plans for this election cycle. Truth & Liberty will also be running voter registration drives at churches around the state, with the help of pastors who have partnered with them.

“One thing we’re going to be doing at these meetings is offering churches free voter registration,” Harris said of Transform’s plans on the early June Truth & Liberty live stream, with director of field operations Pricella Tiegen chiming in to note that they are a state-certified organizer of voter registration drives. Tiegen, who is organizing much of the Truth & Liberty’s efforts on the ground, graduated from Andrew Wommack’s Charis Bible College, located just across the road from Truth & Liberty headquarters. She recently married Colorado Springs-based militia founder John ‘Tig’ Tiegen.

I sat in my seat at the back of Radiance Church’s meeting room, keeping an eye out for faces I recognized, as three- or four-dozen retirees and one eight year-old filed into their seats at the round plastic tables spread across the room. Contemporary Christian music blared from ceiling-mounted speakers. As I waited for the event to start, I overheard two women to my right having a conversation; I couldn’t make out many full sentences, but the word “gender” was spat a number of times, and one of the god-rock tracks raining down from above faded to silence just in time for me to hear one of them say “child sacrifices” — rhetoric perfectly in keeping with how the increasingly volatile right-wing routinely discusses transgender issues, particularly as it relates to gender-affirming care for minors. Whatever those two women may have been discussing, it reminded me of Truth & Liberty’s biggest political project of the year: supporting two anti-trans ballot initiatives being run by a group named Protect Kids Colorado.

The link between Truth & Liberty and Protect Kids Colorado is not surprising: one of PKC’s biggest boosters is Texas-based evangelist Lance Wallnau, a co-founder of the Truth & Liberty Coalition who is often styled as “the Trump prophet.” The two organizations have a more concrete operational connection, too: Robin Coran. Coran, a former staffer for two Republican Colorado congressmen, Doug Lamborn and Ken Buck, works alongside Pricella Tiegen on Truth & Liberty’s field team. She is also on the steering committee for Protect Kids Colorado.

Coran, Tiegen, and Harris on the June 3, 2024 Truth & Liberty livestream

If either of the PKC ballot initiatives pass, it will mark the most prominent impact conservative Christians have had on Colorado politics in more than a decade – and they are aware of that fact. In past years, Truth & Liberty’s political efforts have focused on a handful of rural or otherwise red districts, places situated in El Paso and Douglas Counties, on the plains, or in the mountains. This year, they are looking to have an impact statewide. In the June 3rd livestream with Tiegen and Coran, Harris also discusses recruiting field representatives in other regions of the state, with Tiegen quipping that their Denver organizer has “a group of volunteers who are literally the army of God.”

In the same livestream, Coran was explicit that anti-trans sentiment is being used to rile up conservative voters who no longer seem to care about abortion. “You know, it’s almost like the church has become dull to the pro-life issue, and they just aren’t passionate about working on the pro-life issue,” she lamented. “And so this” – trans rights – “is the one issue that is firing up pastors across Colorado…This is an issue that’s driving the churches and the pastors to come together.”

Altogether, the political program Truth & Liberty is running this year is large and sophisticated: enlisting dozens of pastors, dispensing tens of thousands of voter guides, registering thousands of voters at churches, and ultimately aiming, via the ballot box, to leave the imprint of their distinctly conservative brand of Christianity on Colorado’s laws. If they succeed at even half of what they have planned, they will have outdone past efforts by a factor of ten. 

It’s in service of this ambitious program that Harris is currently traveling to churches around the state to promote the work being done under the Transform Colorado label and to enlist pastors and politically-inclined Christians as foot soldiers in that work: literally the army of God. That’s why I drove to Commerce City on Tuesday: having heard so much about these meetings on the Truth & Liberty livestreams, having grown so interested in the competence with which the organization pushes its quasi-theocratic vision, I wanted to see it in action for myself – not because I agree with it, but because I believe it matters. When I saw Truth & Liberty post the flier for a Denver-area event, I leapt at the opportunity to characterize the organization in its own terms. 

My slight case of nerves subsided at some point as I sat in that plastic chair in the back of the room. I’d gone into work mode, wondering if I should try to interview the child sacrifices lady afterwards and – nerd that I am about this subject matter – getting excited about what I was going to see and hear during the next two hours. Around 12:15, though, Harris stepped to the microphone at the front, apologized for the delay, and announced that the event would be starting soon. Then he started walking in my direction and I knew it was over.

“Logan,” he said, shaking my hand, sparing something approaching half a smile. I rose to greet him. “I’m sorry, but this event isn’t open to the press.”

“Oh, I had no idea,” I told him, noting that nothing on the online posting mentioned that the press were barred, and mentioning that I had registered under my own name, not attempting to hide anything from anybody.

“Oh, did you?” he said.

“Yessir,” I replied.

“Well, still,” he came back, “you’re here as a member of the press and this event is not open to the press. It’s a private event.” Fair enough.

Harris and I have something of a rapport: after I met his group’s hostility with kindness during February’s protest event, we shared an email or two and exchanged open letters in this very publication. I offered to buy him lunch, and that offer stands. He knows that I oppose most of what he stands for, but that I respect his commitment to his own ideals. That rapport – our brief, contentious, but broadly respectful history of sparring with each other – flashed through my mind as he asked me to leave, and I wondered for a second if I could throw on the charm and talk him out of it. But I didn’t: it was his event, and I wasn’t there to change it. 

All in all, I spent 19 minutes inside the event. Because these meetings are not publicly live streamed or posted online afterwards, I still do not know what was discussed after I was removed. I did not get a chance to hear Harris make his pitch to Denver-area Christians, and I came no closer to my goal of understanding one of Colorado’s foremost Christian nationalist organizations on its own terms. I failed to learn about their plans for organizing the Denver area, and I failed to learn what language they are using to make their case.

Cruising southwest down I-76, back towards the city, I realized the trip had not been a waste. Despite everything I had failed to learn about Truth & Liberty on account of my ejection, despite the fact that I failed to learn what was discussed in the meeting, I did learn something worth knowing. I learned that they have secrets they’d prefer to keep.

By the time I got home and opened my computer, the edit had been made. The website posts for every upcoming Transform Colorado meeting had a new note affixed: This event is closed to the press.