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I am writing to address my concerns with Salida’s armed man. I have observed this armed man protest for a couple of years now and I have never engaged him. I respected his right to protest however he saw fit. But something changed when this armed man moved his protest to F Street and began to negatively impact others. Then I began to have a problem.

I saw a thread on Salida Colorado Community Facebook page. A community member started a conversation about the armed man. In this thread, someone posted a hyperlink to another site. I found out that this armed man had attempted to join the Proud Boys. Keep in mind that he attempted to join this organization long after it had been identified as a terrorist organization. This man posted his name, phone number, address and employer. This armed man is a self-proclaimed homophobic white supremacist. I began to have a problem.

I made a choice to engage with this armed man, so I sent him a text message. I won’t pretend like I was engaging this armed man in civil conversation. I threw around the word fascist, Nazi, cos-player who plays dress up on the weekends and garbage human but I can ensure you that as crude as my text were, this armed man’s responses were just as crude.

I told him my name immediately because I wanted him to know that there are members of the community who see him for what he is and are not afraid of him. I took it for what it was and considered it a conversation between two adults with very different worldviews.

Why did I reach out to this armed man? Perhaps it was because of my past. I retired as a First Sergeant of a Combat Engineer (SAPPER) company from the Army Reserves after 23 years of service and multiple overseas deployments. I was present for the invasion of Iraq, the troop withdrawal, and the fight against ISIS.

It was not an uncommon site to see piles of human heads near the entrance control points of our bases while going out on patrols. This is what terrorism and sectarian violence leads to. I have also spent the last 13 years working as a first responder in both the urban and rural settings. I have been on multiple mass shootings and I have seen and treated more gunshot wounds than I care to remember. Additionally, I volunteer for a local nonprofit because I believe in the value of community. I am expecting my first child and want to set a good example. These are reasons I texted this armed man.

This last week, this “tough” armed man contacted my employer in what can only be interpreted as an attempt to get me fired. I spoke with my employer and they understand that free speech works both ways. My employer says that as long as I don’t do anything that is illegal, immoral, or unethical then I can express my views the same way as this armed man. I have since blocked his number even though I initiated the contact. As much as I disagree with this armed man, I don’t want to risk losing my job.

I am writing because I think it’s important that we open dialogue about this armed man. Hate crimes are up 22 percent in this country. If this man were to hurt someone then it cannot be disputed that there were red flags. This armed man is claiming First and Second Amendment protections. The Second Amendment represents a freedom that we have in this country but freedom comes with responsibility.

Being racist, homophobic, and attempting to join an extremist organization while carrying a rifle is not being responsible. We do not allow people with mental illness to have access to firearms because that is a red flag. Why are we allowing a self-proclaimed white supremacist who attempted to join a terrorist organization the ability to hide behind the Second Amendment?

This armed man has the right to protest but we as a community have the right to say, “We see you for what you are.”

Salida Resident

Editor’s Note: AVV has confirmed the identity of this reader and Salida resident and has agreed to protect his identity.