‘Muster’ organizer tempted violence, and violence ensued

John Tiegen counseled supporters they have enemies they should fight

John Tiegen (center), organizer of the “Patriot Muster” rally in Denver’s Civic Center Park, shortly before the event began on Oct. 10, 2020. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

Let’s make one thing clear about the fatal shooting that occurred after the “Patriot Muster” in Denver on Saturday.

The organizer of the rally, John Tiegen, tempted violence, and violence is what he got.

Blame for any act of violence rests with the perpetrator. Matthew Dolloff, who had been working for 9News as a private security guard, was arrested as the alleged gunman, and he faces a charge of first-degree murder. Innocent until proven guilty, he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

But while Dolloff might bear legal responsibility for the senseless death of 49-year-old victim Lee Keltner, who was reportedly at the event in support of the Muster, Tiegen shoulders at least some moral responsibility. The thrust of his message — that patriots must “fight” against the “enemies” — and the outsize influence he enjoys created an environment with a high potential for violence.

In recent months, Tiegen, who filed the paperwork that put President Donald Trump on the 2020 Colorado ballot, has led armed civilian responses to protests in Denver and his hometown of Colorado Springs. A former Marine, he gained wide recognition for his role in defending American diplomats during the 2011 attack in Benghazi, an episode he wrote about as co-author of the book “13 Hours” and which led to a public speaking career. Recently he founded the United American Defense Force, which, operating under the umbrella of FEC United, stands “as a first line of defense against domestic terrorists,” among other purposes, according to the UADF website. 

“The enemies are promising to come to your neighborhood,” the website says. “We can no longer afford to remain complacent.” Benefits of joining the group include “insurance protection for use of force,” “discounts on ammunition,” and weapons and tactical training.

In the days leading up to the Patriot Muster, Tiegen took pains to proclaim that he did not intend violence to ensue, and he claimed the event was meant to allow “patriots” to be seen and heard in numbers. But the threat of violence was always implied. “It’s time we let these communist socialists know we have had enough!” he wrote on Twitter on Oct. 1 in promoting the event. “Fight back, push back. Time to take OUR country back!” Meanwhile, opposing groups, including the Denver Communists, announced that they would hold a counter-rally called the “Black Lives Matter Anti-Fascist Soup Drive.”

The word “muster” literally means troops assembled for inspection before battle. On Twitter and Parler, Tiegen posted a video from another Twitter user as part of promotion for the Patriot Muster. The video features a menacing masked figure whose voice is apparently altered by disguising software. He narrates over scenes of street violence. The figure warns of “division” and “the destruction of the republic and the installation of socialism and communism,” and he declares “we are done being silent.” Then, accompanying images of several Democratic governors, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whom federal authorities said last week a group of conspirators planned to kidnap, the figure paraphrases the Declaration of Independence, saying, “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it. It is their right, it is their duty to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security. This fight is in your hands.” As the image of each governor is displayed a red X appears over their face.

Two days before the Patriot Muster, Tiegen appeared on Steffan Tubbs’ radio show on KNUS. During the roughly 18-minute segment, guest and host, a Tiegen ally, repeatedly and adamantly said that Tiegen did not intend the Patriot Muster to turn violent. The frequency of such protestations in fact should itself have been a red flag. It underscored that Tiegen clearly understood the potential for violence the Muster posed. Tiegen claimed that it was “the other side” that was violent and planned to attack patriots. He offered no evidence for this claim, except to cite “one guy” who Tiegen said posted an expression of intent to stab cops.

  If you don't like it, well, you know, hopefully, you know, not a lot of people get hurt, but, you know, it's to that point.   -John Tiegen on the Steffan Stubbs radio show

Then, roughly halfway through the interview, Tiegen said the following: “I’m done, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of seeing these little freakin’ participation trophy kids going and being violent, going to neighborhoods, attacking neighbors, going downtown destroying businesses. It’s time us patriots actually stand up and be heard and be seen and let them know, you know, we’re done with it. We’re going to come downtown, we’re going to protect our city, we’re going to protect our neighborhoods. If you don’t like it, well, you know, hopefully, you know, not a lot of people get hurt, but, you know, it’s to that point.”

That’s the spirit in which his supporters arrived at the event. “Hopefully, you know, not a lot of people get hurt.”

It’s a shock that a person was shot to death. But no one can say it was a surprise.

John Tiegen posted this photo of the “pencil dick parade” as promotion of the Oct. 10, 2020, “Patriot Muster” in downtown Denver. Several of the people in the photo are posing with rifles. (screenshot)

On the day of the Patriot Muster, Tiegen posted a photo of the “pencil dick brigade” as promotion for the Muster. “Pencil” is an apparent reference to a rifle, and several of the people in the photo pose with rifles. The photo, along with Tiegen’s Instagram account, has since been disabled by Instagram. Facebook disabled his account on Saturday, saying it violated the company’s community standards.

Tiegen might claim that he never intended for violence to erupt during the Patriot Muster. But such rhetoric is overwhelmed by the bulk of his communication to supporters, which conveys that an enemy threatens their lives and if they’re not prepared to engage in a physical confrontation, everything they cherish in their country and neighborhoods will be destroyed. Keltner and Dolloff, based on images from the scene, were engaged in a physical confrontation in the moment before Dolloff allegedly fired his weapon. In this sense Tiegen’s message ruled the day.

Coloradans can only hope that a supporter’s death has chastened Tiegen. The state will be safer, as the fraught election of Nov. 3 approaches, if Tiegen now finds it in himself to issue a genuine call for true peace.