“Aggressive” rise of Colorado’s extremist militia teams follows lengthy historical past in state


Earlier than Robert Gieswein donned goggles, grabbed a baseball bat and stormed the U.S. Capitol, he posed for photographs throughout Colorado flashing a hand signal related to an extremist militia ideology that he and tons of of different Coloradans purchase into.
The far-right militia motion has gained visibility in Colorado over the previous yr after its members appeared at protests throughout the state.
Males sporting patches for the Three Percenter motion in addition to identifiers of different far-right teams appeared at Black Lives Matter protests in Denver final summer season. Dozens of males in military-style gear supplied safety for a Jan. 6 rally on the Colorado Capitol for individuals who falsely consider President Donald Trump gained the 2020 election.
In 2019, Three Percenter militia members guarded a rally towards Colorado’s purple flag legislation the place state lawmakers spoke. And political candidates have aligned themselves with militias, together with newly-elected U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, who declared, “I’m the militia.”
“In final yr now we have seen an increase of the paramilitary motion in a manner that’s rather more aggressive that what we’d seen in Colorado beforehand,” mentioned Eric Ward, govt director of the Western States Middle, which works to handle white nationalism and different extremism within the American West.
However militias aren’t new to Colorado. A 1994 Anti-Defamation League report on militias within the state mentioned a number of had been working alongside the Entrance Vary, together with in Lakewood, Boulder and Fort Collins. Among the report echoes present developments in militias and famous that one group was promoting a videotape known as “The New World Order, Communist teams supported by Hillary Clinton.”
It’s laborious to understand how many individuals are concerned in far-right militias in Colorado. 1000’s have joined social media teams for Three Percenters in Colorado, although it’s unclear what number of of these folks do greater than submit on-line. One extremist knowledgeable put the variety of folks affiliated with the militia motion throughout the nation at “tens of 1000’s.”
Final yr introduced an ideal storm of situations for militias to thrive, extremism specialists mentioned. The COVID-19 pandemic led to government-imposed restrictions, which play into far-right conspiracies. Misinformation swirled and was amplified by authorities officers, together with Trump. Folks turned extra anxious and remoted.
Federal brokers investigating the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 now have targeted consideration on far-right extremist teams, together with the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers, one other anti-government militia, in response to feedback made Michael Sherwin, the appearing U.S. lawyer for the District of Columbia, after submitting legal prices towards Gieswein and others.
“2020 was actually simply the proper breeding floor,” mentioned Rachel Nielsen, govt director of the Colorado Resilience Collaborative, which combats focused violence and extremism. “Add into it a president who was cheering (extremism) on and misinformation, now we have issues like QAnon spring up, which is delusional.”
Erin Schaff, The New York TimesThe mob incited by President Donald Trump storms the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.
Organizing on-line
On-line chat boards for militia members present a couple of teams throughout Colorado recruiting in addition to dozens of individuals in search of teams to affix. There is no such thing as a unified, particular function among the many teams and posters, a few of whom advocate violence.
The Three Percenter motion – the ideology Gieswein allegedly recognized with – is likely one of the extra outstanding militia actions in Colorado and throughout the nation. Three Percenters see themselves as defenders of the nation towards authorities tyranny – particularly gun laws — and the Anti-Defamation League describes them as far-right, antigovernmental extremists.
“A pithy solution to describe the militia motion is libertarianism plus weapons plus conspiracies,” mentioned Mark Pitcavage, senior analysis fellow on the Anti-Defamation League and an knowledgeable on extremism.
There are millions of individuals who establish with the militia ideology however could not be a part of a bunch or participate in any actions past the Web, he mentioned. The emergence of the Three Percenter idea in 2008 allowed folks to say a part of the militia motion with out having to do something, Pitcavage mentioned. It was an easy-to-digest model of the militia ideology — although it’s primarily based on the wrong portrayal of the American Revolution.
“As an idea, anyone may declare themselves a Three Percenter,” he mentioned.
If shaped, militia teams are pretty small, comprised of between eight and 24 males, and are positioned in rural, suburban and concrete areas, Pitcavage mentioned.
Some Colorado teams have on-line purposes to fill out. One Three Percenter group’s software consists of questions like whether or not the applicant has labored within the army or legislation enforcement, whether or not they can legally personal a gun and why they wish to be a part of. A number of teams explicitly state they don’t seem to be racist or anti-Semitic and don’t condone unlawful acts.
“In case you are coaching and collaborating in paramilitary workouts with a purpose to overthrow a democracy or a authorities that’s clear and accountable, that’s political extremism,” Ward mentioned. “In case you are coaching to make use of violence with a purpose to drive coverage choices and the way democracy works, that’s political extremism as effectively.”
Mark Peterson, The New York TimesA man later recognized as Robert Gieswein, left, stands close to different members of the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol and was met with tear fuel on Jan. 6, 2021. (Mark Peterson/The New York Occasions)
“On the finish of the day the end result is violence”
It’s not precisely clear what many Colorado teams’ instant targets are, nonetheless.
One man posted in a chat board claiming to be an Oath Keeper and desirous to kind a militia group on the Western Slope. In an interview with The Denver Submit, he cited the necessity for a militia due to the specter of “antifa” and the federal government, however mentioned he wasn’t certain what the group’s targets can be if he shaped one.
“I do not know,” he mentioned, declining to offer his identify.
It’s unclear how organized Gieswein’s alleged paramilitary coaching group, the Woodland Wild Canines, was earlier than his arrest.
“By no means heard of it,” Teller County sheriff’s Cmdr. Greg Sofa mentioned of the group.
Gieswein had been seen at varied neighborhood occasions carrying a rifle, however by no means acted in a threatening method, Sofa mentioned.
Stephen Corridor, a reporter on the Ark Valley Voice, a information outlet overlaying central Colorado, began researching native militia teams earlier final yr. In one of many Colorado Three Percenter Fb teams he monitored, which has since been deleted, folks posted anti-Semitic messages in addition to threats of violence to “leftys” and authorities officers. Corridor watched because the posts within the teams turning into extra harmful as racial justice protests continued throughout the nation.
“Their rhetoric began getting far more violent, their threats began getting extra violent,” Corridor mentioned.
Images confirmed Three Percenter teams operating workouts on the Chaffee County public gun vary. However the broader neighborhood in Chaffee County has not performed a lot concerning the teams, Corridor mentioned, and he doesn’t suppose the dearth of resistance is exclusive to his space.
“The apathy towards that is systemic and problematic in any neighborhood, notably in our state,” he mentioned.
Brendan Smialowski, AFP by way of Getty ImagesTrump supporters conflict with police and safety forces as they storm the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021. 1000’s of Trump supporters, fueled by his spurious claims of voter fraud, flooded the nation’s capital protesting the anticipated certification of Joe Biden’s White Home victory by the US Congress.
Powerful conversations
The explanations folks be a part of militia teams differ, specialists say. Some individuals are in search of a way of belonging. Others could be feeling anxious a few perceived lack of energy as different demographics start to make up for many years of exclusion. Some could be a part of a militia group to study survival or self-defense techniques however quickly turn into drawn into the conspiracies and extra harmful functions, Ward mentioned.
However the motive an individual joins a militia is much less necessary than the impact of their becoming a member of, which supplies credence and energy to the motion as a complete, Ward mentioned.

“On the finish of the day, the end result is violence,” he mentioned, referring to the U.S. Capitol riot.
It’s laborious to specify why Colorado has had a persistent militia presence, Ward mentioned. Components may embody a “dwell and let dwell” angle and a scarcity of concern on the a part of legislation enforcement and political leaders concerning the teams, he mentioned.
The state’s largely white inhabitants additionally may “sign to those teams there’s extra of an acceptance than there actually is,” he mentioned.
The Colorado Resilience Collaborative, primarily based on the College of Denver, goals to disrupt extremism by giving communities the useful resource and abilities to have troublesome conversations. Too usually, folks will attempt to lecture somebody out of utmost beliefs or just say nothing, mentioned Nielsen, the group’s director.
‘Folks don’t know what to do with this,” she mentioned. “This isn’t a name to the cops, not a name to the psychological well being hospital.”
The middle presents a telephone line (303-871-3042) that individuals can name for assist navigating conversations with people who find themselves radicalizing. Nielsen inspired folks to talk up and never simply brush off regarding feedback or behaviors.
“If it’s in your thoughts, there’s most likely one thing there,” she mentioned. “It’s higher to have the dialog and discover out in any other case.”


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