“To see these people dressed in militia outfits is a threat to our whole country,” says George Autobee, in one of the many ads for his organization, Rural Colorado United. “If these militia people are not suited up and armed to shoot other Americans, then what are they doing? What are they doing?”
This prescient commercial was released weeks before the 2020 election, as part of RCU's opposition to Lauren Boebert, the pro-Trump and Q-friendly pistol-packing mama of four from Rifle who was running in Colorado's 3rd Congressional District. Autobee, a decorated Vietnam vet turned political and social activist, ends the ad with this: “If you can’t get elected to Congress without threatening someone else, maybe you don’t have anything to offer.”
What Boebert had to offer to her constituency and the U.S. House of Representatives was already in question before she was elected; then came her tweets before and during the riots of January 6. “This is 1776,” she tweeted out that morning, when President Donald Trump was still pumping up the crowd. And she kept tweeting, with her notes about the whereabouts of the Speaker of the House now contributing to a growing national movement for her congressional expulsion.
Autobee found himself in direct conflict with Boebert in September, over some RCU billboards — particularly one that used her 2017 mug shots to reference a website listing her past legal entanglements. When Boebert fired back, claiming that Autobee was “a far-left Antifa sympathizer,” he responded by pointing to his service record — including multiple combat tours as a Marine in the Vietnam conflict, and later as a medic for the U.S. Army, during which time he was wounded twice and was awarded the Purple Heart. “Boebert has no concept of service to her country,” Autobee told the Colorado Times Recorder. “I spent my twenties leading other young men into combat. Lauren spent her twenties racking up a rap sheet of wanton, reckless and irresponsible offenses that would disqualify anyone from service on a school board, let alone Congress.”
While RCU's anti-Boebert campaign might be what’s bringing Autobee’s name to the public sphere now, he’s no stranger to local politics. He — and his family — have roots that run deep in Colorado.
We caught up with Autobee to learn how he came to his political views, all the work he’s done over the years, and what his goals are with Rural Colorado United — from Boebert to what’s beyond.
Westword: Your family has a long history with Colorado, especially down in Pueblo. Can you hit the highlights of your roots here?
George Autobee: My family goes seven generations back, and we were one of the first to settle Pueblo. A lot of people came, but a lot of people left, and we stayed. It started with Charles Autobee, half Native American, half French. He was a scout with the military, fought in the Taos Uprising and refused to fight at Sand Creek because he had family on the other side. Worked with Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickok and Kit Carson, later became the first county commissioner down here, back when it was still Huerfano County.
Sounds like you take after him.
Yeah, that kind of set the track for me.
So you enlisted as soon as you graduated from high school?
I did; I was in Vietnam for ten months with Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division. I was wounded twice in combat and awarded the Purple Heart medal with a Gold Star.
How did your military service shape what you’ve done since?
Lessons learned. When you see injustice, you must take a stand. What we did in Vietnam was an injustice to the Vietnamese people. I committed to take a stand against the war when I returned.
When I did, I started school at Southern Colorado State College. Got involved with a student organization that back then was called Chicanos for Action. They were running some students for president and vice president, and I got involved in that campaign. Our candidates lost, but I ended up being appointed commissioner of academic affairs. Because of that, I was able to pull together the proposals to get Chicano Studies set up on campus. The next year I ran for student senate, and I won, and I really got the bug for seeing how government works.
After graduation, I joined the Chicano Democratic Caucus. At that time, we’d seen an under-representation of Hispanics on city council, county commissioners, those sorts of positions. Our faces weren’t there. We found out that they’d gerrymandered the city pretty good, and there was no way a Chicano was going to get elected. I became chairman of the CDC, and we got involved with educating people on how to be precinct captains. We had Polly Baca come down, we had Rich Castro, we had Ruben Valdez. We did these trainings, and we ended up taking over fifteen precincts and getting people on the city council.
Those are some impressive results.
They got me recognized, and Governor Dick Lamm offered me a position working in his office. So I ended up moving to Denver and worked out of the governor’s office for several years, in the Office of Human Resources. We were advocating for the War on Poverty programs, and for Head Start, and I’d attend all the committee meetings and hearings. A lot of the legislators already knew me from my work with the Chicano Democratic Caucus, so I worked with them for many years. Got involved in Federico Peña’s campaign, and then was a southern Colorado coordinator for Roy Romer’s campaign, trying to get the Hispanic vote out. I loved it.
You eventually went to Washington, D.C., right?
I did. I was there for five years. I first worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign when she was running for president the first time, serving as coordinator for her outreach to the minority veteran organizations. Later, I worked with Obama’s people when Hillary withdrew. It was an amazing time. I remember the night Obama won the election; the streets were full of celebration. Everything was shut down. You had to use the subway, because you couldn’t get across the streets with everyone partying big time.
So how did Rural Colorado United come about?
By the time I came back to Colorado, the old Chicano Democratic Caucus had changed its name to the Latino Democratic Caucus, and I got involved with them. That led me to work with the chairman of the LDC, Stephen Varela, who came to me and said that we had someone who wanted us to set up a political action committee for the 3rd Congressional District with regard to the race between Lauren Boebert and Diane Mitsch Bush. We connected with some people he knew from the Western Slope and formed the PAC. It blew me away how many people were interested. We ended up with something like $300,000 in donations. With that, we could do commercials and put up billboards all over the Western Slope and southern Colorado. The money went real quick.
I was amazed how much TV time cost. But the PAC just blossomed from there. It was so cool. Even though we lost the race in the 3rd Congressional, we learned so much. With the help of consultants Joel Dyar and Nathan Steele, we were able to build a districtwide network across all 29 counties. It was the work of so many volunteers, who put countless hours into building this network that made our PAC so effective and brought us the financial support that allowed us to get our message out there.
But you’d been using media as a political tool for some time before that, hadn’t you? Both print and television?
Sure. As a photojournalist working for La Voz newspaper out of Denver for 25 years, I was able to attend many of the political and business functions. I had the chance to write numerous articles covering political events. My writings attempted to educate the community on the political power we have in the Latino community. I could interview the Latinos who were running and their stance on legislation.
But television is the big impact. For five years, I had two television programs on CH59 Telemundo on Spanish TV called The Weekly Issue and The Hispanic Chamber Review, both in English. These programs allowed me to interview numerous political candidates and set up a debate between Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Josie Heath and Dick Lamm for the Senate race in Colorado. I did everything but run the cameras. The debate was on immigration, and I tell you what: In media, you give people a rope, and they’re either going to build a bridge or a necktie, and Dick Lamm just plain hanged himself. It was Spanish TV. We were talking about immigration. So Ben Nighthorse won, and I’m not taking credit for his victory, but I think it had an effect. That’s why those commercials for RCU were so important. Why they’re still important.
What was your first impression of Lauren Boebert?
She was a strong campaigner, but clearly a con artist who would be a disaster for a district as complex and economically struggling as CD3. She has no policy positions on her website, refused to debate her opponent, and has never said how she plans to help our vastly diverse local communities rebuild our economies while she’s in Congress.
How have your hopes for Representative Boebert changed since the Capitol riot on January 6?
She beat Scott Tipton in part by hammering him for bringing funding home to Colorado for local economies, so I hoped she’d change her tune once she got into Congress and realized the responsibility she had in representing the vastly diverse rural Colorado communities facing severe funding shortages and economies devastated by the pandemic.
But now, our position is that she should resign.
Think she will?
She’s not going to do it. She’s a troublemaker. She’s intoxicated with Trump. She’ll go down to the last, fighting. Just like Trump. Now, how long will she be around? That depends on how many people get arrested, whether or not she gets charged.
Do you think Representative Boebert’s tweets on January 6 were part of a purposeful seditionist strategy? Or is it just that she’s that ignorant as to the consequences of her actions?
Oh, she planned it out. Here in Colorado, her main people are militia people. She was coordinating with somebody. They told her not to tweet, and there she was, boy, she was tweeting away. Who was she tweeting to? How were they using that information? Being former military, to me, that’s unheard of. In Vietnam, that would be like giving information to the NVA or the VC, giving away our position. And as soon as she tweeted that, boy, here they came.
Like I said, she should be charged. But barring that, put her on a no-fly list. Keep her off any influential committees so that her influence is taken away. Keep her from doing damage. We just have to be ready, because two years is going to go real quick.
How is RCU planning for 2022?
We’re already making plans for someone new to run, someone to gather support around. A quality, educated person who knows what’s going on. Who won’t perpetuate the lies. [Boebert] has already split the Republican Party, and she’ll just pull it further apart, because a lot of those Republicans are good people.
Think you can keep the energy up in CD3 for the next couple of years?
I’ll tell you this: Unsolicited, we’re getting donations from people who want to support our work. They’ve seen the commercials or seen the billboards, and they’re like, “You’re the only ones doing anything.” That blew me away, too. People are still so adamant about the wrongness of what’s going on, so hopefully we’ll have the funding to keep the pressure on her.
So, RCU is working on fixing the gerrymandering issues in the state and also opposing Boebert’s continued misbehavior. Anything else the group wants to accomplish?
Sure. We’re working right now with the Latino Democratic Caucus to set up a 501(c)(3) nonprofit so we can do training for people who want to run for office. Show them how to work with each other, show them how to join a campaign — how do you get the votes, how do you get the money, how do you handle the money. Even after Boebert is gone, after Trump’s gone, there’s still something there we have to deal with. The racism that exists. The reality that brought these people into power. We have to address that.
They say you get the government you deserve, and I’m not saying we’ve deserved everything that’s happened, but we do have to deal with it directly and move forward in a positive way.
For more information on Rural Colorado United or to make a donation, visit the RCU website.
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