Ex-President Donald Trump promised repeatedly on the campaign trail in 2020 that he would only accept the results of an election he won. That was just one of many clear signals sent by Trump and his movement in 2020 that the only acceptable outcome of the election would be a Trump victory, which as readers know (or should know) is not how democracy is supposed to work. Before the conspiracy theories materialized, before the contingency plans for throwing out the results at multiple levels fell apart or were gratefully not attempted, and before the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021 that resulted in the deaths of five people and hundreds facing federal charges for their actions, Trump told us in clear terms what was coming.
So did Trump loyalists who owed him at least in part their own prominence, like newly elected Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado. On the morning on January 6th, Boebert issued the battlecry she has tried so many times since to backpedal:
Boebert has tried since to claim that this obvious exhortation to violence on a day in which violence in fact occurred is not the incitement it clearly looks like. The failure of the plot to throw out the results of the 2020 presidential election and declare Trump the winner, combined with the shocking images of mayhem inside the U.S. Capitol, made January 6th a day that–at least for awhile–no Republican wanted to be associated with.
For a state that has trended toward Democratic political dominance for the last 18 years and going strong, it’s strange to think that Colorado, or at least right-wing activists and operatives who live here, played a huge and in some cases pivotal role in both Trump’s failed court battles as well as the strategy to overturn the election results in Congress on January 6th. Here are a few names that will, or at least should, live on in infamy:
At the top of the list is former University of Colorado “Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy” John Eastman. Eastman was recruited to teach at CU as part of the school’s controversial “conservative affirmative action” program conducted by the Benson Center, set up by the school’s former Republican kingpin President to push what he called “ideological diversity” on campus. The full extent of Eastman’s involvement in the coup plot of January 6th wasn’t known until the summer, when it emerged that Eastman was the principal architect of several proposed strategies to overturn the results that Trump pressured Vice President Mike Pence to go along with. Eastman has since tried to walk back his own memos as “crazy,” but then was caught extolling their virtues with what he thought was a friendly audience. All of which has saddled one of Eastman’s biggest supporters at CU, Regent and gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl, with some tough questions if and when she gets around to answering questions.
Former Colorado Christian University law instructor Jenna Ellis, who somewhat questionably bills herself as a “constitutional law attorney,” became famous accompanying Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to Giuliani’s innumerable and frequently embarrassing press conferences as the campaign filed and lost dozens of half-baked challenges to the election results in various states. Ellis herself even drafted a couple of legal memos outlining her own strategy for overturning the results in the certification process, which fortunately like Eastman’s were rejected by the vice president. Interestingly, since January 6th Ellis has managed to avoid the sanctions against her law license that other Trump attorneys like Guiliani are facing, even scoring a spot for herself on the far-right cable channel Newsmax. Outside the MAGA bubble Ellis’ reputation may be shot, but she’s part of an ecosystem now that includes steady paychecks.
Another local attorney who gets paid win or lose is former Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who rose to prominence insisting that “tens of thousands” of votes in Colorado were cast illegally, which Gessler spectacularly failed to prove through four years in office obsessively trying. That experience set Gessler up well to supply equally dubious “expert opinion” in Trump’s lawsuit against the results in Nevada at the rate of $400 an hour, suggesting various ways the election system might be vulnerable without any evidence that it, you know, is. Since then, Gessler has found a new revenue stream defending Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, accused of tampering with the Dominion Voting Systems hardware in her charge in a half-baked and failed attempt to prove the machines threw the election to Joe Biden.
Which brings us to yet another fellow Coloradan, who may have done more to sow doubt in the outcome of the 2020 elections with less actual evidence than any other individual. Joe Oltmann, the founder of the influential far-right militia-connected organizing group FEC United once headed by Colorado GOP chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown, claims to have been on the line during a conference call hosted by “Antifa” in which an employee of Dominion Voting Systems whom Oltmann identified as Eric Coomer supposedly promised to swing the election. On the basis of this single-source unverified allegation from one crackpot in Colorado, the entire conspiracy theory centered on Dominion Voting Systems sprang to life, spreading from social media up the food chain to conservative “news” sites and from there into the talking points of everyone up to and including Trump himself. In the defamation suit filed by Coomer against Oltmann and the many right-wing media outlets who uncritically repeated Oltmann’s outlandish claim, none of the defendants including Oltmann are even attempting to argue that any of it was true. Everyone points at Oltmann as their source, and Oltmann responds with an incoherent outburst on platforms that haven’t banned him threatening to hang all the politicians he doesn’t like, and that’s as far as we’ve gotten as of this writing. But Republicans looking to jettison Oltmann have a problem: specifically, where Oltmann was on January 6th.
Inside Trump’s “war room.”
Unfortunately, as we know this is still very much an unresolved and highly unstable situation unlike anything encountered in American politics in our lifetimes. January 6th did not break Trump’s hold over the Republican Party despite all the condemnation from fellow Republicans in the immediate aftermath. Today, a majority of Republicans believe as an article of faith that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, and a troubling percentage of those Republicans say they would support an extra-constitutional restoration of Trump to power and even violence to accomplish that goal. Never before in American history has the political ambition of one individual resulted in so much lasting damage to the democratic process Americans used to trust no matter who wins.
Because Colorado’s elections are a model of convenience and accuracy despite incorporating virtually every feature pro-Trump conspiracy theorists cite as vulnerabilities, we are already on the front lines of the war against election disinformation.
In addition, we have a moral responsibility to clean up a mess made by some of our own neighbors.