The night of November 19th, 2022 began quietly. It was chilly, as Colorado Springs tends to be in the middle of fall. But it was the weekend, and for many folks in Colorado Springs’ LGBTQ+ community, that meant grabbing a coat, jumping in a cab and heading out for drinks and dancing at Club Q, one of the city’s oldest LGBTQ+ bars. On a crisp, fall evening, it was hard to think of a better place to be.
The bar was filled with smiling and happy members of a community that was uniquely vilified in Colorado Springs; a group that was routinely spat on, screamed at, threatened, preached at. Then, as Daniel Davis Aston, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, Derrick Rump and Raymond Green Vance moved through the crowd, an extremist who repeatedly expressed anti-gay sentiment ended their lives. The extremist, who ran a racist far-right internet website, had a rainbow target in their house and managed to procure an AR-15-style rifle despite a history of violent behavior, was fortunately subdued by heroic bar patrons, saving countless lives. The massacre ripped from the state’s LGBTQ+ community five loving friends, and undermined one of the community’s few safe spaces.
The Club Q attack did not occur in a vacuum. Many of the same political, financial and organizational forces that fuel attacks against the LGBTQ+ community are also fueling attacks against other marginalized groups and against our democracy writ large, including the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. January 6th was the result of a movement predicated on invalidating BIPOC Americans’ votes and undermining all marginalized groups’ rights to participate in our democracy. As the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund explained in a statement to the Select Committee to Investigate the Attack on the U.S. Capitol: “The goal of the insurrectionists was clear: to effectuate a violent coup, deny the will of the majority of voters, and upend the functioning of our increasingly multi-racial, multi-ethnic democracy.” Violence directed at the LGBTQ+ community goes hand in hand with these sinister goals.
Club Q, founded in 2002, was, at one time, Colorado Springs’ only LGBTQ+ bar. In the 1980s, the city became a key organizing center for the religious right, helping to birth a number of anti-LBGTQ+ think tanks, several in Colorado Springs itself, and earning the state the title of the “Hate State” in the 1990s. In 1992, with well funded evangelical groups pouring time and money into the campaign and organizing in churches throughout the state, Colorado passed Amendment 2, a statewide referendum prohibiting the state and its municipalities from including LGBTQ+ people in their anti-discrimination laws. While Amendment 2 was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996, Colorado evangelicals’ successful campaign transformed the state into a central player in attacking the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
While Colorado’s place in the religious right ecosystem appeared to have diminished throughout the 2000s, the state is still home to a large number of right-wing and anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups—groups that feel emboldened in today’s political climate.
Although political leaders and organizations across the political spectrum condemned the Club Q attack, in the days following the massacre, right-wing personalities flooded the media with new attacks on LGBTQ+ folks in Colorado, and in the process, may have contributed to directing more violence at the community. Tim Pool, host of a popular right-wing podcast, took to Twitter to spread lies about Club Q “grooming” children and to functionally blame the venue itself for the shooting. Jenna Ellis, a former Deputy District Attorney in Weld County, Colorado and member of former President Trump’s “elite strike force team” hired to overturn the 2020 election, said that the victims were “now reaping the consequences of having eternal damnation” because they weren’t Christian. Some extremists took the hate even further, with Chaya Raichik, an anti-LGBTQ+ right-wing extremist and social media influencer whose followers have made violent threats in the past, directing her fanatical followers at a Colorado LGBTQ+ nonprofit organization that helps young aspiring drag performers develop their characters and practice their acts.
The threat posed by Donald Trump and the violent extremists he mobilizes is having a real and ongoing impact on the daily lives of CO residents—gay or straight. To that end, this report outlines a number of the key anti-LGBTQ+ groups operating in Colorado and describes their connections to some of the state’s key insurrectionists—people like Jenna Ellis, who was a key member of Trump’s legal team, and John Eastman, who tried to overturn the 2020 election and spoke before an armed crowd that Trump instructed to march to the Capitol on January 6th.
Key anti-LGBTQ+ groups currently operating in Colorado
Although not an exhaustive list, the following are notable anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups operating or headquartered in Colorado, some of which have ties to the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Faith Education Commerce (“FEC United”)
FEC United is an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group founded by Joe Oltmann, a businessman and podcaster who rose to prominence by claiming to have inside knowledge that the 2020 election was stolen. While FEC United is less than two years old, it has taken on outsized importance in Colorado politics as the center of a new far-right movement pushing the state’s Republican party further towards election denialism and other extremist positions. FEC United has invested time advocating for candidates up and down the Colorado ballot, including in key statewide positions and was the group behind the Denver “patriot muster” rally that ended in tragedy when an armed security guard hired to defend reporters covering the convening shot and killed a rally attendee who pepper sprayed him.
FEC United is also closely tied to the United American Defense Force (UADF). Founded by John Tiegen, a former Blackwater contractor, Benghazi survivor and failed Colorado Springs mayoral candidate, UADF appears to resemble a “militia” and has been described by Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold as the "militia arm" of Oltmann's network. While Oltmann claims to be only a member of the group, Tiegen described UADF as the FEC United’s “protection division” on his podcast, and UADF lists its address as a wedding venue operated by Oltmann’s wife.
FEC United and UADF have both also turned their focus on the state’s LGBTQ+ community, devoting attention to local school board elections and aggressively opposing LGBTQ education and inclusion with a small coalition of other groups.
Oltmann has also been open about his anti-LGBTQ+ agenda. He has claimed that Colorado teachers are “recruiting kids to be gay” and that LGBTQ teachers should be “dragged behind vehicles until their limbs fall off.” And he frequently directs vitriol towards elected officials, including in a 2021 tirade about Colorado Governor Jared Polis, the state’s first openly LGBTQ+ governor, which he ended with “stretch that rope,” suggesting that Polis should be hanged—a sentiment he later tried to walk back saying it was a joke.
January 6 ties: Oltmann is an avowed insurrection sympathizer, who spoke at a Washington, D.C. election denial rally the evening of January 5th, and briefed senior State Department officials on his election fraud conspiracy theories as the violence unfolded the next day. In the months leading up to the January 6th Capitol attack, Oltmann spread unsubstantiated claims of election fraud that were so widely publicized Trump’s lawyers attempted to use them in their lawsuits trying to overturn the election. Those conspiracy theories included ones about Dominion Voting Systems—claims which resulted in a lawsuit for defamation against FEC United and others. In the years since the insurrection, Oltmann has become a leading voice supporting the perpetrators of the attack on the Capitol, including airing interviews with insurrectionists Stewart Rhodes—the leader of the Oathkeepers—and Jake Angeli—the so-called QAnon Shaman who stormed the Capitol—each of whom appeared on the show from behind bars.
Tiegen, the founder of UADF, has similar concerning ties. For instance, UADF members attended a rally on January 6, 2021, at Colorado’s capital where group members “patrolled the outskirts of the rally on the [state] Capitol grounds.”
Moms for Liberty
Founded in 2021 to advocate against COVID-19 protections in schools, including mask and vaccine mandates, Moms for Liberty has become a national right-wing political organization with the primary goal of advocating against curricula that mention LGBTQ rights, race or ethnicity. The group boasts over 110,0000 members in 265 chapters across the country who have been linked to harassment and intimidation at school board meetings in the name of protecting kids from so-called LGBTQ indoctrination. Many of its chapters—including a chapter located in El Paso County, Colorado—advocate to restrict the rights of transgender students at schools and campaign to ban books from school libraries with LGBTQ themes, arguing that “teachers unions and [President Joe Biden]” are engaged in a campaign to turn kids LGBTQ+ in order to “break down the family unit [and] traditional conservative values.” Their efforts have been supported by local officials who have attended their events, including local state representatives—Reps. Scott Bottoms of District 15 and Ken DeGraff of District 22 and El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez, Jr., who represents District 4 and ran for mayor of Colorado Springs in 2023.
January 6 ties: Incorporated just days before the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, Moms for Liberty does not appear to have been institutionally involved in planning the insurrection. Nonetheless, Moms for Liberty does have ties to the extremist group the Proud Boys who were instrumental in planning the January 6th attack. These include instances where the group’s Miami chapter collaborated with the local Proud Boys chapter and promoted at least one Proud Boys’ event in Telegram chats, and in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Moms for Liberty’s inaugural chapter meeting was attended by Bobby Bean, a member of the Proud Boys who was reportedly at the U.S. Capitol during the January 6th insurrection. In addition, the head of the Miami Moms for Liberty chapter, Eulalia María Jiménez-Hincapie, also interacted with the head of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, and had a close personal relationship with Chris Barcenas, a member of the local Proud Boys chapter who was among the insurrectionists who broke police lines on January 6th. Investigators have also unearthed many links between numerous Moms for Liberty chapters and Three Percenters, sovereign citizen groups, QAnon conspiracist and Christian nationalists—all groups that were well represented on January 6th during the insurrection and some of whom have had members charged for their role in attacking the Capitol. Despite these extremist ties, Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and other 2024 hopefuls appeared at the group’s recent “Joyful Warriors” summit.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Patriot Front is a white nationalist hate group which has been referred to by the media as the “natural successor” to the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers. The group split from Vanguard America which according to SPLC had an “explicitly fascist agenda” shortly after the 2017 neo-Nazi “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a man associated with Vanguard America killed Heather Heyer, a counter protester, with his car. According to the Anti-Defamation League, no other white supremacist group in the United States today is able to match Patriot Front’s ability to produce media, mobilize across the country and finance its operations. The group has had a conspicuous presence across Colorado, as its members have spread propaganda in Colorado Springs and vandalized public establishments holding LGBTQ+ events, including a Denver bookstore that was vandalized with Patriot Front stickers the day before a drag story time and spray painted by a group member during the event. Perhaps most notably, in June 2022, “two days after the first January 6 committee hearing,” 31 Patriot Front members, including three Coloradans, traveled to Idaho with shields, riot gear, and a smoke grenade to riot at a pride event. They were arrested before they could harm anyone or disrupt the event, and five group members, including one Coloradan, were convicted of conspiracy to riot.
Focus on the Family (“FOTF”)
Focus on the Family is a long-standing evangelical Christian organization located in Colorado Springs. Founded in 1977 by James Dobson, FOTF rose to prominence in the 1980s as one of a number of organizations devoted to conservative social causes. The New York Times even labeled Dobson as the nation’s most important evangelical leader for his political activism against marriage equality and support for other socially conservative causes. While FOTF is now predominantly a nationally-focused organization, it has been at the center of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment in Colorado for decades. For instance, in the 1990s, the group was instrumental in passing Amendment 2, the Colorado state constitutional amendment (later overturned by the Supreme Court) that barred the state and its municipalities from adopting LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination laws, and has a long-standing history of supporting the harmful pseudoscientific practice of “conversion therapy.” More recently, Focus on the Family’s policy arm, Family Policy Alliance, has led FOTF’s national campaign to restrict rights for transgender people. Family Policy Alliance has a state ally and local partner, Colorado Family Action, in Colorado Springs.
Key Colorado insurrection enablers and sympathizers
The following are Colorado residents or connected individuals who played key roles in the insurrection, or sympathized with its goals—all of whom have also exhibited bias against marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ+ community.
John Eastman is a right-wing lawyer and former Dean at the Chapman University School of Law in California who served as the Visiting Scholar of Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado - Boulder during the 2020-2021 academic year (he was asked to resign following the Capitol attack). During his time at CU Boulder, Eastman advised Donald Trump on how to overturn the election. Eastman provided the Trump legal team with memos arguing that under the Electoral Count Act the vice president could effectively overturn the election by unilaterally rejecting state electors to keep Trump in power. He pushed this theory repeatedly including during a speech on January 6th during the Ellipse rally, despite privately acknowledging its illegality a day earlier. Eastman also holds offensive views on LGBTQ issues. In addition to serving as a long-term Board Member for the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, he has supported Uganda’s push to jail and even execute members of the country’s LGBTQ+ population, and has equated the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges with its notorious decision prior to the Civil War in Dred Scott v. Sandford upholding slavery, calling it a “similarly illegitimate decision by the Supreme Court.” Eastman was one of 18 defendants indicted with Trump by the Fulton Co., GA, grand jury for their role in the scheme to overturn the 2020 election.
A former assistant professor at Colorado Christian University, Jenna Ellis was a member of Trump’s “elite strike force team” assembled to overturn the election. As a part of that team, Ellis made unsubstantiated claims that Trump won the 2020 election and drafted two memos arguing that the vice president could unilaterally refuse to count electors. Ellis, who was fired after about six months as a deputy district attorney in Weld County, Colorado, was censured by Colorado’s presiding disciplinary judge for her misrepresentations about the 2020 election. After being indicted by the Fulton Co., GA, grand jury, Ellis pled guilty in October 2023 to aiding and abetting false statements as part of Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Ellis has expressed hateful opinions about the LGBTQ+ community including calling them “sinners” whose “conduct is vile and abominable” and saying that the victims of the Club Q shooting were “now reaping the consequences of having eternal damnation.” In her 2015 self-published book, The Legal Basis for a Moral Constitution, Ellis takes aim at the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell, arguing that the decision will help legitimize polygamy and pedophilia. In addition, she is an Advisory Fellow at Colorado Christian University’s think tank, the Centennial Institute, which has long fueled anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the state, including a 2022 email describing the mere existence of transgender people as “one of the great moral struggles of our day.”
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert
Elected to Congress in 2020, Rep. Lauren Boebert represents the rural Western Slope region of the state. She famously tweeted on January 6th that today was “1776” and voted against certifying the 2020 election. Prior to January 6th, she was involved in conversations with Trump’s allies about how to overturn the election and has subsequently remained steadfast in her view that the 2020 election was marred by fraud. She is also an ardent opponent of the LGBTQ+ community. She has vocally referred to LGBTQ-inclusive education as “grooming,” has suggested that coming out should be subject to age restrictions, and responded to the passage of the federal Equality Act with a transphobic rant claiming transgender people would spy on “young girls” in school locker rooms.
U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn
Rep. Doug Lamborn represents Colorado’s fifth Congressional district, which includes Colorado Springs. He was one of the 147 members of Congress who objected to certifying the 2020 election and refused to hold Trump accountable for his actions after January 6th, voting both against his impeachment and against the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Rep. Lamborn has a long history of fighting against LGBTQ+ rights. He has supported anti-transgender legislation in Congress, pushed for funding to be withheld from PBS and NPR after the children's cartoon "Arthur" aired an episode with a same-sex wedding, voted against the federal Equality Act in 2021 and recently co-sponsored the so-called “Stop the Sexualization of Children Act,” a national bill that would effectively ban schools from discussing LGBTQ+ identities with children under 10.
Right-wing extremists attacking LGBTQ+ rights at school board meetings, vandalizing a store hosting a drag queen story hour, and engaging in violence at the U.S. Capitol are endangering the lives of Coloradans of all stripes. The attack on our democracy wasn’t just an attempt to keep Donald Trump in power. It was an attempt to deny all marginalized groups the right to participate in our democracy and define our country’s future. It was a manifestation of hate. And hate, in whatever its form, doesn’t only affect one group. It affects us all. It is our obligation to unite and protect our democracy and our lives from the forces that would use hate to destroy it.
This report was written in collaboration with CREW.
Insurrection photo in header by Nate Gowdy | Club Q photo illustration by Miru Osuga/CREW, photos of Rump and Aston by Jessi Hazelwood via Facebook, Loving via Facebook, Paugh by stephanie.clark.7568596 via Facebook, Green via Green’s Facebook | Ellis photo by Gage Skidmore under a Creative Commons license | Boebert photo by Gage Skidmore under a Creative Commons license