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I usually don’t share conspiracy theories, but one recently appeared in my inbox that was so wild it stopped me in my tracks.

Cheyenne, according to the sender, is extremely vulnerable to an attack by Colorado socialists who would likely stop at nothing to blow up the city’s refinery, a chemical plant and even Warren Air Force Base.

“What the nation is putting up with now are armed miscreants supported by big money and backed by leftists from Hollywood to Silicon Valley and Democrat leaders,” warned the writer.

Good grief — how will Cheyenne beat back the invading socialist hordes? 

“It’s going to be up to citizens to stop them at the border,” wrote a woman who responded to the email. “Some will get through, unless [there are] enough patriots to cover all ways in. … Depending on how this goes we may be terribly outnumbered.”

For a moment, the thought of a band of armed vigilantes standing guard at the Wyoming-Colorado state line, waiting to defend the capital city from attacks supposedly bankrolled by liberals, made me laugh.

Then I realized wannabe vigilantes have already mobilized in the Equality State over equally far-fetched rumors.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis in May, protests sprang up in Casper, Laramie, Cheyenne and many other Wyoming towns. In Cody, peaceful demonstrators at a park were surrounded by armed gunmen on horseback and on foot. The militia’s leader said the group wanted to protect citizens from “outside provocateurs,” and will do so again if rioting breaks out before the presidential election.

During two days of June vigils and marches in Casper, groups of citizens carrying handguns, shotguns and semi-automatic rifles were omnipresent. Some told reporters they were on the scene to protect the rights of protesters to peacefully assemble.

To anyone who believes that, I have a deed to Devils Tower that I’ll sell you. It comes with a free certificate of authenticity.

Some of the gun-toting crew stayed downtown long after the marches ended. Many claimed they were doing their civic duty to protect businesses because of reports outside agitators aimed to loot and riot. 

Of course it didn’t happen, and I’m sure those who patrolled the streets credited their actions with keeping the peace. It’s the classic mistake of conflating correlations and causation. There were also no volcanic eruptions in Casper that day, but that doesn’t mean the AR army prevented them.

“It was like the counter-protesters got to have their own little parade for the day,” a coffee shop owner told Oil City News. “They got to pull out all their heavy armament and be toy soldiers.”

In early June, someone vandalized the Wyoming Republican Party headquarters in Cheyenne. In addition to an anti-Donald Trump epithet, the vandal spray-painted “I can’t breathe” — the last words spoken by Floyd before he died after a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

KGWN-TV reported that a group of armed men spent the next several nights staking out the GOP office from across the street to keep it free of graffiti. The reaction to the event was so overblown, I was startled. Would someone actually shoot and perhaps kill a person for the misdemeanor offense of vandalizing a building? What’s the point of all this vigilantism?

In August, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation warned other law enforcement agencies that antifa [anti-fascists] and Black Lives Matter protesters were crossing the state to wreak havoc on the annual Sturgis, South Dakota, motorcycle rally.

Again, the threat didn’t materialize. Surprise, surprise — no one was stupid enough to travel from the West Coast to take on 250,000 bikers. The Sturgis police chief told WyoFile that people who warned authorities they saw BLM and antifa flags flying at Wyoming campgrounds “just want to stir up the dish with drama.”

Some people — evidenced by the right-wing fantasy concocted by my email correspondent — seem to drool over a violent right-vs.-left confrontation. What could be driving that twisted view of the future?

Look no further than the speakers at last week’s Republican National Convention. Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.’s main squeeze, bellowed about the dystopian nightmare that awaits if her potential father-in-law loses re-election. “They want to destroy your country … steal your liberty, your freedom, they want to control what you see and think and believe, so that they can control how you live,” she said.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem also spun a dire situation: “Democrat-run cities across this country are being overrun by violent mobs. The violence is rampant. There’s looting, chaos, destruction and murder. People that can afford to flee have fled. But the people who can’t — good, hard-working Americans — are left to fend for themselves.”

Vice President Mike Pence called a federal officer’s killing during an Oakland riot an example that “you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” He didn’t mention that the man charged with murder belonged to the extreme right’s Boogaloo movement.

Nor did anyone say that a day before the convention, Jacob Blake Jr., who is Black, was shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha, Wisconsin, policeman in front of his three children. At this writing no charges have been filed against the officer, but Blake, who is paralyzed, was handcuffed to his hospital bed for five days.

Two days after the tragedy, 17-year-old Trump supporter and vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse traveled from Illinois to the Kenosha BLM protests and allegedly killed two unarmed demonstrators. According to witnesses, when he strolled away with his rifle slung over his shoulder and his hands up to surrender, police just drove by.

Do you honestly think Rittenhouse would have survived that walk if he was Black?

The one thing both sides in this conflict seem to have in common is that they don’t trust the police to protect them.

In Wyoming, there have been minor clashes between individuals. A Casper businessman criticized a counter-demonstrator for holding his rifle in an unsafe manner, and was confronted by men who defended their friend. But police quickly de-escalated the incident and no violence occurred. Protests throughout the state have largely been peaceful.

Nationally, the situation is quite different. President Trump rails against anarchists and antifa, but who is the real enemy? 

Nicholas Kristof, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist, notes that while antifa have committed violent acts, “they aren’t known to have ever killed anyone, while right-wing extremists have killed hundreds [in terrorist attacks].”

The bitter culture war raging throughout the country — stoked by incendiary rhetoric from right-wing political stages — naturally lends itself to dangerous scenarios. Citizens have the right to openly carry weapons, but does anyone in Wyoming really need to arm themselves and follow protesters around, pretending to protect their rights? Why spend all night guarding stores against nonexistent looters?

Reflecting on the sight of armed civilians on the streets of his city, Casper City Councilman Mike Huber said, “The only thing I felt I needed protecting from was them.” 

I admire the protesters for having the courage to not be cowed by obvious fear and intimidation tactics.

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It’s hard for me to believe anyone actually thinks Denver socialists are coming to blow up Cheyenne, yet the tone of the email I received is dead serious.

There’s enough violence on the streets of America; no one has to make it up, or wait for it to happen so they can live out their action-movie-hero fantasy. It’s time for a reality check in Wyoming, before anyone gets hurt or killed.

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