Self-Defense Groups Subject of Denver Police Files
by Ari Armstrong, September 20, 2002
At least I'm in good company. The Denver Police kept files on me and the Colorado Freedom Report, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the Tyranny Response Team, and the Libertarian Party (see http://www.freecolorado.com/2002/09/spyfiles.html and http://www.freecolorado.com/2002/09/lpfiles.html).
What do these groups have in common? They all advocate the right to keep and bear arms, a fundamental human right guaranteed by the U.S. and Colorado constitutions. While the LP is involved in many other issues, the Denver police were interested in the fact that it is "pro gun rights." Similarly, while the TRT has supported the entire Bill of Rights, it was monitored by Denver police because it's a "pro-gun group." While the Denver police kept files on activists from many groups, the DPD seems to have a special interest in those who advocate the Second Amendment. Even though I have attended rallies and demonstrations for all kinds of other issues in Denver, the "spy files" about me pertain only to my activities in support of the right to bear arms.
Denver Police kept a four-page file about me. It recorded my political activities for three dates: April 11, 2000; April 12, 2000; and August 30, 2000.
Due to action by the ACLU and others, the police are now required to release the files to the individuals and organizations covered in the files. Files must be picked up before November 1; then they will be destroyed. I picked up my file September 19.
In April of 2000, I attended peaceful protests of Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic, the name of which likens gun ownership to a disease, and President Clinton. Those events are covered at http://www.freecolorado.com/2000/04/412story.html.
On August 30, 2000, I went to Denver with my lawyer Paul Grant and with RMGO Executive Director Dudley Brown to file a lawsuit challenging the signatures SAFE had gathered for its Amendment 22 initiative. We spoke briefly at a press conference. Brown recalls the presence of a police van, and the police took photographs of us. Indeed, my police file shows a photograph of me wearing a suit and tie dated 08/30/2000.
Carla Crowder wrote a story about the legal challenge for the August 31, 2000 edition of the Rocky Mountain News titled (as archived on the paper's web page), "Gun-rights group challenges signatures; dispute centers on when gun show loophole-closing ballot petitions were signed:"
Gun-rights activists Wednesday filed another court challenge to Colorado's gun show loophole ballot initiative, charging that most of the signatures gathered to put the measure before voters don't count. Rocky Mountain Gun Owners members say SAFE Colorado failed to wait for the pro-gun group's earlier court challenges to be resolved before SAFE's signature-gatherers hit the streets. That's a violation of state statute, according to Englewood attorney Paul Grant...
Previously, I thought the Denver police had kept files pertaining to protests or demonstrations. But the Denver police monitored Grant, Brown and me for doing nothing other than engaging in legal work and talking to the press. And that is deeply disturbing.
All the information relating to other individuals is blackened out. One obvious line states the TRT (Tyranny Response Team) is a "Pro-Gun group founded by [blackout] owner of [blackout] Longmont, CO." Well, it's no secret that's Bob Glass. The file also describes "Rocky Mountain Gun Owners" -- the state affiliate of Gun Owners of America -- as a "protest group." Nearly the entire second page of my file is blackened out. The page lists two entries for "person associations" for 08/30/2000 and six entries for 04/11/2000. For the April date, one listing is labeled as "direct relationship" and five are labeled as "indirect relationship." All the names are covered up.
The "narrative" for April 11 states, "On 4/11/2000, a pro-gun demonstration by members of the Tyranny Response Team, was held at the State Capital. This was to counter demonstrate an event by SAFE on the steps of the State Capital. Approximately 20 pro-gun activists demonstrated with signs and bull horns. No arrests were made and the group was loud by orderly. Photographs were taken and approximately 6 of the demonstrators were identified." (Typographical errors in the file remain uncorrected.)
The "narrative" for April 12 states, "On 4/12/2000, subject was identified as handing out flyers during the President Clinton visit. Subject was part of the demonstration by members of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and Tyranny Response Team. Subject identified himself as the editor of Colorado Freedom Report. Colorado Freedom Report operates a website at http://freecolorado.com/ and is described as a 'libertarian journal and culture.' The website has many links and stories to the Tyranny Response Team and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners."
Only the detective who wrote the April 12 report is named. I won't reveal his name to save him the embarrassment of having written such a ridiculous file. "A libertarian journal and culture?" That doesn't even make sense! The Colorado Freedom Report is "A libertarian journal of politics and culture," as is stated at the top of its web page.
The rest of the file is riddled with errors. A date is transposed as "11/04/2000." Under the category of "facial hair," the file claims I am "clean shaven." However, about an inch and a half down from this claim is the photograph of me that shows me with a goatee. The file lists my eye color incorrectly -- even though the information is available in my driving records. The records are sloppy. I suspect many government files are similarly faulty.
Of course, the more important question is why the Denver police kept files on me in the first place. I have never threatened, advocated, or participated in violence. I peacefully advocate civil liberties, including the Second Amendment right to bear arms. I was "identified as handing out flyers," running a web page, joining a protest, and filing a legal action! THIS is worthy of a police file? Comically, the "information type" of the files is listed as "intelligence." Yea, it took a real genius to mount this sort of PR debacle for the Denver Police Department.
Did the police collect also files on members of Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic, the name of which likens gun ownership to a disease, and other disarmament groups that were also staging demonstrations in 2000? It is SAFE, after all, that advocates the initiation of violence to strip citizens of their rights. Several times disarmament activists have assaulted or threatened to assault pro-rights activists. (For example, see http://www.freecolorado.com/2000/08/threat.html, http://www.freecolorado.com/2001/05/bigotedmoms.html, and http://www.freecolorado.com/2001/10/firstmonday.html.) The police shouldn't have collected files on peaceful citizens in the first place, but it's even worse if they did so in a discriminatory manner. Are there any files labeled "anti-gun group" or "disarmament advocate?"
It makes sense for the police to show up where two conflicting groups are meeting. That's keeping the peace. It doesn't make sense to build files on peaceful demonstrators. That's a waste of tax money and a needless intrusion on the privacy of citizens. That the police spied on citizens engaged in legal proceedings and a press conference is outrageous and indefensible.
Still, the files are the result of only a few bunglers. I've talked with a number of Denver officers who support both the right to bear arms and the right of free speech and who take a common-sense approach to law enforcement. And now, a Denver officer sits on the board of the state Libertarian Party, one of the groups monitored by the "spy files." Libertarian Sheriff Bill Masters dedicates his book Drug War Addiction "to the American peace officer." That's the job of police, right? To keep the peace. Not to monitor those who advocate peace and civil rights.