Shooting at Denver rally: How should the movement defend itself against the far right?

Police corner a suspect in the shooting of a far-right activist in Denver on Oct. 10. (Helen H. Richardson / Denver Post)


On Oct. 10, a man died in Denver after an altercation following a right-wing rally. Based on video and the current reports from the police, the situation appears to be that a participant in the rally, Lee Keltner, was killed after he had pepper sprayed a private security guard, Matthew Robert Dolloff, who retaliated with force. Local station 9NEWS confirmed that Dolloff is a contractor they hired through the Pinkerton security company. Police state that he is being held in custody on suspicion of first-degree murder.

The incident occurred near a counter-protest of a “Patriot Muster” in Civic Center Park called by former Blackwater and CIA operative John “Tig” Tiegen, currently the head of the far-right “United American Defense Force” militia. The counter-protest featured a number of community groups displaying socialist literature and distributing food products.

Right-wing backlash

In the immediate wake of the shooting, when the alleged shooter had not yet been identified, right-wing personalities quickly took to social media to call for severe repression against working-class and Black Lives Matter protesters. Dinesh D’Souza, a well-known Trump supporter, took to Twitter, writing, “This man who was shot and killed by an #Antifa militant in Denver—was he murdered by an IDEA?”

The narrative that “the left” is somehow implicated in this violence continued into the next day. Rightist reporting either leaves out the fact that the shooting was carried out by an armed security guard or attempts to identify him with “antifa.” There is an especially pernicious line of reasoning that claims that the alleged shooter supported Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, and is therefore a representative of the “violent left.” In reality, Dolloff worked for Pinkerton security company, which has a 170-year history of labor spying, strikebreaking, and murder of working people.

Whatever the political beliefs of the alleged shooter may be, the fact remains that the incident will be used to victimize working people and activists for progressive social change. Rightist vigilantes and the state are itching for any excuse to justify shutting down anti-racist and pro-labor organizing. Already, six Denver activists are facing frame-up charges that carry serious penalties.

Defend the right to protest

Every supporter of democracy needs to be mobilized against the onslaught of rhetoric against protesters and the “left.” The incident on Oct. 10 will quite possibly be used to call for curtailing the free speech and right to assembly of socialists, Black and pro-immigrant organizations, unions, and other groups of working and oppressed people. We could see additional policies put into place to empower police to shut down protests calling for justice against the capitalist state. At the same time, the movement can expect an increase in far-right intimidation of Black Lives Matter rallies and more attempts from fascist groups like the Proud Boys to demonstrate in public while carrying on threats of violence.

The best way to defend against these developments is not through individual violence. That has been definitely shown by the effect of the killings of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a supporter of the far-right Patriot Prayer group in Portland and now the person in Denver; both actions have served to undermine the left and embolden the right. Such actions create martyrs for the nucleic fascist movement in this country and unite the disparate groups around a common cause.

Instead, what is needed is mass defensive mobilizations planned with the active participation of community groups, unions, and civil liberties organizations. Mass mobilizations of this type serve to open space for democratic discussion as well as build a base for future common activity around political demands that include COVID relief, housing rights, and strike support.

On Sept. 19, the effectiveness of this strategy was shown in Philadelphia. The Proud Boys had announced their plan to march through a multi-ethnic neighborhood, but were out-mobilized by over 1000 community members. In the face of such overwhelming opposition, they were too discouraged to even show up to their own event.

Socialist Resurgence stands with the working and oppressed people of Denver against state repression and right-wing violence. We also repeat what we asserted in our Sept. 28 article, How can we defeat the fascist militias?: “History has shown us that we must avoid adventurist tactics by free-lancing militants, which can isolate us from the masses and lead to repression and demoralization. The capitalist state won’t hesitate to victimize anti-fascists and will ignore the violence of the rightists.”

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