A photo of Denver Police Department officer Michael Traudt shows a tattoo on one hand that duplicates the logo of the 3 Percenters, defined by the Anti-Defamation League as an anti-government militia group.
Traudt, the target of a wrongful-death lawsuit over the 2015 killing of Paul Castaway, a suicidal man who was wielding a knife when the officer fatally shot him, says he is neither a member of the 3 Percenters nor anti-government, and insists that he's been planning to cover the tattoo to avoid anyone wrongly assuming that he's affiliated with the group. He faces no discipline from the department for the tattoo, although after Westword asked about the tattoo, a DPD spokesperson said that Traudt has been asked to conceal it while on duty.
In the "about us" section of the 3 Percenters' website, the organization maintains that it is not a militia group and isn't anti-government. "In fact," the text states, "we are very pro-government, so long as the government abides by the Constitution, doesn't overstep its bounds, and remains 'for the people and by the people.' Our goal is to utilize the failsafes put in place by our founders to rein in an overreaching government and push back against tyranny."
However, a 2017 PBS Frontline investigation points out that "members were involved in both the Bunkerville standoff [in 2014] and the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon two years later."
The 3 Percenters' name is an allusion to the estimate that only about 3 percent of early colonists fought against the British in the American Revolution. In a written statement about the tattoo provided by the Denver Police Department, Traudt confirms that the same concept is central to this particular piece of body art.
"The thirteen stars surrounding the Roman number '3' represent the thirteen original colonies," he writes. "The Roman numeral '3' represents the 3 percent of the colonists who stood against the King of England in the Revolutionary War and fought for our freedoms."
However, Traudt emphasizes that the only militia of which he was a member is one officially sanctioned by the federal government.
"I was a member of the Colorado Army National Guard," he says. "Contrary to popular belief, the National Guard is the oldest branch of the military and is by definition a 'militia.' I had the image tattooed on my body as a symbol of respect and admiration for the United States' original militia men and their service. Having been a National Guard soldier, I found the image fitting and in line with my many other pro-America and military-themed tattoos."
At the time he got the tattoo, Traudt continues, "I was unaware it was used by a small group known as the 'new' 3 Percent." He adds, "I have never been associated with that group, nor do I plan to [be]. I am an American and fully support this country and its free government. I have spent my entire adult life in service to this country and my community."
In recent months, the publication of photos in which police officers can be seen bearing insignia associated with radical organizations has stirred controversy. In late November, the Miami New Times, our sister paper, reported that Vice President Mike Pence was greeted at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport by "a Broward Sheriff's Office SWAT team that included one cop in a #QAnon conspiracy-theory patch. #QAnon is, of course, the batshit-insane, 4Chan-based conspiracy theory that claims Donald Trump is secretly fighting a war with Special Counsel Robert Mueller to capture a secret, elite pedophile ring that includes prominent celebrities and Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama."
An even more on-point example occurred in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, this past August, after a photo of an officer with the city's police department showed that he had a 3 Percenter tattoo. CBS17 in Raleigh, which cited the ADL in noting the growing popularity of the image among "anti-government extremists," reported that the officer was subsequently placed on paid administrative leave. At a public meeting, the town manager said this action was taken because the tattoo "has caused the Department to question his ability to function effectively as a police officer within this community."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The DPD's reaction to Traudt's tattoo has been very different. DPD public-information officer Sonny Jackson told Westword that no interdepartmental action against Traudt will be taken.
Traudt's July 2015 shooting of Castaway, a suicidal, mentally ill man who was killed after putting a knife to his own throat and telling the officer, "Kill me, you fucking pussy," was deemed justified after an investigation. However, attorney Matthew Buck, representing Castaway's family, argued that the man had been "effectively murdered," and in October 2017, a U.S. District Court judge denied a motion to dismiss the excessive-force aspect of the allegations against Traudt.
As for his ink, Traudt writes that "when I became aware of the 'new' 3 Percent and their use of the image, I began looking for possible cover-up tattoos for my hand. I did this not because I no longer like the image, but because I did not want anyone to mistakenly think I was a member or involved with the groups using the image. It’s still my intent to have the tattoo permanently covered. I just need to settle on the image I would like to use to cover it."
He remains a member in good standing of the Denver Police Department.