A man holding a holstered pistol across his chest confronts protesters in Laramie on June 11, 2020. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

On the evening of Sept. 25, between 100-150 people gathered at the Albany County Fairgrounds for an event that called on “ALL PATRIOTS” to “take back OUR town.” Current and aspiring local elected officials — including the chair of the Albany County Commission — spoke in advance of the headliner, John “Tig” Tiegen, who had come to educate the crowd on how to “help defend against domestic terrorists.”

Tiegen was billed as a “hero from the Battle of Benghazi,” referring to his role in defending a United States diplomatic compound in Libya during the 2012 attack that left four Americans dead.

A poster advertising a Love America event at the Albany County Fairgrounds

A member of the Annex Security Team, Tiegen’s exploits were recounted in the book “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi.” Michael Bay directed the movie version.

Tiegen had come to Wyoming to share a different story, WyoFile’s account of which is drawn from an audio recording made by an event attendee.

As marches against police brutality, and for racial justice, swept the nation this summer, Tiegen grew concerned about the potential for rioting and looting in his home state of Colorado. So he said he put out a call to action and gathered some “80 guys” in Denver to make sure everything “stayed peaceful.”

“That night, it did,” Tiegen told the crowd.

Antifa — shorthand for “anti-fascist action” and a broad label used to describe a wide range of left-leaning groups and individuals — was present, he said.

“We had an infiltrator from ourselves go within the group,” Tiegen told his audience. “We’re dressed like them because we’re smart.”

Tiegen said he and his allies started talking with a group of five antifa activists, learning that all of them were from outside Colorado.

“They opened up their backpacks, they had nothing but frozen water bottles and rocks — not small rocks, like river rocks,” Tiegen said. “And they’re sitting there talking with a bunch of us, about ‘Yeah, we’re supposed to be down there destroying things, but these guys showed up.’”

Tiegen paused briefly for effect.

“Well, I was ‘these guys,’” he said to thunderous applause.

Tiegen was in Albany County to promote his group, the United American Defense Force, a branch of the Colorado-based organization Faith, Education, Commerce United.

While FEC United seeks to “Defend the American way of life,” according to its website, Tiegen’s UADF division is focused on preparing its members to “protect our communities” by providing “training, equipment, communications, leadership, personnel and resources.” 

“The enemies are promising to come to your neighborhood,” the website states. “We can no longer afford to remain complacent.”

National divides, Wyoming rifts

The event and its rhetoric alarmed some locals who worried about the conflation of “domestic terrorism” with the overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations that have taken place in nearby Laramie and elsewhere in the state.

Timberly Vogel, who helps organize the semi-regular marches and protest events that have taken place in Laramie for months, said Tiegen’s rhetoric makes conversation and compromise less likely.

John “Tig” Tiegen addressing the Republican National Convention in 2016. (ABC/ Ida Mae Astute Creative Commons)

“It legitimizes their idea that what is happening in Laramie and across the nation in terms of peaceful protest can be categorized as domestic terrorism,” Vogel said. “We’re not domestic terrorists. We’re standing for community investment and diminishing the war on drugs and the war on poverty.”

Throughout the summer masses of protestors against police brutality and racial injustice have marched in American cities, in some communities day after day for months since the police killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.

Those protests have reached Wyoming as well, from Cody to Gillette to Jackson to Laramie, as demonstrators marched in solidarity with those elsewhere. Many Wyoming demonstrations added local concerns to the chants and rally calls from major American cities.

Opposition to those demonstrations has also been omnipresent.

In Cody, an armed group of locals whose leaders say they would prefer not to be called a militia formed in anticipation of a June 7 protest against racism.

The 60-member group, some of whom were on horseback, patrolled the perimeter of the park, monitored the courthouse and surveilled the city limits, watching out for buses they suggested would shuttle rioters or looters into Cody.

Concerns about outside agitators have cropped up nearly everywhere there have been protests in the West. In Denver, Tiegen was concerned about people coming from outside the city. In Laramie, rumors circulated before and after Tiegen’s appearance that a bus of potentially violent rioters was inbound from Denver or Fort Collins. A Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation intelligence analyst circulated unfounded reports of antifa protestors traveling the state en route to the Sturgis motorcycle rally. 

Mary Keller leads a peaceful march around Cody’s city park in June 2020 as an armed onlooker stands by. (Emily Reed)

Such fears were echoed by event speakers who preceded Tiegen’s talk. An announcer endorsed Republicans in nearly every local race. At least two such candidates addressed the crowd — Wyoming House District 46 hopeful Ocean Andrew and Albany County Commission Chair Terri Jones.

Jones told WyoFile a week later she believed looting connected to protests could happen in Wyoming.

“The average citizens are going about their lives, then we have people coming from other places to demonstrate,” she said. “And it’s a well known fact that when people come to demonstrate, other groups often hijack and cause the problem.”

There is no evidence a significant number of the people marching in Laramie have come in from elsewhere. The first marches saw crowds estimated at 1,000 or more some days and included wide swathes of Albany County residents, from college students to families to UW football coach Craig Bohl. The more regular marchers that have persisted into October are generally a group of Laramie residents. 

Jones said her hope is that law enforcement could handle any problem, but a group like UADF could be necessary if enough people were bused into Albany County.

“It depends on how many people are a problem,” Jones said. “If you had 10,000 people show up here, we’d be in deep shit. They could easily overwhelm law enforcement.”

Jones also called the COVID-19 pandemic “totally politically motivated.” The political “left” in fact, “wants the pandemic because they want to socially divide everyone,” the county commission chair said.

As of Oct. 5, Albany County had the highest number of active lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.

Increasing tensions

Recurring rumors about outside agitators attending Laramie marches are unfounded, Vogel said.

“Tig’s thing had happened and then we started getting all these random messages like: ‘Do you all have an antifa u-haul coming to help you out?’” she said. “And I was like, ‘I don’t think so. We have no interest and have heard no word of that happening.’”

But the rumors themselves caused issues for Vogel and the demonstrators when they gathered for a small event the next day in Laramie’s First Street Plaza.

“There were three or four trucks that passed us maybe five times each,” Vogel said. “Sometimes they were recording us, sometimes they weren’t.”

She said there were also two young men on a roof across from the plaza, armed with a bow.

“They were just watching us the entire time,” Vogel said. “I definitely think, if Tig didn’t do it, or start those rumors, his talk definitely put some fear into people’s minds and maybe they were confused.”

Us vs. them

At the Fairgrounds, Tiegen said he wanted to prepare people to combat the rioting, looting and killing that an undefined “they” sought to commit.

“We’re about 12 years, 20 years behind the power curve,” he said. “They are very well organized. They’ve got the communication down. They have the money, and they have the attorneys, and they have the celebrities. They have all the funding that they’re ever going to need.”

Though Tiegen said the UADF is not a militia, he was motivated to start it because of his disappointment with current militia groups.

“I just saw more and more things,” he said. “I’m saying, ‘Isn’t somebody going to do something?’ I’m waiting for these 3% groups, these Oath Keepers, these militias that have been around decades to actually stand up and do something. You would think they would.”

Marches in Laramie have drawn fluctuating opposition. In this June 6, 2020, photograph, a pickup truck with men carrying assault rifles passes through the march. One of the counter protesters told WyoFile the group is armed to show its support for constitutional rights and peaceful protest. March organizers say they believe the armed people were there to intimidate and antagonize the protesters. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

Tiegen said those militia groups let him down, notably by staying out of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone — a section of Seattle, Washington that was claimed by protestors and devoid of police for three weeks in June.

He says the UADF could have helped in that instance.

“They abandoned everybody in that city that day, in my opinion,” Tiegen said. “Every American that was there, they got abandoned. That pissed me the hell off. And if I had had this thing going, I’d have took everybody across this country and we all would have went to Seattle.”

What exactly the UADF would have done there he did not say.

“I’m not going to just sit at home and let the nation be destroyed by a bunch of over privileged punk-ass kids,” Tiegen told WyoFile in a recent interview. “Because that’s what they are — I’m not saying the protesters. I’m saying the rioters and looters and stuff like that — they’re the punk asses. They just want nothing but destruction.”

The line between protester and troublemaker is semantic and subjective, Vogel said, and Tiegen’s message serves to blur that line even more.

“This figure coming out, and being sponsored by local businesses, legitimizes the idea that any form of civil disobedience or demonstration in Laramie or Albany County that doesn’t follow the status quo — there’s reason to react to those things with extreme force, with lethal force,” Vogel said. “This militarized ideology is us vs. them, and not a community that just needs to have a dialogue.”

Timberly Vogel, 22, speaks to protesters in downtown Laramie. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

Among the businesses that sponsored the event was Roxie’s, a local bar, restaurant and nightclub owned by Roxie Hensley, the current Republican candidate for House District 45. 

Tiegen said his group, which has “thousands” of members across the country and includes some recent signups from the event at the Albany County Fairgrounds, are not looking for a fight.

“As long as they stay peaceful, we stay peaceful,” Tiegen said. “If they get violent, we’ll get violent.”

But that view and Tiegen’s posturing is a “militarized response,” Vogel said.

“There’s no lack of armed individuals in Wyoming, and that’s totally fine,” she said. “But it is a little scary when those armed individuals are being targeted against what someone outside the community is framing as domestic terrorism.”

There have already been tense interactions between Laramie protestors and armed individuals. In June, a man took a holstered pistol from his truck and held it against his chest in a confrontation with protestors in the street, telling protesters to get away from his pickup, saying he was scared for his life.

Despite the increased attention, Vogel said the by-now seasoned demonstrators know how to stay safe.

“I think most of our organization knows that they’re coming out during our demonstration to get a reaction out of us so they can have an excuse to paint us as the bad guys or have an excuse to use their weapons on us,” Vogel said. “We’re not going to give them the reaction they’re looking for.”

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  1. Another item from the laws of Wyoming,
    “19-8-104. Other organizations parading with arms prohibited; penalty.

    (a) No group or assembly of persons other than the regularly organized national guard or the troops of the United States shall associate themselves together as a military company or organization, or parade in public with arms without license of the governor. No city or town shall raise or appropriate monies for arming, equipping, uniforming or in any way supporting, sustaining or providing drill rooms or armories for such group or assembly of persons.

    (b) Any person violating subsection (a) of this section or who belongs to or parades with any unauthorized group or assembly of persons with arms shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000.00), by imprisonment for a term not exceeding one (1) year, or both, for each offense.”

    1. Thank you so much for that. I hope Wyoming law enforcement and the judges are aware of that section of the Wyoming Statutes. Vigilantes have NO place in a society that is supposed to be based on laws.

  2. There are no asterisk marks next to any parts of the Bill of Rights. There are no footnotes or exclusions that allow government AT ANY LEVEL to suspend our inalienable rights. INALIENABLE… means we can’t give up these rights EVEN IF WE WANTED TO. Words have meaning, and our Founding Fathers selected every single word in our founding documents with great care and purpose, including “inalienable” (or “unalienable” depending on the version of documents). Locking people down in 2020 is no different than implementing Japanese American internment camps in 1941.

    Standing up against lock-downs is the 100% correct position for ALL AMERICANS to take and criticizing those patriots by saying they “do not care about the specifics” is a misguided argument reeking of a Machiavellian attitude where the end result justifies the means, to which I would adamantly disagree at the most fundamental philosophical level.

    Our right to peacefully assemble… our right to worship as we please… our right to pursue happiness… don’t come with any “unless something bad happens” clauses.

    There’s a clear bias and intent in the article to criticize and mock those who chose to assemble (peacefully) to protect the town and otherwise helpless citizens & store owners. You have to be as blind as Ray Charles to NOT SEE the destruction that’s happened in other cities and the TRUTH (despite what Mr. Victor writes) that there is an ABUNDANCE of “outside” people bused into areas who are well funded and well organized for the sole purpose of creating chaos. Good citizens are mocked from everything from not being “Covid compliant” (my term) to being Republicans and Trump supporters (when did these become “bad” things?).

      1. “No personal attacks, profanity, discriminatory language or threats. Keep it clean, civil and on topic.”

        Mr. or Ms. Moderator, how is this not a personal attack, calling Mr. Naploli a “Don Jr.” Its not response to his post, just a poke in the chest, name calling?

  3. Before I post my comment, I want to be very clear. I support and commend those protesting the injustices that are real and even perceived. The right to protest is one of the fundamental foundations of our society, from protesting the most critical pressing social issues to the most ludicrous. I strongly support that right and applaud those that do.

    However, the so called protests in numerous urban areas are not protests but excuses to loot and destroy property. We challenge the right of the groups in this article to protest and challenge one side of the political spectrum while the other side uses the same tactics and we side step their tactics. Sure, one shows up with gun, the other shows up to create “fiery but peaceful protests” as flames rage thru the business causing the loss of millions of dollars and jobs we desperately need in this pandemic. Having a gun is bad and scary, but showing up in your Lexus to loot Saks Fifth Avenue is ok because that is reparations. Or the business has insurance, so it’s ok.

    While we have the right to protest, we also have the right to protect our property and ensure those protests remain peaceful. So far, so good in Wyoming and I hope it stays that way.

    1. you’re using a false equivalency in saying that the protests in wyoming have been peaceful because of the presence of firearms.

      local law enforcement have not taken to deputizing private citizens at this point, and probably never will. it doesn’t matter if a certain subset of the population (local or out of staters) wish to fulfill their childhood fantasies in becoming a cop.

      if anything, those who show up to intimidate and scare protesters with firearms will be the catalyst to making our local protests become more volatile.

      cheers

      1. Noting false in my comments. Considering this state is probably one of the most armed states in the Country, it would not be very smart to attempt to cause trouble at any of the protests that occur here locally.

        Its very simple, protest like law abiding citizens should, whether you are on the left or right, nothing to worry about – keeping in mind the scare tactics and intimidation go both ways.

        1. i can’t even take a guess to the amount of local protests that have happened in wyoming before 2016. hundreds? thousands possibly?

          this armed counter protesting thing didn’t really start to become in vogue until the last couple of years. how did wyoming ever survive all the people marching, protesting, and exercising their rights without the presence of firearms to keep them in check in the past?

          1. “Fiery but peaceful” protests did not really come into vogue until recently either. Governors and Mayors supporting these “fiery but peaceful” protest are a recent vogue as well. And it’s become almost comical – case in point DeBlasio in NY.

            “People have and will protest, and we understand that there is a place for peaceful protest, but the NYPD will not tolerate people doing harm to others,” de Blasio said. “There’ll be no tolerance for assaults, for damage to property, for setting fires – anything like that is unacceptable.”

            I’m still laughing……where was this clown when so called protestors were ransacking NYC? When the government will not stand up for law and order, it sort of puts the onus on you to stand up for law and order.

        2. Your response sounds like something don jr. or erik trump would say…

          Unarmed peaceful protests are intimidating how? Keep in mind that we are speaking of local protests here in wyoming. There is no need for another false equivalency by bringing up the protests in New York or in Seattle.

          If unarmed peaceful protests, that are occurring in wyoming, are intimidating to your thoughts and beliefs, maybe your thoughts and beliefs are too fragile to impose on others?

          There is no need for armed counter protestors in wyoming. End of story.

          Cheers

  4. I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it ad nauseum. Why would anyone think these “protectors” with their military-style assault weapons can shoot well or even shoot straight?

    Unless they’re going to a rifle range every week and hitting the target dead center, they are a RISK to everyone when they show up armed. How do you know whether they just bought a used weapon at a gun show and have fired it five times or they’re an accomplished shooter? Even the police, as well trained as they are with hundreds of hours of practice, don’t always shoot a suspect in a non-lethal way. And you think these show-up-to-a-fight civilians, roused by emotional appeals and hyped up on testosterone, are better than a disciplined police force? What are you smoking?

    If you’ve ever been in a deer stand or stalked a bull elk or moose and experience buck fever, when your heart is beating so loud in your chest that you think your prey can hear it, then you know how easy it is to get flustered and miss a shot. REPEAT: you’re sitting dead still, rifle resting on a limb or log or shooting stick, no screaming crowds around you, no comrades egging you on to be mr. tough guy, and you still miss the shot. Miss. The. Shot.

    Now take that trepidation into a crowd of people you’ve been told to despise, people unlike you, of a different color, race, manner of dress, hair style, surrounded by noise and banners and songs and chants. They’re moving, you’re trailing. Suddenly a noise like a shot rings out. Who do you take down? A mom and her toddler? A grandma carrying a sign? A disabled person in their wheelchair? A father stepping out of the hardware store carrying plumbing supplies? The police? Don’t give me that monkey business that you’ll know exactly what to do. Plus, you can’t make a clean hit in the field, but you think you’ll accomplish that on a crowded street? No, you’ll be just another murderer.

    TIME TO GET REAL. Wyoming people must tell these slick hucksters to go back to their own place, stay out of our business and then vote OUT any goofball politician who supports these mad-dog slobberings. This is not Laramie in the 1860s. Wyoming has o room for self-appointed vigilantes. Protest, march, speak, express your views as permitted in the Constitution, AND leave weapons in the locked gun case at home.

  5. It is worth pointing out that while these groups/individuals are worried about “outside agitators,” not only is Tiegan from out of Wyoming, but so is the truck carrying the Trump supporters with guns (Montana plates).

  6. So what you’re telling that all those rumors of nefarious, organized, armed and dangerous’, out of state actors banding together and traveling to other States to terrorize their citizens is actually true, but instead of George Soros, it’s actually some conservative nutball from Colorado behind the whole thing? Neat.

    Also, for the record, here’s some relevant language from the Wyoming Constitution, for all those “constitutional conservatives” out there who’ve never actually read it.

    Article 19, section 6
    Importing armed bodies to suppress violence prohibited; exception.

    No armed police force, or detective agency, or armed body, or unarmed body of men, shall ever be brought into this state, for the suppression of domestic violence, except upon the application of the legislature, or executive, when the legislature cannot be convened.

    For Terri Jones, Roxie Hensley, and Ocean Andrew. As a citizen of this county and this state, It’d be much appreciated if you ACTUALLY respected our constitution and kept your roving band of out-of-state armed army cosplayers where they belong: down in their basements and doomsday bunkers.

  7. It is important to note the event was sponsored by three downtown Laramie businesses and promoted by the Republican Party of Albany County. County Commissioner, Teri Jones, was a supporter of this militia organizing event which was held at an Albany County facility. Teri Jones has mocked the Black Lives Matter movement and currently has a photo of a Black Cows Matter sign on her reelection Facebook page. Albany County residents can “Take Back Their Town” by not re-electing Teri Jones and choosing not to patronize the businesses that sponsored this event.

  8. The irony is that people like this feed the fire of white supremacists groups that HAVE been identified as having the potential of being domestic terrorists. I also think it’s ironic that “antifa” (Anti-fascists) is a big target which makes we wonder if these people are all “pro-Fascism”???? I agree with Chuck – they, like our President, are creating fear and division where it really doesn’t exist.

  9. I’d be curious to know how much the speaker gets paid to “educate” the locals.

    Seems like a pretty good gig to me. Drum up unfounded fears through facebook and other social media, then charge a fee to come in and speak.

    1. Mr. Davis hits the nail on the head when he places quotation marks around the word education. As Wyoming is considering drastic (not Defund the Police but) Defund the Schools measures, we must consider the dark implications of eliminating what keeps a society and democracy stable: citizens educated from childhood in history, civics, science, and reason. Why aren’t there more protests against the Defund the Schools movement? Schools and school budgets need our support focused on basic real education; we can’t let kids grow up without thinking skills.
      Mr. Tiegen also makes it clear that we need to support national and Wyoming budgets for mental health care – including mental health care for our veterans.