Longform

Will the real Rick Strandlof please stand up?

Page 7 of 8

At one point, Gold told Saltzman that he'd quit Patton Boggs to become a self-defense instructor at Colorado Krav Maga. Because he was in great shape, she believed him. (Months later, instructors at Colorado Krav Maga put out an Internet warning that Strandlof had never worked for the company.) But he still had his law degree, he assured her, and would be happy to adjust her will for her.

In June 2011, Gold volunteered to man the StandWithUs booth at PrideFest. But during the second day of the event, onetime Colorado House candidate Paul Rosenthal, who'd met Rick Duncan and then seen him unveiled as Strandlof, recognized Gold. He called Eshkenazi and left a message. By the time she got the news, Gold had disappeared — taking with him the group's fliers and promotional materials. Gold's closest friends in the Jewish community gathered to draft a message to him, in which they cut ties permanently and encouraged him to seek mental help. Saltzman took her concerns to the FBI, where an official greeted her with this: "Our friend Rick's at it again!"

"What was most disturbing to me is that he visited our home a few times and met our children. Not that I thought there was danger," Eshkenazi says. "But it was like being friends with someone who was a ghost. He didn't really exist." When she told her children that, they didn't take the news well.

On his Facebook page, Gold had written his name in both English and Hebrew. But instead of simply spelling "Gold" phonetically, which is the correct approach, he translated it into the Hebrew word for "gold." At the time, Saltzman didn't think much of it. Today she realizes it showed he was never Jewish. This has been the most hurtful realization for those who knew Strandlof as Gold.

After his fall, Saltzman contacted Strandlof's sister, Katie Pierson, and told her of Rick's latest guise. "He thinks he's Jewish?" Pierson responded. "Ha ha fml!" Later, she concluded, "All I can say is cut your losses an tell him to leave u alone..."

God please guide me and keep me in this time and place.

On a cold night last fall, Richard Strandlof, zipped into a North Face jacket, stood over a steaming pot. His gloved hand dipped an oversized spoon into the soup. "Who wants some?" he asked those standing in line in front of Occupy Denver's former home in Civic Center Park. "I didn't make it and I can't vouch for it, but I can smell it, and it smells good."

The month before, Strandlof had joined the Occupy Wall Street movement, carving out a niche in Denver's anarchist kitchen, the Thunderdome. There he worked the equivalent of a part-time job cooking and serving free food made from donated ingredients to anyone who stopped by and asked for it. He rotated mornings, afternoons and nights down at the park, and he made a new group of friends, many of whom now follow him on Twitter and Facebook, where he uses his real name.

Only a couple of weeks after he started volunteering, they learned about his other names.

Around the last week of October, someone put together Strandlof's activism and his criminal record and called him out on Twitter. Nervous about what this would mean to his new, real life, Strandlof pointed his accuser to his blog — rickstrandlof.blogspot.com — where he now writes about his past transgressions and his current twelve-step program as a member of AA. (He recently claimed eleven months of sobriety.) Some of his former friends follow the blog. Most don't. Some believe it. Some don't.

"I'm worried that this is just another persona: Recovery Rick," Eshkenazi says. "I don't know if he's genuinely in recovery, and I find it hard to believe what he says at this point."

Friends at Occupy Denver say they've watched Strandlof grow into his own — though they're not sure exactly what that means. Perhaps Strandlof isn't, either. When news of his history reached the group, he cracked jokes about it. Making small talk at the Thunderdome with both strangers and friends, he told of taking classes at Metro State (which is true); but on his Facebook page, he now says he's a geology major at the University of Colorado Denver (not true). He spoke about the difficulty of dealing with Don't Ask, Don't Tell as an openly gay vet (not true) and about the difficulty of dealing with a family that rejected him based on his sexuality (true).

In the same month he joined Occupy Denver, he reached out to Saltzman in an attempt to apologize.

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Kelsey Whipple
Contact: Kelsey Whipple