John Colson: Our region’s own effort to ‘Unite The Right’
Hit & Run
I was intrigued when news came out Monday that on Saturday, two elected officials from Garfield County spoke at a “Freedom Rally” in Glenwood Springs, organized under the banner, “Stay Free Colorado” and attended by a couple dozen people.
Most were not wearing masks or standing socially distanced from each other, as mandated under local and statewide health guidelines for such gatherings.
More than anything, it looked like our own regional effort to “Unite The Right.”
At the event, held at the Garfield County Jail complex, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario and Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky joined a former aide for newly elected right-wing fantasist U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, and a doctor from California whose own hospital reportedly dumped him from their faculty, in expounding a wealth of far-right conspiracy theories about COVID-19, the rise of a mystical socialist movement aiming to take over America, and other pet theories of the far-right community of the unhinged.
I highly recommend checking out the news stories in The Aspen Times’ sister paper the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and the Aspen Daily News, which give some pretty good details about what was said at the rally.
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Before I get to the meat of the meeting, however, I should acquaint readers with a couple of the speakers — in particular, conservative activist Sharrona Bishop, the former aide to Rep. Boebert, and Dr. Jeff Barke, the California physician.
Bishop, according to an October news piece by ABC News, is a fan of the Proud Boys, a far-right group linked with white supremacists, violence against opponents of all stripes (as shown in the 2017 Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia), and other undemocratic activities around the country.
In a Sept. 20, 2019, video posted to Bishop’s Facebook page is a chat with one of the Boys, and the closing remark, “Thank God for you guys and the Proud Boys.”
Bishop is connected with a right-leaning Christian group known as the Church For All Nations, on whose website she is listed as “America’s Mom” and a mother of four who “bleeds red, white and blue.” The Church For All Nations, according to its website, appears primarily to be a heavily conservative anti-abortion activist group, among other priorities.
At the rally, she repeated the ill-informed belief that the U.S. is under siege by a dark cabal of “socialist” forces, and declared, “We are not a socialist country yet. We are still the land of the free, home of the brave.”
Barke, according to one reporter, is a militant denier of the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, who reportedly once drew heavy criticism for his anti-mask-wearing views and for his reported act of pulling out a pistol at some event and declaring, “I’d rather see someone carrying a concealed (weapon) than masking up,” whatever that might mean. Hospitals where he once worked reportedly have severed ties with him, apparently over his rather fanatical views.
I should note here that the ongoing pandemic, caused by the “novel coronavirus” that reportedly got started in China in 2019 and has since spread worldwide, is credited with killing more than 440,000 in the U.S. and more than 2 million worldwide. The global scientific and medical communities all advise that mask wearing and social distancing are critical to stemming the tide of the virus.
But even Garfield County commissioner Tom Jankovsky appears to believe in the claim that the virus is a hoax of some kind. At the rally he echoed the claim that the virus was artificially and deliberately manufactured in a “Wuhan lab” in China.
“Some people may say that that was an accident, but that wasn’t an accident, in my mind,” he told the rally crowd, according to the Post Independent. “They knocked down our economy; it took out our president. But we are in a cold war with that country, with China.”
Vallario, who (like Jankovsky) is a staunch Republican, trod a narrow path between outrageous politicized fiction and reassuring platitudes about patriotism, support for the First and Second Amendments of the U.S. Constitution (freedom of expression and the right to bear arms, respectively).
But at one point, while talking about his support for “law and order,” he told his audience, “If we want to maintain law and order and our system of government, and not just have anarchy like a lot of these socialists and Marxists are trying to take us down the path, we have to have the process.”
Vallario and Jankovsky are supposed to be representing the voting majorities of Garfield County, and I, for one, do not think they are, but instead are engaged in the same kind of misinformation and demagoguery that ended the reign of our former president.
I happen to be one who does not go along with such tomfoolery. I do not believe the pandemic is a plot created by evil Chinese scientists; I do not believe socialist bad actors are behind the civil unrest that has shaken our nation over the past year; and I do not believe masks and social distancing are the leading edge of a plot to undermine our nation’s laws and mores.
I do believe firmly in the right of free speech, though I was somewhat dismayed by reports of heckling and jeering directed at those speaking at the Freedom Rally who questioned the doctrinaire claims of the headline speakers. It seems that the noble battle to preserve free speech is being hijacked by people who have no interest in anyone’s rights to free expression beyond their own.
More to come on the Freedom Rally, the “Stay Free Colorado” group, and related issues.
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