How Patriot Muster-BLM Soup Drive Demonstrations Went to Hell

Mug shot of Matthew Dolloff and photo from our slideshow "Dueling Demonstrations End With a Shooting at Civic Center Park."
Mug shot of Matthew Dolloff and photo from our slideshow "Dueling Demonstrations End With a Shooting at Civic Center Park." Denver Police Department/Photo by Michael Emery Hecker
The headline of our preview of a so-called Patriot Muster and BLM-Antifa Soup Drive scheduled for around the same time at Civic Center Park on Saturday, October 10, asked, "Recipe for Chaos?"

Unfortunately, the answer to that question was an emphatic "Yes." But the tragic end to the events — a fatal shooting, for which thirty-year-old Matthew Dolloff is being held on suspicion of first-degree murder — took an unpredictable turn. After all, Dolloff wasn't with either of the main groups holding demonstrations. Rather, he was a security guard hired by 9News to protect its employees at demonstrations, captured by a Denver Post shutterbug as he reportedly opened fire at a man who'd just unleashed a chemical agent.

This Post scoop wound up being sullied by what appears to be an unforced error: The paper initially reported that Dolloff was an Antifa member — an assertion that it subsequently retracted by way of an oddly phrased correction: "A Denver Post staff member witnessed the fatal confrontation. This story was updated after authorities called into question the accuracy of that journalist’s report concerning the affiliation of the shooter."

It's hardly surprising that 9News has gone out of its way to distance itself from Dolloff, stressing that he was contracted through the Pinkerton agency but didn't actually work directly for that company, and seems to lack a proper security license. But that hasn't blunted criticism from critics such as talk-show host Peter Boyles of KNUS radio, which promoted the Patriot Muster so energetically that listeners can be forgiven for assuming that the station sponsored it. During his program today, October 12, Boyles argued that the Post and 9News are part of a coverup about what really happened.

click to enlarge Denver police officers were present in force at the dueling demonstrations on October 10. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL EMERY HECKER
Denver police officers were present in force at the dueling demonstrations on October 10.
Photo by Michael Emery Hecker
John "Tig" Tiegen, the main organizer of the Patriot Muster, hasn't responded to requests from Westword to discuss what went down, and neither have representatives of the Denver Communists, a backer of the BLM-Antifa Soup Drive. Last week, a spokesperson for that group confirmed that the soup drive was scheduled at 1:30 p.m. on October 10 after the Patriot Muster had set a 2 p.m. start time because "we are committed to counter-mobilizing against the far right anytime they crawl out of their holes. Every far-right rally aspires to be a pogrom. They should never be allowed to assemble without being vocally opposed."

For the most part, the October 10 altercations between the Patriot Muster and BLM-Antifa crews were of the verbal variety. The shouting, chanting and sloganeering were observed closely by members of the Denver Police Department, which had issued the following alert in advance of the dueling demonstrations:
The Denver Police Department respects the right to peacefully assemble. Those who participate in protests, demonstrations, marches or other gatherings, as protected by the First Amendment, are reminded to do so in a lawful manner. Individuals who choose to act outside of local, state and federal law will be subject to citation or arrest.
The worst fears about potential problems seemed to fade over the course of the afternoon. But the situation unraveled as the gatherings began to break up, as evidenced by a DPD tweet from 3:48 p.m. on October 10: "Officers are investigating a shooting that occurred in the Courtyard by the Art Museum. 1 victim transported to the hospital their condition is unknown, 1 suspect in custody."

At a press conference at 6 p.m. that evening, Division Chief Joe Montoya declined to identify the alleged shooter, who was already in custody (Dolloff was officially ID'd on the morning of October 11), or to say if he was part of either demonstration group. Instead, he revealed only that an argument had preceded the shooting, adding that two guns and a can of mace were found at the scene.

Here's a video of Montoya's remarks:

At 3:50 p.m. on October 11, the DPD tweeted, "The victim's identity will be released by the #Denver Office of the Medical Examiner. Further investigation has revealed that, at the time of the shooting, the suspect was acting in a professional capacity as an armed security guard for a local media outlet and not a protest participant. Immediately following the incident, rumors were circulating regarding the suspect’s affiliation with a particular group. Investigators are unaware of whether the suspect is personally affiliated with any political organization."

The source of those rumors seems to be the Denver Post's initial report, and they haven't been allayed by the confusing clarification.

Numerous media outlets identified the victim shortly after that DPD tweet as Lee Keltner; a friend told Fox31 that he was unaware of Keltner being a member of any "racist" group, instead dubbing him "a proud American." The 49-year-old Keltner ran Crossfire Hats in the Livestock Exchange Building by the National Western Complex.

Among the outfits behind the soup drive was the Front Range Mutual Aid Network, which posted this October 11 Facebook take on what had happened: "Yesterday, we shared thousands of meals of soup for our family and distributed so many donated and shared resources to care for our comrades and neighbors. We outnumbered the fash 'patriots' but due to police negligence and their expectable belligerent collaboration with fash, they were intent and able to instigate violence on their own side ending in a death and arrest alongside unnecessary trauma inflicted all around."

The post then concluded: "We keep us safe. We got our backs. Fuck around with 9News and find out, fash."

Also weighing in on Facebook on October 11 was activist Terrance Roberts, who blasted Tiegen and argued that police have a double standard when it comes to patriot types. As he pointed out, "I'm charged currently, along with others organizing for Black Lives Matters, with Felony 'Inciting a Riot,' 'Conspiracy to Incite a Riot' and 'Engaging in a Riot.' Who can see the obvious Racism happening here with our charges? But of course, these right wing racists are protesting for racist cops, who want to murder us with impunity — and I'm not going to ever stand by and watch it happen. So it is what it is. The Marathon Continues."

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock commented about the shooting at a press conference updating residents on the COVID-19 response at 11 a.m. on the 12th. "We are still looking at the individual who is a suspect in the case [Dolloff], who was not in compliance with Denver licensing laws in regard to being licensed to a security company," he said.

As for protests in general, he continued, "We are not encouraging folks to come out and be a part of any large gathering at this point in time. It's too untenable in regard to COVID-19. But if marches take place, with demonstrations in our city, we encourage people to demonstrate safely, without violence, and exercise your First Amendment rights to do it with an eye toward keeping yourself and others safe. We will hold folks accountable for acting with violence and destruction in our community."

This post has been updated to include remarks from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts