Rifle Residents Challenge 'Pattern of Escalation' by Counter Protestors

Jul 8, 2020

Last month, locally organized Black Lives Matter demonstrations cropped up in locations from Aspen to Parachute. Mostly the events occurred without incident. However after some tense moments during a march in Rifle on June 19th, some residents feel they’re being sent a clear message not to speak up in the City of Rifle.

Motorcyclists line up and rev their engines in the parking lot of the Rifle Pool facility as Black Lives Matter protestors walk by. Taken June 19, 2020


Steven is a Rifle resident and person of color who attended both Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Rifle last month. He says he’d like to attend future demonstrations in the area, but after experiences protesting in town, he says he doesn’t feel safe or welcome.


On June 2nd, after attending a peaceful candlelit vigil in Rifle in honor of George Floyd, Steven says he was followed on his way home. Here he is speaking to Mountain West News Bureau's Nate Heygi about the incident… 


"The truck was pacing me as I was climbing the hill and entering my neighborhood, waving his middle finger and yelling at me through the window."

Steven told KDNK that when he heard about a second protest in Rifle planned for June 19th, he was hesitant to attend at first, but he felt the issue was important enough to put those concerns aside and join anyway.


As previously reported on KDNK, motorcyclists lined up in parking lots along the path of the Black Lives Matter march, revving engines in a coordinated effort to drown out chants and to fill the sidewalk with thick exhaust fumes as protestors marched by.


Motorcyclists gather at City Market and rev engines in Rifle on June 19th. Black Lives Matter protestors walk by on the sidewalk.
Credit Lucas Turner

Motorcyclists rev engines at the former Garfield County Democratic Party Headquarters building. Taken on June 19, 2020 in Rifle Colorado.
Credit Lucas Turner

A motorcyclist attempts to fill the sidewalk with smoke by performing a 'burnout.' Taken June 19, 2020
Credit Lucas Turner


Steven says he came away from that day feeling like counter protestors and those riding motorcycles wanted to send the same message as the person who followed him home on June 2nd. To not speak up in the City of Rifle.


His next step was to submit a public statement to Rifle’s City Council Meeting on July 1st, asking the council to condemn the behavior he believes is illegal, and that he describes as a “pattern of escalation.”


STEVEN: "You know the motorcycles were one specific instance but, just this attitude that if you disagree with someone politically you can show up and make as much noise as possible even to the point that it would cause pain and potential trauma to the children present, just because you disagree with them."


Steven’s full statement asserts that counter protestors behavior violated multiple municipal codes, including the noise ordinance and disrupting a lawful assembly. He says by using noise and caustic exhaust as a weapon, motorcyclists crossed the line from free speech to breaking the law.


But the statement never made it to the public comment period, because Steven says he felt uncomfortable with the submission requirements outlined by the city staff, who told him that he would need to provide a name and address. Staff also explained that the information would be read out loud during the meeting.


Here’s part of Steven's statement for this story.


Does our city condone such unilateral escalation if it is in clear violation to the Rifle Municipal Codes? What would the city say to peaceful protesters whose hearing and breathing were compromised that day as the motorcyclists were allowed to leapfrog the peaceful demonstration from parking lot to parking lot in broad daylight, at times on city property, and in full view of police officers?

How will the city demonstrate to the diverse coalition who came out that day that their rights, health,and safety will be protected in the future? How do we make it right for the children who were intimidated and threatened along with their parents in that march?

You can read his full statement here.


Steven says he was willing to share his address with the clerk to verify residence, just that he did not want it to be read out loud during the meeting. He also hoped to keep his last name confidential. Ultimately his request was denied by city staff, who insisted that not only did he need to submit the information, but that it would need to be read out loud during the meeting. If he wouldn’t agree to that, then his comment could not be read. 

Rifle Mayor Barb Clifton told KDNK that providing a name and address can lend weight and credibility to public comment, especially since April when city staff first started accepting comments by email due to COVID-19.


MAYOR BARBARA CLIFTON: "So that's what our city clerk has told anyone who wants to now call in, or email in, is that they have to give their address. Some people don't even want to give their full name. That is not really the nature of public comment."


Since mid-April, Rifle city staff has read 4 public comments during council meetings, all of which were submitted by email. In every case, staff did read the first and last name of the person who submitted comment, but the did not read any addresses. Looking back further through November of 2019, those submitting public comments were not required to read their addresses during their public comment periods.


Lou Colby also lives in Rifle, and attended the protests on June 19th. In order to have her comment read she complied with requests to submit an address. Like Steven, Lou Colby uses her comment to ask the council for acknowledgement and public condemnation of alleged illegal behavior by motorcyclists and counter protestors in Rifle on June 19th.   


Rifle City Manager Scott Hahn reads a public comment emailed by Laura Colby on July 1st, 2020.

This is my town; where people are afraid to attend a Protest because of the Town's thuggish reputation?  Even folks who live in the town were afraid of attending because of fear of retaliation and targeting (as occurred to Vigil attendee June 2nd). A good question to pose; is how would the Police Chief & Counter Protesters feel if both sides showed up with guns strapped to the hip? What a volatile situation!  I have a gun; several in fact; but do not feel compelled to pull them out of my pants, every public chance, to show folks what a Woman I am.


You can read Colby's full comment here.


Rifle City Manager Scott Hahn reads Colby’s comment during the July 1st City Council Meeting. He begins by making sure to read her provided address out loud into the record. The sound ends with city council moving on to the consent agenda.


All comments submitted to Rifle City Council by email prior to July 1st also received acknowledgement from the Mayor, council, or staff during the meeting. Lou Colby's comment recieved a "thank you for the comment."


Mayor Barb Clifton says the council doesn’t usually make statements condemning behavior of people in the city. Instead she suggests some alternative ways citizens can make their voices heard.


MAYOR CLIFTON: "You can certainly meet with our city manager if you have some concerns about the way the town is being run. You can certainly meet with the police chief, and talk about what happened and why and what (he) feels needs to happen. There are a lot of options to get your comments to us if you are not comfortable stating your name and where you live."


Mayor Clifton says she understands why in situations like this, people might be hesitant to provide an address, adding that the City Council will discuss the subject during their next meeting on July 15. 


"I think people will need to say whether they live in the city limits or not and maybe just give their address to the clerk, but not have it part of the public record. We're gonna discuss that at the next meeting because I do get that."

The mayor of Rifle also reached out personally to Steven, who also sent his comment directly to council members.


STEVEN: "I mean I respected the mayor taking time to do that, but I still think more needs to be done to make people feel comfortable raising their voices in Rifle."

BLM protestors march up Railroad Avenue on June 19, 2020
Credit Lucas Turner