Updated 11 a.m., Sunday
A man was killed outside of the Denver Public Library’s downtown branch Saturday afternoon, just as two groups were dispersing after hours of competing ideological rallies in nearby Civic Center Park.
The suspect is a private security guard “with no affiliation with Antifa,” the police department tweeted late Saturday. 9News reported the suspect was hired by the television station.
On Sunday, Denver police identified the suspect as Matthew Dolloff. Dolloff is being held for investigation of first degree murder.
Just after 3:30 p.m. when the shooting happened Saturday, the man who was shot fell over and was loaded into an ambulance within a few minutes. Police immediately surrounded the man who appeared to fire the gun and took him into custody. Both the shooter and the victim were white, police say, but they would not give any other information about what brought the victim to the dueling rallies.
It was a deadly end to a day that saw a handful of scuffles, plenty of shouting, but little other direct confrontation.
John “Tig” Tiegen, an El Paso County resident who filed re-election paperwork for President Donald Trump in Colorado, a former Marine, and founder of a group called the United American Defense Force, organized what he called a “Patriot Muster.” His group of about 150 people, many of whom were decked out in paramilitary gear and some of whom appeared to be carrying concealed handguns, was gathered in the Greek Amphitheatre at Civic Center Park.
Just to the north side of the theater, the Denver Communists, Colorado Socialist Revolution and other groups held a “Black Lives Matter Anti-Fascist Soup Drive.” They organized it just after Tiegen announced his own event, and collected hundreds of cans of soup through the afternoon. It appeared to be a reference to Trump’s July claim that protesters had assaulted police officers with cans of soup.
In between the two groups, police from Denver and the Arapahoe and Douglas County sheriff’s offices patrolled a wide swath of land that was effectively a demilitarized zone. On at least one occasion, pepper balls deployed at the anti-fascist side. Early on, some of the anti-fascist protesters burned a thin blue line flag in front of officers.
All the while, protesters on both sides shouted at one another.
“If you don’t like living in America, and you want to be controlled by a centralized government, then get the hell out of here. I’ll pack your bags for you,” one man on the “patriot” side shouted into a megaphone.
“Where’s your turnout,” a man dressed in black yelled from the socialist and communist side. “Our group that got here before this started is bigger than yours now.”
At about 3 p.m., it appeared that the socialist and communist side was bigger by a hundred people or more. But in the run-up to Saturday, both sides were keen to turnout as many supporters as they could.
The socialist and communist event organizers wrote on Facebook ahead of the event, “Our preferred strategy is to simply outnumber and outshine these fascists anytime they show their faces. We want to send these worms back into their holes, demoralized and isolated, with only their racist, r*pist president to console them.”
“I’m not worried. I don’t think anybody else should be worried,” Tiegen said Thursday on conservative talk radio station KNUS, where he promoted the event multiple times during the week. “Because if you have 10,000 freaking patriots show up, what are they going to do?”
In a social media post early Saturday morning, Tiegen used coded language to instruct his followers on how to comply with Denver’s rules on carrying a firearm. Open carry is illegal, and gun owners must have a conceal carry permit.
Tiegen told Denverite in an interview at the event Saturday, before the shooting happened, that he organized the event to make a public show of force after communist and socialist protesters broke up a pro-police rally in July. He was wearing a bullet-proof vest Saturday because he said he’d received death threats earlier in the week. He was carrying a gun himself, but said he only would use violence if the other side provoked him.
“We will defend ourselves every means necessary,” he said.
Asked whether the dynamic Saturday, with opponents shouting at one another, was constructive in any way, Tiegen said bad blood caused by the July rally and the socialists’ competing event made any sort of constructive conversation impossible.
“This one kind of needed to happen,” Tiegen said. “I think more of these need to start happening and it needs to get a lot bigger.”
Ten minutes later, Tiegen told his gathered crowd that the other side was composed of fascists and Nazis.
“We’ve got to fight back and push back,” he said to cheers.
Tiegen did not respond to an interview request by phone after the shooting.
The “patriot” protesters filed out of the Greek Amphitheatre in double-wide formation around 3:30 p.m., south through the plaza between the Denver Art Museum and the library. The crowd appeared to be thinning. A young socialist-affiliated activist was arguing with an older man about the definition of fascism. Others were merely milling about. Then the shot rang out.
“This is so unnecessary,” a woman screamed.
Police pushed the crowd away as quickly as they could, and within an hour, it had mostly dispersed. Mike Berkey of Aurora had been protesting with the socialists and communists, and said the deadly violence didn’t surprise him.
“The heat gets turned up and then all it takes is one idiot with a firearm,” Berkey said. “It’s one tribe trying to build numbers to outnumber the other tribe. And then unfortunately something like this happens where somebody gets shot. It’s really sad. And I personally think that as the fall keeps going, it’s just going to get more and more like this.”
In a press conference Saturday evening, Denver Police said they were investigating the shooting and would try to de-escalate the situation to prevent further violence.
“We will make every outreach effort possible,” said Joe Montoya, division chief of investigations for the Denver Police Department. “We encourage any leadership with any of these organizations to work with us.”