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January 31, 2011

Colorado's Criminal Betrayer

In the wake of the tragic shooting in Tucson, the National Rifle Association (NRA) continues to claim that those who carry concealed handguns in our communities are among most responsible and law-abiding Americans to be found. A recent story from Colorado, however, illustrates the disturbing actions of a high-profile permit holder who has shown little respect for his peers, his community, the philosophy of nonviolence, and the law.

Brett Reese, a Greeley-Evans School District 6 Board of Education member and owner of KELS Radio, has been in the media spotlight—both in Colorado and nationally—since the beginning of 2011. The attention he has been receiving, however, has not made for a positive start to his New Year.

On his radio program, “Pirate Radio,” Reese ran a segment at least twice per day from early January until Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 17. In the segment, Reese read comments on air about Dr. King from an “anonymous letter” he received three years ago. Reese called King a “plastic god,” a “sexual degenerate,” and an “America hating communist” and said that he was “a criminal betrayer of even the interest of his own people.” Internet browsers soon found the “anonymous letter” that Reese was reading from on the website martinlutherking.org, which is hosted by the white supremacist/neo-Nazi Internet forum Stormfront. When Reese was confronted about the fact that martinlutherking.org was designed by a white supremacist who pled guilty to a count of possessing child pornography in 2008, he stated, “I’m trying to explain the truth. Facts are facts, and truth is truth, whether it came from a white supremacist website or a Black Panther website.”

Meanwhile, Reese’s behavior took an even more bizarre turn on January 12. At a Greeley-Evans School District 6 board meeting, Reese told his fellow board members that he needed to carry his .45 caliber Kimber handgun on him at all times to protect himself because of “serious” threats he received over his continued radio broadcasts attacking the moral character and legacy of Dr. King. When asked if he would comply with a policy that prevents board members from carrying loaded handguns to the board’s meetings, Reese replied, “No, I won’t. I will protect myself.” The other board members were unanimous in their view that there were alternate steps that could be taken to ensure Reese’s well-being. The board then voted to hold future meetings at local schools. Colorado law specifically prohibits the carrying of firearms in elementary, middle, and high school buildings.

Reese’s odd behavior during the meeting was captured by the Greeley Tribute: “Reese was fidgety and nervous throughout the meeting, constantly checking the door. Before the meeting started, he questioned whether people were watching the entrances to the school. John Gates, director of safety and security for the district, told Reese that the only door open was the front door and anyone coming into the meeting room could only come through a door Gates was watching.”

But Reese wasn’t done yet. On January 21, Justin Sasso, a rival radio station owner, was granted a permanent restraining order against Reese. The order was issued in response to threatening voicemails that Reese left Sasso, in which he complained about sales representatives from Sasso’s KFKA contacting advertisers on KELS. Reese threatened a “shootout” to resolve the matter.

Sasso was asked if he would have taken the threat seriously if Reese wasn’t surrounded in controversy. “I couldn’t say if I would or would not have,” Sasso said. “ But we just came off the [shooting in Arizona of a United States Congresswoman], so to threaten a shootout not once, but twice, and never retract it or define it ... It immediately instilled fear in me.”

Under state law, anyone with an active restraining order is prohibited from carrying a concealed weapon in Colorado. Reese’s concealed handgun permit was initially suspended and then permanently revoked on January 21. The judge who revoked the permit, Charles S. Unfug, decided, “Shootout is a loaded word ... When someone says there will be a shootout, it is an implied threat of violence. There is going to be ongoing competition between the two men. I believe [Reese] would continue to commit acts unless restrained.”

Weld Sheriff's Deputy Bureau Chief Steve Reams has informed Reese that he can still continue to carry his loaded handgun in public, but only if he carries it openly. Reese has now changed his tune, however, saying that he will not carry his gun at all without a permit.

If the NRA and other gun rights advocates would have us believe that concealed handgun permit holders are well-vetted and among the most responsible gun owners in America, how do they explain the moral turpitude of Brett Reese?