An op-ed in the Denver Post today from former longtime CD-1 Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder is slow-motion rocking the Colorado governor’s race as it spreads, after Schroeder presents her firsthand experience with the infamous 1991 “Tailhook” sexual misconduct scandal involving 100 Navy pilots–including now-Lt. Gov. nominee Lang Sias:
Tailhook was an annual naval convention in Las Vegas, where more than 80 women alleged they were assaulted or harassed by officers in 1991. The behavior that took place there included, yes, acts of sexual violence much like those of Harvey Weinstein and other men whose careers were ended by the #MeToo movement. But nearly as significant — both in Tailhook and in the horrific stories that have come to light over the last year — is the culture, the group of enablers who know about the abuse but do nothing.
At the time of Tailhook, I was serving on the House Committee on Armed Services — and our efforts to investigate the matter were continually hampered by the refusal of naval aviators to testify against their fellow officers. Somehow, out of hundreds of officers who were present while women were forcefully groped on the way to their hotel rooms and while strippers were pressured into sex with party attendees, few could remember witnessing anything at all inappropriate. We called it the “Stone Wall of Silence.”
We now know that Sias attended Tailhook in 1991 when he was a lieutenant in the Navy. Even before the 1991 event became a national scandal, many naval officers were already avoiding Tailhook, because they knew the convention to be a grotesque cesspool whose central appeal was the opportunity to spend a weekend drunkenly pursuing women.
Coloradans will have to ask themselves if they share the values of a man who used taxpayer dollars to attend a drunken melee that was historically marred by repeated acts of sexual violence. [Pols emphasis]
Serving on the House Armed Services Committee in the aftermath of the Tailhook scandal gave former Rep. Schroeder a unique view inside the closely-knit society of naval aviators accused of misconduct. The omerta-like code of silence she describes severely hampered the investigation, though as we discussed previously not enough to save the career of Sias’ commanding officer. But many more Tailhook aviators who committed serious misconduct escaped to go on to well-decorated careers.
In addition to this damning recollection of events Lang Sias would rather be forgotten from Rep. Schroeder, national women’s rights group Ultraviolet is calling for Sias to withdraw from the race following the original report in the Colorado Sun last week:
Shaunna Thomas, Executive Director and Co-founder of UltraViolet, a leading national women’s group, issued the following statement, calling on Sias to immediately withdraw from the Colorado Lieutenant Governor Race:
“Not only did Lang Sias participate in the largest sexual harassment and assault scandal in U.S. military history, he lied about his involvement for decades. The military sexual assault epidemic persists precisely because of toxic boys’ club codes of silence and obstruction by men like Sias—who lied about what he saw to shield his boss, a commander. The fact that Sias then cites that very same commander as proof that he did nothing wrong at Tailhook tells Coloradans the type of crony mentality Sias will bring to the Lieutenant Governorship.
“Make no mistake: Lang Sias is complicit in what happened at Tailhook, and he had ample opportunity over the last 27 years to come clean about the heinous sexual abuse he witnessed. Instead, he chose to remain silent. People who participate in mass assaults of women deserve to be behind bars—not rewarded with political office. Lang Sias must withdraw from the race immediately.”
What happens next here is not certain, but the reality is that witnesses who know the full story of what took place inside the Las Vegas Hilton in September of 1991 are still out there. There is more to be disclosed than has been to this point, and Sias’ evasive answers to questions in the present day are not satisfactory. There’s every reason to believe the details of this will continue to be explored in the coming weeks, with a Tailhook participant seeking high elected office. What jogged memory would mark the disqualifying line?
If Rep. Sias suddenly decides to “spend more time with his family,” we’ll know it’s been crossed.