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Colorado Springs resort apologizes for late response, cancels conference planned by white nationalist group VDARE

August 16, 2017 Updated: August 18, 2017 at 6:29 am
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Colorado Springs' Cheyenne Mountain Resort has been sold to a group controlled by a Florida investor who owns hotels, health plans and real estate nationwide. (Photo courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Resort)

The Cheyenne Mountain Resort announced Wednesday that it is canceling a three-day conference next April planned by the white nationalist group VDARE.

The group's planned conference drew outrage and planned protests in Colorado Springs in the wake of the racially charged, deadly rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. A writer for VDARE.com organized that rally by Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

The Gazette repeatedly requested a response from the resort over the past two days, and resort spokeswoman Guadalupe Hirt apologized Wednesday for the delay.

She said the business is "committed to respecting the privacy of guests at the resort."

Asked when the resort booked VDARE's conference and if the booking and cancellation will affect the resort's reservations process, Hirt declined to comment.

Peter Brimelow, editor of VDARE.com and chairman of the nonprofit, did not respond to questions about the cancellation.

But Mayor John Suthers, who had issued a statement Tuesday saying the city would in no way support the conference, weighed in Wednesday on the resort's decision.

"Businesses need to make their own decisions in situations like this, and in doing so, consider both the business and community impacts of hosting disruptive groups," Suthers said in a statement. "I know I am joined by many Colorado Springs residents when I say I appreciate Cheyenne Mountain Resort's action to cancel this conference, and its conscientious decision not to bring this group to Colorado Springs."

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said the resort's decision to cancel VDARE's conference is the result of Coloradans speaking up and calling out the organization's agenda as one filled with "division and bigotry at odds with everything we believe."

"We stand with all Coloradans who feel threatened by those spouting hatred and inciting violence," the Colorado Democrat said.

Public outrage over the conference included hundreds of negative reviews posted about the resort on websites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Facebook and Google.

Jessica Sharp, an education consultant and mother in Black Forest, said she posted several negative reviews about the resort, protesting the conference.

"And I'll happily take those down now," Sharp said. "I'm thrilled. I think this shows our community is united in shedding the reputation we've had in the past, and the community is moving forward as a city that welcomes everybody."

Jordana Land said her family would have canceled its membership at the resort's Country Club of Colorado if the business followed through with VDARE's conference.

"I am proud to know I live in a community where hate is not tolerated," she said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists VDARE.com as a white nationalist and anti-immigration hate group.

VDARE, based in Litchfield, Conn., appears to be operating at a loss, based on its 2015 tax returns, the most recent available. The group received $267,038 in contributions that year but spent $533,727.

Of VDARE's expenses for 2015, $243,500 went to Happy Penguins LLC, owned by Brimelow. Under a description of services, the filing states only "leased employees."

The nonprofit began annual payments of up to $368,500 to Happy Penguins in 2010, The Associated Press reported in December. The IRS could view those "independent contractor" payments to Happy Penguins as improper self-dealing unless the nonprofit can show they were "fair-market value transactions," Chuck McLean, a senior research fellow for the nonprofit watchdog Guidestar, told the AP.

Brimelow told the AP he set up that company to "protect" and pay his employees and himself. VDARE's contributions peaked in 2012 at $1.8 million but fell to $211,273 in 2013.

On Wednesday, Brimelow posted to VDARE.com that the group "was kicked off Paypal without warning," which will affect how it can receive donations.

Wednesday's conference cancellation was VDARE's second this year. The Tenaya Lodge in Yosemite National Park canceled its contract with VDARE in January because of the group's political stances.

If Cheyenne Mountain had allowed VDARE's conference, that event would have faced strong opposition, Sharp said.

"I'm relieved I won't have to go protest them," she said. "I think this is really heartening. It's good to know we have people in this town willing to stand up for what's right. We won't be intimidated, and we won't back down."

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