Even before Saturday’s deadly shooting in Denver, Colorado Springs racial justice protesters knew and feared John “Tig” Tiegen and his supporters.
Tiegen, a Fountain resident who has identified himself as a former CIA security contractor who fought to repel the 2012 attacks on a diplomatic compound Benghazi, Libya, organized what he called a “Patriot Muster” that drew more than 100 people to Denver’s Civic Center Park. Tiegen’s supporters, many in paramilitary garb and some with firearms, were met by a counterprotest associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The dueling events turned deadly when a 9News security guard fatally shot a man during a confrontation as the protests were breaking up.
The security guard, Matthew Dolloff, is being held on suspicion of first-degree murder. Police haven’t identified the victim, who wore combat boots and a military-style booney hat. Photographs posted on social media sites show him spraying the security guard with Mace before being shot.
While details remain hazy, protest leaders in Colorado Springs say they have feared potential violence involving Tiegen and his group for weeks, since The Colorado Springs Independent published a story in early June showing photographs of armed men associated with Tiegen.
One photo shows an unidentified man dressed in combat fatigues and holding a military-style rifle while standing atop a parking garage overlooking a George Floyd protest at City Hall downtown.
The man's camouflage-painted rifle is equipped with a scope and flash suppressor and has a bipod. A separate sighting scope, like those used by military snipers, is trained on the crowd below. Tiegen did not respond to a request for an interview on Sunday. An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the man with the sniper rifle as Tiegen. Another photo in the Independent story shows Tiegen on the same rooftop, holding a dog.
The photograph sent shockwaves through the city’s protest groups, who characterized it as threatening behavior, and moved organizers of a Sept. 27 Breonna Taylor demonstration and march to bring armed security guards.
“I always knew he would get someone killed. I just didn’t know it was going to be someone on his side,” said Autum Carter-Wallace, who led the Breonna Taylor protest on behalf of Colorado Springs CounterPropaganda, which describes itself as an activist news outlet. Denver police haven’t yet said if they believe the man was with Tiegen’s group, according to Denverite.
The Gazette reported in 2016 that Tiegen, in his late 40s, is a Colorado Springs native and Palmer High School graduate who co-wrote “13 Hours,” a book laying out an account of the Benghazi attack, which led to the deaths of an American diplomat and several others. Tiegen told the newspaper he served as an advisor for a movie based on the book by action-film director Michael Bay.
Tiegen founded Colorado Veterans for Trump, and was tapped last year to submit the Colorado petitions to put Trump’s name on the state ballot in November. In May, he organized a protest in Denver against coronavirus restrictions imposed by Gov. Jared Polis, calling it akin to a socialist dictatorship.
"I kind of went with the quarantine in the beginning," he told Colorado Politics at the time. "But the cure right now is going to be worse than the actual virus, in my opinion. Businesses are closed and many aren't going to open back up. Nobody's got any money. You've got these mom-and-pop shops they won't allow to open up, but they've got Walmart, Lowe's, Home Depot, all these big-box superstores can stay open, and they average 10,000 freaking people a day and 300-something employees.
"And you're telling me a diner can't open because it's less safe than standing in line for a half hour with a thousand other freaking people."
In a statement on Instagram on Sunday, Tiegen called the shooting victim “a fellow American patriot,” though he said it’s “still unclear” if the man was at his rally.
“The fact that simple things like wearing patriotic attire now makes you a target in an American city should be a concern for every freedom-loving person,” Tiegen wrote, even as he distanced himself and his group from the shooting, saying it happened as he and others were headed to their cars afterward.
Police haven't said what sparked the shooting, except to say it was preceded by a verbal argument.
On Instagram, Tiegen alluded to “radical Marxists” in encouraging his followers to continue to “show support for their country.”
In his writings and during appearances on right-wing radio programs, Tiegen has echoed President Donald Trump’s stark warnings against Antifa and left-wing actors, calling them a threat to security and unity.
In an interview Friday on The Steffan Tubbs Show on KNUS, Teigen said, "I'm not going in there to do violence, but I'm going to be prepared to do violence," 9News reported.
According to the Colorado Springs Independent, Tiegen previously made comments on social media that “seemed to indicate his support for ‘gunning down protesters,’” which the newspaper said he later dismissed as “just a joke.”
In announcing the Patriot Muster, Tiegen wrote on Facebook, “Don’t let the communists, socialist party and groups intimidate or oppress you any longer! Come join us and be heard & seen and celebrate OUR freedoms.”
He offered coded advice for those choosing to come armed, writing, “P.S. For Mechanical pencil that offers a concealed eraser, top lead advance and removable Clip no more than .15 mm lead allowed in each. City of Denver ordnance (sic).”
Tiegen's Facebook account was offline on Sunday, and a post on his Instagram account seemed to show it was removed by the Facebook administrators for violating the site's "community standards."
Carter-Wallace said Tiegen and his supporters appear "prone to violence," and she rejected the idea he is needed to protect law and order in Colorado Springs.
“We maintain it ourselves, and I think we’ve proven that in Colorado Springs,” she said. “We haven’t gone wild and we haven’t damaged business. And law and order is for the police to keep, not some guy who’s former military.”
She said Tiegen "doesn't know his followers," and therefore doesn't know the level of risk they pose to the public.
Protesters say that Tiegen has been a fixture at protests in Colorado Springs, and was also seen at the site of an August march in which anti-police violence protesters went to the Pulpit Rock-area home of Alan Van’t Land, one of the Colorado Springs police officers who fatally shot 19-year-old De’Von Bailey a year earlier. Bailey, who fled an arrest, was suspected of armed robbery and police say they feared he was reaching for his gun. A pistol was later found in the pocket of his gym shorts.
A month after the Pulpit Rock protest, police arrested three people on multiple felonies, accusing them of “riotous and illegal behaviors.”