The man had already left one voicemail on Sen. Larry Hicks’ (R-Baggs) personal cell phone. By the second message, the senator could tell from the caller’s voice he was “crazy mad.”

“Do not. Do not. DO NOT fuck with our Second Amendment,” the voice in the message said. “This is not the place to fuck about with our Second Amendment rights. God-given rights. We’re going to vote you out. Later. Sorry. Fuckin’ pussy.” 

Hicks wasn’t shocked by the threatening call. “This is their intimidation tactic,” he said. 

At the time, the Wyoming Gun Owners had come out in opposition of a pro gun rights bill Hicks was sponsoring. Senate File 102 – Second Amendment Protection Act, which later became law, prohibits state officials from enforcing federal firearms regulations. The gun owners group, founded more than a decade ago by Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne), was supporting a similar bill, Senate File 87 – Second Amendment Preservation Act. That bill had a big distinction — it let residents sue cops — and it failed during the Wyoming Legislature’s 2022 Budget Session. 

Hicks had drawn WyGO’s ire in years past. But he’d never experienced the flood of correspondence that came when his bill was being worked in committee.  

“There were over 100 text messages on my phone,” Hicks said. “Thirty-some phone messages on my cell. Half a dozen at home. My staff said there were three or four at work, and a couple on staff cell phones.

“It is an all-out campaign,” he added. “Emails, phone messages, text messages, anything they can get their hands on.” 

Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) center, stands with law enforcement officials from across Wyoming during a press conference in support of Senate File 102 in February 2022. (Photo by Carrie Haderlie, Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

The deluge directed at Hicks was orchestrated by a group that’s repeatedly pushed controversial gun bills at the Wyoming Legislature. Operated by far-right Iowa activist Aaron Dorr, the organization campaigned against lawmakers it labeled as moderate in the 2020 Republican primaries. The group drew outrage from top lawmakers for its campaign tactics and were investigated by the Wyoming Attorney General for failing to disclose its donors. A federal judge ultimately ruled that the Wyoming election law Wyoming Gun Owners was accused of breaking was itself unconstitutional.

There’s been a spate of media attention about the Gun Owners-aligned groups, which operate in a dozen states, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning podcast, No Compromise, that spotlighted the Dorr family and their collaborators, who opponents describe as scam artists

Although the gun bill the group backed in Wyoming this year fell flat, WyGO’s role and influence in Wyoming politics do not appear to have diminished. Some observers say lawmakers are afraid of and beholden to the group, for fear of ending up a target. Other lawmakers who have been targeted told WyoFile its members have them afraid for their lives. 

Fear factor

“I’m concerned about [WyoGO] having incredibly unhealthy followers that are rabid,” said one lawmaker who had heard the voicemail left on Hicks’ cell. 

Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) was one of the primary targets of the Wyoming Gun Owners during the Legislature’s 2022 budget session. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

“That guy is not well,” the lawmaker said of the caller. “That guy is unhinged. If he was in the Capitol, how would we feel about that?” 

The lawmaker asked to remain anonymous out of fear for their physical safety. Specifically, the lawmaker worries about the prospect of a shooting at the State Capitol. 

The lawmaker described a situation in which a fire alarm sounded in the statehouse during a previous legislative session. The individual wouldn’t leave the building for fear that it was a setup, designed to herd senators and representatives toward an awaiting shooter. 

“The potential is easily there,” the lawmaker said.

Dorr, who traveled to Cheyenne a couple times during the 2022 budget session, declined to engage in hypotheticals about his members’ conduct when WyoFile caught up with him at the Capitol. 

“I’ve never had a gun owner — one of our members — go to an area beyond aggressive support for gun rights,” he said. 

Rep. Bob Wharff (R-Evanston), who WyGO endorsed, said it’s unfair to fault the organization for the actions of its members.  

“When somebody is a member, they pay a membership fee,” Wharff said. “Aaron [Dorr] is the one that speaks for Wyoming Gun Owners.” 

Wyoming Gun Owners Policy Advisor Aaron Dorr declined to comment on conduct from alleged members that some legislators perceive as threatening. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Wharff has had to navigate similar waters, he said. Formerly the executive director of Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, he once had to call and apologize to then Gov. Dave Freudenthal for an inappropriate call that one of his members made, he said. 

Hicks wasn’t passively inundated with messages. He sent some of his own. Bouchard shared a text thread with WyoFile, which shows the Baggs senator sent him 11 messages in a 15-minute span. The messages ranged from “Why do you hate cops” to “Run a good sapa bill” to “Why did you molest a child” — an apparent reference to reports that Bouchard impregnated a 14-year-old girl when he was 18. 

Hicks defended his actions. 

“I didn’t send 300 emails out and give everybody his phone number,” he said. “I texted him directly.”

Hicks’ experience as a WyGO target appears to be the exception, not the norm. Other lawmakers who have been WyGO targets said they were not subject to the same all-out communications campaign. Former four-term Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette) was a Gun Owners’ punching bag before WyGO-supported Sen. Troy McKeown (R-Gillette) defeated him in the 2020 GOP primary. Even though WyGO-funded YouTube campaign advertisements leading up to the primary election, pushed out Von Flatern’s cell phone number and encouraged members to ring him, no one dialed his digits. 

“They never called me,” Von Flatern said. “Aaron Dorr used Facebook and said how no-good I was, and blah blah blah, because I wouldn’t back his quest for free guns for everybody.” 

Von Flatern chalked up his loss to WyGO’s role in the 2020 elections. 

“They have clout, and they use it in the wrong way,” he said. “I stood up against them and I got kicked out. They wanted a Trump person in there and I was never going to be a Trump person. I have too much thinking to do.” 

Name calling

The no-compromise strategy WyGO employs is unapologetically brash and confrontational. After the Legislature’s 2022 budget session wrapped up, Dorr took to Facebook to report to his members on how it went. He dubbed Hicks and two other senators “RINO traitors” — the acronym standing for “Republican in name only” — for pushing SF 102, which he described as a “destruction” of the Second Amendment. 

The bill Hicks sponsored, and that Gov. Mark Gordon signed into law, prohibits state officials from enforcing federal firearms regulations. But it does not allow residents whose guns are seized by law enforcement officers to bring civil lawsuits against law enforcement agencies directly. Instead, it leaves enforcement to county prosecuting attorneys.    

“Think about your county prosecutor, and ask yourself if you think there’s even a chance, even a chance that they would bring the county sheriff’s department into court for a [Second Amendment Protection Act] violation.” Dorr said in his legislative recap video. “You know as well as I do, county prosecutors, county sheriffs — these people are friends.” 

Hicks explained why his bill does not allow citizens to sue cops. 

“Think of your smaller communities around Wyoming,” he said. “Some officer inadvertently confiscates a firearm in a domestic violence situation. Under their law [the failed SF 87], [Wyoming residents] could personally sue him and then go after his employer for other expenses.” 

Hicks said he never considered giving into the pressure from WyGO and amending his bill. 

“If you fold, they own you,” he said. “And what message does that show? In a leadership position I have to stand up for the institution.” 

Hicks said there “absolutely” are fellow lawmakers who have folded to WyGO’s pressure to keep a target off their backs. 

Senators Bouchard, McKeown, Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester), Tim French (R-Powell), Tom James (R-Green River) and Tim Salazar (R-Riverton) cosponsored WyGO’s bill and voted for its introduction. Non-sponsor senators Affie Ellis (R-Cheyenne), Wendy Shuler (R-Evanston) and Charles Scott (R-Casper) also voted for introduction. 

“They have clout, and they use it in the wrong way. I stood up against them and I got kicked out.” —

former Sen. Vice President Michael Von Flatern

Former Rep. Dan Kirkbride (R-Chugwater) said he sensed that the WyGO pressure was getting through to his counterparts during his eight years in office. 

“I think people in the Legislature begin to look over their shoulder, thinking, ‘Well, if I don’t vote for this they’re going to come after me,’” he said. “There’s almost an extortion to it. A bullying element.” 

Kirkbride, who’s a rancher and gun owner himself, was defeated in 2020. WyGO-endorsed pastor and current Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland), edged him in the Republican primary by an 8% margin. Dorr’s group ran ads against Kirkbride, branding him a gun-control fanatic. 

“I was in office for eight years, and a county commissioner for eight years before that … and in all that time nothing was said,” Kirkbride said of his gun record. “But then for 33 days right before the election, I was public enemy No. 1. It was extremely effective. You’ve got to give them credit, it worked great.” 

Rep. Bob Wharff (R-Evanston), a supporter of the Wyoming Gun Owners, said he does not believe the group’s fervent support for gun rights crosses the line. “We are at war,” he said. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Upcoming test 

Hicks is a 12-year Senate veteran who’s up for reelection this year. Having just notched a victory over the Gun Owners by successfully pushing SF 102, he is confident a Dorr-backed challenger will vie for his seat. A self-described gun guy who said he owns dozens of firearms and travels the world to trophy hunt, Hicks scoffed at the “gun grabber” smear campaign that he expects is coming. 

“Yeah, I’m a gun grabber,” Hicks jokingly said. “That’s right, I open my closet and there are so many guns in there I can’t ever figure out what one to grab. 

“I’m not going to back down from doing the right thing,” he added. “I’ve got faith in the people of the state of Wyoming, and if I’m wrong, I’ve done the right thing.” 

WyGO champions in the statehouse like Wharff have stood behind the tactics and rhetoric the Dorrs and their members deploy. 

“We are fighting a battle, we are at war,” Wharff said. “These people are attacking our Second Amendment rights. If we don’t stand up and push back — and I honestly believe this — if we don’t defend our Second Amendment rights, all our other rights go out.”

But those strategies earn quick rebukes from other fixtures at the Wyoming Legislature. Longtime lobbyist Marguerite Herman said the tactics she’s seen from WyGO stand apart from those employed by any other lobbyist or advocacy organization. 

“It’s just pure muscle and intimidation: It’s crude, it’s artless, there’s no finesse to it at all,” Herman said.

“Is it effective?” she asked. “Well, to the extent that legislators truly believe that this will jeopardize their reelection effort and to the extent that they let [the WyGO threat] guide them in what they’re doing.” 

The Legislature, she said, isn’t doomed to “a system where might makes right.” 

“People have to be willing to not be elected. We need people who will say, ‘I’m not going to compromise my principles,’ and then hope that approach wins elections,” Herman said. “I really hesitate to castigate the electorate, but they should be better informed. They should check things out before they take them hook, line and sinker.”

Mike Koshmrl

Mike Koshmrl reports from Jackson on state politics and Wyoming's natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures...

Join the Conversation

24 Comments

Want to join the discussion? Fantastic, here are the ground rules: * Provide your full name — no pseudonyms. WyoFile stands behind everything we publish and expects commenters to do the same. * No personal attacks, profanity, discriminatory language or threats. Keep it clean, civil and on topic. *WyoFile does not fact check every comment but, when noticed, submissions containing clear misinformation, demonstrably false statements of fact or links to sites trafficking in such will not be posted. *Individual commenters are limited to three comments per story, including replies.

Your email address will not be published.

  1. The elected Sheriff has jurisdiction to deputize citizens and arrest any criminals attempting to violate the 2nd amendment or any other natural right protected by the Constitution, no matter what criminal organization employs them. There should be no need to legislate. Just have a plan and coordinate with other honest and decent people under legitimate legal power of the Sheriff. No criminal activity should be tolerated. Criminals acting unlawfully under the color of law are violating your civil rights and any failure to follow the Sheriff’s lawful orders buys them a boat load of trouble. We cannot have a WACO or Ruby Ridge in Wyoming.

  2. All day my newsfeed has been about shootings and violence and death and destruction. On Easter. Fortunately, the kind of people doing these things are not anywhere near me. I will let the reader connect the dots on that one.
    Happy Easter.

  3. WONDERFUL REPORT. WE HERE IN UINTA CO. KNOW MR. WHARF . HE IS A DISHONEST POLOTICAIN. TOP LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICALS WILL NOT SUPPORT WHARF. MR. DORR CALLED ME WITH THREATS AND PROFANITIES . I QUETIONED MR. WHARF’S THEFT OF MY REPORTS. WE WILL WORK HARD TO ELECT A REPLACEMENT OF MR. WHARF.

    1. I hope you and the county can succeed. There is no place for the extremism that mr.wharff subscribes to.

      1. Rep Bob Wharff is depending on the Dorr confederacy to make him Senator Wharff. Rep wharff is a blank page regarding firearms or 2nd Amendemnt issues. Rep Wharff has sold out the Uinta County voters. The voters in Uinta Co should work to replace this candidate.

  4. Thanks for the info Mike. A sharp pencil in the hand of a master is always the superior weapon.

  5. Senator Hicks is my state senator. I do not know of anyone more in support of gun rights, while at the same time recognizing his oath to the Constitution. Many of WyGo’s handpicked “Gang of Six” are carpetbaggers supported by out-of-state funding. Wyoming voters need to take a close look at these legislators and wanna-be legislators, and vote for Wyomingites who support the Constitution in its entirety. I will be voting for Senator Hicks.

  6. There needs to be an isolated island to send these fanatics to. Where they can all play war and shoot at each other to their hearts content – and leave the rest of us to enjoy our democratic freedoms and live by the laws a civil society creates.

  7. if one is elected to office you have a duty and obligation to do as your constituents wish and elected officials should be held accountable for not doing so . the Constitution of both the United States and the State of Wyoming are to be followed ee have them for a reason

  8. The irony of a caller leaving a voice mail, anonymously, calling an elected official a p*****y is hilarious. The wannabe bad a**es are following their spineless orange hero’s example.

  9. One of the reasons I opted out of a certain gun organization after a couple of years, back in the 80s. Those popgunners need to actually read the second amendment. A few of them might see that it had to do with state (government) militia readiness…partly out of fear that a strong federal army would arise, which it did, a long, long time ago. The short amendment is totally out of date and should be repealed. It’s more likely that they will decide instead to interpret it as they choose. Guns are not idols to be worshiped. They are tools, pieces of machinery. I get more use out of my combination wrenches than I ever did out of guns.

  10. Rep. Wharff says, ““These people are attacking our Second Amendment rights.” Who, exactly, are “these people”? Is Sen. Hicks one of them? Is Michael Van Flatern? Dan Kirkbride? What if you think that there are some people who should not have guns, because of their demonstrated dangerous criminal behavior – does that make you one of “these people”? Maybe most Wyoming voters can be convinced that any politician who falls short of absolute, unqualified, unquestioning support of Aaron Dorr’s view should be voted out. Maybe not. I guess we’ll see.

  11. Actually, these are very frightening times. The electorate chooses to ignore, step away. It must be hard work for those who actually do try to do the right thing, with civility, truth and proper behavior.

  12. Enforce Term Limits in Cheyenne Legislature. We have to many narrow thinking people down there, for many many years and they definitely protect their own against the lowly Citizens. The only thing they get from the Citizens of Wyoming is votes. That doesn’t pay for elections or material wants much, does it?
    If I remember right, and it’s been a very long time, didn’t the citizens vote for term limits but the Legislature wouldn’t make a law?

  13. The Dorr Brothers run a dangerous operation and have been run out of some states, and taken over others. They have deeper ulterior motives even beyond constitutional carry. The PBS No Compromise series is a must-listen-to.

    1. They’re a couple of con artists that should be in jail for the fraud that they’ve already been found guilty of.

  14. Koshmrl does an excellent job capturing the underlying emotion of fear that seems to be an honest response to the intimidation behaviors of WyGO.

    I would guess that 99% of gun owners in Wyoming at least frown at what WyGO is doing. Most people are not wackos climbing down the rabbit hole of one issue.

    WyGO seems to be not just stirring the pot of fear in order to advance it’s agenda – it is actually creating it.

    I hope that legislators heed Marguerite Herman’s words – maintain principles. I hope the rest of us vote WyGO’s mouthpieces out of office.

    Intimidation in order to create fear as “the” means to grab power is not rational action. It goes against basic American principles. WyGO’s behaviors move us at the state and local levels towards an authoritarian government where we will have truly lost our rights and the principles that support them.

  15. Excellent, well balanced article. It is truly to bad that voters fall for the tactics employed by WyGo. The hope is you keep writing and Wyoming citizens keep reading.

  16. “Longtime lobbyist” Marguerite Herman needs to get off her money clad pedestal. The people she condemns as being “crude” and “artless” deserve respect. When Herman accuses citizens who fiercely support The US Constitution as people who believe “Might makes right” she is the crude, artless, and naive paid fear monger.

    1. People who cannot make a reasoned argument, but who choose to use fear and intimidation tactics are not representatives of the people of Wyoming.

    2. Jennifer Kelman, the WyGO goons do not deserve respect. They’re bullies and goons stupid enough to follow orders from wanna-be crime bosses who lie about gun rights and push fear mongering. The longer they’re allowed to push their conspiracy theories, the more likely violence will ensue. I have very little respect for Larry Hicks, but he did the right thing this time.