Lauren Boebert blasted into Colorado politics at an Aurora rally with an in-your-face microphone moment and a gun.
She emerged from the crowd at a rally for then presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke of Texas and grabbed the mic to shout, “Hell no, you’re not!” in response to O’Rourke’s pledge to take away assault-style weapons.
That shout from an armed, brash, 5-foot-tall woman in sparkly high heels, tight jeans and a holstered Glock would catch the attention of conservative Republicans and electrify the far-right. It would help launch a newbie political candidate with enough momentum to take down a five-term congressman — something that hadn’t happened in a Colorado primary in 48 years.
But behind Boebert’s meteoric rise — before she became known for owning Shooters Grill, before she went viral, before she entered President Donald Trump’s orbit — is a past neither she nor her campaign is willing to discuss. It’s a history that includes run-ins with the law, an eviction and a failed restaurant venture.
Boebert came on like a western Colorado version of Sarah Palin with her folksy talk about being a mom and her fealty to God and guns. The 33-year-old already knew how to handle a spotlight after opening Shooters Grill, a much-hyped restaurant in Rifle where the staff pack heat.
To move on from gun schtick to politics, Boebert had ditched her dyed-blonde and flannel-shirt persona and adopted Palin-style glasses and long, dark hair. Like Palin, she honed a steady stream of crowd-pleasing, quick-draw insults aimed at anyone who didn’t share her ultraconservative views. Those who did ate it up.
“We’ve never seen a candidate like Lauren — ever,” enthused Edward Wilks, a Rifle gun shop owner, former cop and member of the far-right, anti-government Oath Keepers group. Wilks is so high on Boebert that he is predicting she has what it takes for a shooting-star rise in politics — one that could propel her to the vice-presidency in four years and the presidency in eight.
“She would have the backing of all of America if she chose to do it,” Wilks said.
Shaping herself as a disruptor
Boebert climbed to that level of right-wing adulation with a carefully curated story of being a welfare child, an ardent Christian and a successful businesswoman; a petite woman who wears a gun for protection, not as a prop; and a fierce patriot who views herself, like her presidential idol, as a disruptor first and foremost.
She went on from her rabble-rousing O’Rourke moment — a moment she keeps front and center on her campaign website — with more splashes in the news even before she announced her candidacy. Rather than taking the usual political incremental step of running for state office, Boebert targeted Colorado’s expansive 3rd Congressional District that scoops up 29 counties from the western border of the state to encompass Steamboat Springs on the north and Pueblo on the south.
A week after the O’Rourke rally, Boebert turned up at an Aspen City Council meeting to heatedly object to a proposal to ban the carrying of guns in city-owned buildings. In the liberal enclave of Aspen, she wore a T-shirt with an assault rifle depicted on the front.
She next used her restaurant as a backdrop for petition-signing to recall Gov. Jared Polis. She was on the Capitol steps in Denver when those petitions — short of the number needed to force a recall vote — were delivered.
Then it was back to the Capitol in December for a We Shall Not Comply rally. She lined up at that rally and posed with armed 111% United Patriots and Three Percenters — groups that have been designated extremist hate entities by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
That same weekend she showed that she had already earned some more mainstream political chops by attending U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s Christmas party at the Brown Palace where she mingled with donors and Colorado’s Republican faithful.
In January, on Martin Luther King Day, she turned up at a Richmond, Virginia, rally in opposition to gun safety legislation alongside extremist and white supremacist groups who had been at the Colorado rally.
She began vowing to stand up to “the Democrats who hate our country.” As soon as she announced her candidacy to challenge U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, she attacked him on similar grounds. She called Tipton, a mild-mannered businessman from Cortez with a career in Republican Party politics, “an honorary member of The Squad,” referring to New York Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other female progressive Democratic members of Congress.
The suggestion of Squad-ties was dubious. Tipton was a Trump-backed conservative — in fact, he was named the honorary co-chair of the president’s reelection effort in Colorado. He was not known for breaking party ranks, let alone siding with the most liberal members of Congress. But Boebert persisted, promising that Trump would come around to her side (he did after the primary) and that voters would opt for her style of politics — heavy on brazenness, light on policy.
Boebert expressed enthusiasm for the fringe movement QAnon, a wide-ranging conspiracy theory that started on the notorious internet forum 4chan and has recently pushed the idea that the pandemic is part of a government plot to control the public.
Boebert has distanced herself from some of the more extreme QAnon notions, including the idea that anyone opposing Trump are Satan-worshipping, blood-drinking pedophiles. But she has embraced the idea that there is a deep-state anti-Trump network. She has not weighed in directly on other QAnon mythology, including lies that mass shootings in America have been “false flag” operations to help the pedophilia cabal steal children.
Boebert’s extremist views and #ILoveTrump hashtags landed her on the president’s radar. The president’s reelection campaign invited Boebert to his July Fourth appearance at Mount Rushmore, where she was seated next to Trump’s former press secretary Sarah Sanders, and where she and Trump had a few moments to chat about guns. Trump called Boebert to the White House Rose Garden for his Republican National Convention renomination acceptance speech.
Most recently, he tweeted his support for Boebert, writing that she has his “Complete and Total Endorsement!” and calling her “a tremendous fighter for the people of Colorado!”
Experienced GOP political operatives now direct Boebert’s congressional campaign for Colorado’s 3rd District against Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, a former state lawmaker, so there has been less talk of QAnon. Some of Boebert’s rougher edges have been sanded down. She now often appears in stylish clothing and pearls. Her Glock isn’t always on display and neither is her readiness for off-the-cuff comments.
What does it mean to be “for Colorado” and “for America?”
To whom she speaks and what she speaks about are tightly controlled. She recently pulled out of a planned Club 20 debate in Grand Junction because the civic organization wouldn’t allow her to see the questions prior to the event and to record her answers rather than answering live. Boebert’s demand for a recorded interview came after Mitsch Bush had refused to participate in the traditional election-season debate in Grand Junction.
There are no debates on tap for the two candidates. Mitsch Bush’s campaign manager Ashley Quenneville said, since the Club 20 debate was scrapped, the Democrat’s campaign has been pressing Boebert for a debate in other venues. Boebert has not agreed to any dates. Boebert’s communications director Laura Carno would not respond to questions about that. Both sides blame the other for that lack of a traditional public forum.
What Boebert is against has been well publicized in her stump speeches and tweets: gun control, abortion, sex education, the U.S. Department of Education, vaccinations, Obamacare, masks, the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus restrictions and “lunatic, left-wing liberals.”
Details about what she is for have not been as evident. Her campaign signs encapsulate what she stands for as “Freedom.” Her campaign website “Contract with Colorado” lists these goals: support for the Constitution, strong borders, energy independence and less government. She has also stated on the campaign trail that she backs health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions. More nebulously, she invariably repeats that she is “for Colorado” and “for America.” She vows to “take back Colorado.” She doesn’t elaborate on what that means.
There is no explanation of how Boebert would legislate these concepts. How Boebert would handle issues important to voters in her district, such as land use and water rights, has also not been part of her campaign-appearance repertoire.
This summer, Boebert cryptically tweeted, without explanation, “I am the militia.” She has stated that arming oneself is “a protection against a tyrannical government.”
“And so, I don’t see that we would ever have to use our Second Amendment rights against our government, but that is what it’s for,” she elaborated in an interview with RealVail.com. “It’s not for target shooting or for sport.”
Boebert’s tap dancing around her beliefs related to QAnon has made her the subject of national news stories. In a statement that has been widely reported and seized on by her opponent, Boebert said “that is more my mom’s thing,” when Steel Truth talk show host Ann Vandersteel asked her opinion of QAnon.
“Honestly, everything I hear of Q, I hope that this is real, because it only means that America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values, and that is what I am for,” Boebert added. “And so, everything I have heard of this movement is only motivating and encouraging and bringing people together, stronger, and if this is real, then it would be really great for our country.”
Tipton won more counties but got fewer votes
“It’s overwhelming. She has a lot of extreme positions,” said Quenneville, Mitsch Bush’s campaign manager. “And she has said misleading and false things about Diane.”
Boebert has called Mitsch Bush “a radical leftist” even though Mitsch Bush was more widely known as an unflashy pragmatist when she served in the Colorado House.
In the primary, Boebert’s extreme views didn’t ruffle the majority of Republican voters.
Tipton won 18 counties to Boebert’s 11. But she beat him by 9 points overall, winning the district by 9,873 votes — 8,494 of which were cast in Mesa County, where 64% of people casting a primary ballot choose her over the incumbent.
In Alamosa County, where Tipton was believed to have solid backing going into the primary, he won by only 224 votes.
There is full-throated support for Boebert there now.
“I’m impressed with Lauren, with her willingness to get out there and say what she believes and stand up for it,” said Terry Hammond, chairwoman of the Alamosa County GOP.
“It is different,” Hammond admitted. “I think people of the 3rd CD just wanted different.”
Boebert’s home county didn’t enthusiastically embrace her in the primary and she squeaked by with only a 120-vote margin. She now has grudging acceptance by the Garfield County GOP base that wasn’t in her camp in the primary.
“I didn’t know Lauren very well at all. But I guess she has a certain appeal to a certain kind of conservative,” said Darren Smith, chairman of the Garfield County Republican Party. “She is definitely not what we are used to, but maybe that is the face of politics moving forward.”
Tipton, who did little campaigning against Boebert, did not reply to a request for comment on his loss or on his opponent’s rise that had some of his supporters, including Trump, switching allegiance with head-spinning speed following the primary.
Minimum wage McDonald’s job taught her a paycheck is power
The woman who carried off this upset was born Lauren Opal Roberts in Altamonte Springs, Florida, on Dec. 15 or 19, 1986. (Police reports list two dates.) Her Wikipedia biographical information shows that when she was 12, her family moved to the Montbello neighborhood in Denver and then to Aurora.
Boebert has been ignoring her Florida roots in her campaign telling of her life story. She has said she grew up in Denver, the daughter of a poor mother who would send her to the grocery store with food stamps — a mission she has called humiliating. She has said the family was on government assistance because her parents were Democrats at the time and believed the party’s “lies” that they needed government aid to survive.
She moved to Rifle in 2003, and a graduation roster for Rifle High School shows Lauren Roberts graduated there the following year. She met Jayson Boebert, the oilfield worker who would become her husband. Several years later she became a born-again Christian. The couple now has four sons.
Neither Boebert nor Carno would respond to questions about missing and conflicting details of Boebert’s biography.
Boebert has glossed over any mention of a father. She has not explained why she has two birth dates in official records. She has not responded to questions about what the “multiracial” background is that she has listed on official forms. She has touted her business success but has not mentioned her brief, unsuccessful turn at running a golf club restaurant in Rifle. She has not included in her bootstraps biography the fact that she was evicted from her Rifle home in 2010 before a foreclosure. And there has been no mention of her failure to vote in at least four primary elections prior to this year’s primary.
Boebert was reached for comment on her cell phone number, which was included in a police report. But she said she was just going into a meeting and would have to speak to her campaign manager. She never responded again and neither did anyone from her campaign. Other journalists have reported similar interactions. When Boebert was reached on her cell phone recently by a reporter for the Aspen Times, she said she was just stepping into a meeting and hung up.
What Boebert does often relate in stump speeches and ads is that she was 15 when she took a job at McDonald’s for minimum wage. She said that is when she realized that a paycheck meant power and that relying on the government for financial help was wrong.
Boebert’s mother, Shawn Bentz, who currently works at Shooters, did not return calls asking for information about the family’s history, about her shift from relying on welfare to decrying government support, or about her purported political switch from Democrat to QAnon follower.
Boebert’s mother appears to be a strong presence in Boebert’s life. Boebert often mentions her in political ads. On Facebook, she recently posted a photo of her mother hitting a bull’s-eye with a pistol and brags, “My mom is cooler than yours.”
On her own Facebook page, Bentz’s intro statement is offered without explanation: “I been doing it since I was a young kid and I come out Redneck!” She has posted conspiracy theories and memes from QAnon. Lately, those are overshadowed by boosterism for her daughter’s candidacy.
Music festival, Miranda rights, rolled pickup truck
Boebert’s criminal history had been whispered about early in her primary race, but no details would come out until after the election.
She touts herself as a “law-and-order” candidate. But Boebert’s record shows she has a history of minor violations that involve acting out in public and then thumbing her nose at the courts.
Boebert’s problems with the law began in 2010 when her pit bulls were allegedly running loose and threatening a neighbor’s dogs. In a case first reported by The Denver Post, she was issued a ticket for dog code violations. The neighbor then accused her of harassment, including flipping off the neighbor’s husband. Deputies gave Boebert a court summons, but the matter was dismissed before a hearing was held.
Boebert’s first arrest, initially reported by Colorado Newsline, came in the summer of 2015 when she allegedly created a disturbance at Country Jam, a music festival in Mesa County. According to the incident report from Mesa County deputies, Boebert was yelling at juveniles who were under arrest for underage drinking at the festival. The report described her running into the sheriff’s command post and yelling to the juveniles that they were being detained illegally because they hadn’t been read their Miranda rights. That was wrong. Those rights must be read when suspects are being questioned — not when they are simply being detained.
A deputy wrote that Boebert was warned to leave the premises but continued to yell and caused the juveniles to become unruly. One deputy physically pushed her from the premises. When she was told she was going to be escorted from the festival, the report said, she attempted to run from deputies. At that point she was handcuffed and placed under arrest for disorderly conduct.
During her arrest, she yelled that she had friends at Fox News and that her “illegal” arrest would make national news. After her mother attempted to calm her and she was released with a summons, she warned that Fox News would be contacting the deputies, the arrest report stated.
Mesa County Court records show she subsequently failed to appear in court on two separate summonses. A warrant was issued for her arrest for failure to appear. Court records show she subsequently showed up at the Mesa County Detention facility for what is called a “quick book.” She was fingerprinted and paid a bond without being placed in a cell. The case was dismissed six months after the incident because, the minute orders show, “there was no likelihood of conviction at trial.”
“That is not out of the ordinary,” said 21st Judicial District Attorney Dan Rubinstein, who reviewed the case. He had not yet taken office when she was arrested and was not personally involved in the disposition.
Boebert’s next arrest, first reported by the Colorado Times Recorder, occurred in Garfield County in the summer of 2016. She was driving to her home around midnight on a Friday when she rolled her truck into a ditch. She was cited for careless driving and unsafe driving. She didn’t show up for a court hearing on the matter, and once again a warrant was issued for her arrest. Boebert didn’t respond to the letter advising her of the warrant. She was arrested by the Colorado State Patrol four months later on Feb. 13, 2017. She was fingerprinted, had a mug shot taken, was placed in a jail cell for less than two hours and fined $100. She appeared in court the following month where the matter was settled in a plea bargain. Boebert pleaded guilty to an unsafe vehicle charge, and the careless driving charge was dropped.
It was the same jail where she highlights in the political ads the fact that she spent several years counseling female inmates.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, whose photo and endorsement appear on Boebert’s campaign website, said she was one of around 90 volunteers at the jail between 2014 to 2016. He said he supports her wholeheartedly, despite her criminal record.
“People are allowed to change and to grow up — whatever,” Vallario said of Boebert.
He likened Boebert to the late congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, who was arrested more than 40 times during his life-long fight for civil rights.
Vallario returned to his John Lewis comparison a minute later, walking back his initial statement. “I certainly don’t compare her to John Lewis,” he said, “but she is certainly defiant about some things.”
Boebert had other legal skirmishes in the summer of 2017. The Garfield County Health Department blamed her restaurant for sickening at least 80 people at the annual Garfield County Rodeo. Health department records show she had failed to obtain a license to serve food at the event and that “improper food safety practices” likely led to the poisonings from pork sliders she had served. The health department investigated after receiving a rash of calls the morning after the rodeo from those suffering severe diarrhea.
On Twitter, angry critics called Boebert “Miss Poison Pork Sliders.”
Boebert wrote an opinion column in the Glenwood Springs Independent denying she had anything to do with the food poisoning and claiming that only two people got sick.
This year, Boebert opened her restaurant in defiance of Gov. Polis’ mid-March order for restaurants to shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Boebert opened the doors to Shooters customers at half capacity on May 9, the day before the C&C Coffee and Kitchen in Castle Rock made headlines for a packed Mother’s Day crowd in defiance of state shut-down orders.
Shooters continued to operate until May 15, when Boebert’s license was suspended after she ignored a restraining order issued two days earlier. During the shutdown, armed friends of Boebert’s appeared for a demonstration in front of Shooters. She posed with two masked men in paramilitary gear, with assault weapons at the ready.
The case against Shooters was dismissed in late May when statewide regulations were revised to allow half-capacity dining in Colorado restaurants.
Most recently, Boebert defied coronavirus restrictions at a political gathering in Aspen. Her campaign had agreed in writing to follow Pitkin County regulations, which included the wearing of masks and social distancing. A video taken by an attendee showed the restrictions were mostly ignored.
“This is really, really important to people,” said Quenneville, the campaign manager for Mitsch Bush. “What you have seen so far is troubling. There is a repeated pattern. … She doesn’t think the rules apply to her.”
Boebert’s defiant background is viewed as a plus by some in the GOP.
U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a Windsor Republican and chairman of the Colorado GOP, said in an interview: “I don’t know anybody that has lived the kind of life that Lauren has lived that has prepared her for the United States (Congress). You’re talking about a woman who grew up in a family on welfare. Who, through hard work, has really raised herself up. And she knows the value of government programs and she knows when government programs can be counterproductive. I think Lauren is just a super candidate.”
Shooters’ origin story isn’t exactly true
Boebert may not have risen to political prominence without Shooters Grill.
But there is some truth-bending in how Shooters became an armed food emporium. In a story Boebert has made an integral part of her personal lore in speeches and interviews, she has often repeated that she decided to arm herself and her waitresses because she feared for everyone’s safety after a man was “murdered” in the alley behind her new restaurant.
“There was a violent altercation in our back alley where a man was physically beaten to death and it immediately prompted the question, ‘How will I defend my people?’ So, I began to carry that day,” Boebert told the Durango Herald last year.
The Rifle Police Department has no record of such a murder. A man did die on the sidewalk down the street from Shooters in the early morning of Aug. 22, 2013. Initially, it was investigated as a possible homicide, but an autopsy determined the man died from a drug overdose.
The media and Second Amendment advocates would take Boebert’s story at face value. Boebert and her waitresses were in the news around the world for taking orders for biscuits and gravy and “ballistic chicken” with loaded pistols to protect themselves from lawlessness on the streets.
Boebert enjoyed a steady stream of attention from Fox News, CNN, Nightline, USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Business Insider and the London Daily Mail, among others. Shooters was depicted as sort of a Hooters with guns. When photographers came calling, the waitresses and Boebert would line up in their tight jeans and T-shirts with hands on cocked hips and guns on display.
The Food Network asked her to do a reality show — a request she turned down. She was urged to turn Shooters into a franchise so there could be gun ‘n’ grub restaurants across the country — an idea she said she was considering.
Jimmy Kimmel joked about her on his late-night show with the soon-to-become-viral question: “How much do you tip an armed waitress? It’s 300%, right?”
Shooters was quiet on a recent afternoon after lunch. A waitress — without a visible sidearm — said, “Lauren is never here anymore. She is very busy.”
The empty storefront next to Shooters is plastered with Boebert campaign signs. In her restaurant, the original theme of “God, guns and good food” changed to “God, guns and Trump” sometime in the past year.
The new slogan is much in evidence. A cardboard image of Trump is propped up at the entrance. Signs on the wall that are available for sale carry dire warnings: “Prayer is the best way to meet the Lord. Trespassing is faster,” and “Warning: due to a price increase in ammo, do not expect a warning shot.” Shooters Grill website now features pro-gun paraphernalia ahead of any menu items.
While some customers are reportedly going away disappointed that they see Boebert’s mother running the restaurant rather than the candidate, Boebert has been busy.
In the only statement she would make in response to Colorado Sun inquiries, Carno said Boebert is involved in “wall-to-wall meetings.”
Like other candidates, Boebert has campaigned in a supportive cocoon. She has popped up at a barbecue in DeBeque, a picnic in Cortez, a high-end private gathering in Aspen, a Trump rally in Pueblo, a resort stop in Almont, ranch gatherings in Ridgway and Hotchkiss, and a “Freedom” rally in a Grand Junction park. Her schedule is not published on her website, so following her travels is mainly done by word-of-mouth among the GOP faithful. Her campaign Facebook page lists no upcoming events, but it showcases her past appearances.
Mitsch Bush, by contrast, is campaigning through online events with the aid of more than 600 volunteers who have signed up to help. Boebert has echoed Trump’s criticism of his Democratic opponent Joe Biden by referring to Mitsch Bush as “basement Bush.”
Some Democrats have suggested that the 3rd District could now be in play for the party because Boebert is the Republican nominee. The sprawling district still leans toward the GOP in voter registration and went solidly for Trump in 2016.
Mitsch Bush lost to Tipton in 2018, a campaign during which she was the only Democrat on the statewide ballot to lose in Pueblo County, traditionally a key to winning the district. Mitsch Bush launched her 2020 campaign saying she’d learned from her mistakes and knew how to beat Tipton this time around, assuming that’s who she’d be facing.
And while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has highlighted the race as a pick-up opportunity, it hasn’t invested significant money to back up claims that it’s winnable.
The district is so difficult for Democrats that other high-profile politicians who considered running for Tipton’s seat this year took a pass.
A sign that Democrats may have a path to victory: An internal poll by Mitsch Bush’s campaign showed her leading Boebert by 1 percentage point.
As she fights to close that margin, Boebert continues to take her campaign message to friendly forums. She has the ear of a cadre of right-wing TV and radio hosts, including radio provocateur Glenn Beck and Fox News commentator and Trump adviser Sean Hannity. Mitsch Bush, who does not own even a single gun, has not drawn that kind of a national spotlight.
As the rocket ride of a race rumbles on with its flashpoints of guns, QAnon and charges of “lunacy,” the campaign may turn on whether Boebert’s conservative charisma can overwhelm any concern raised by a patchy résumé and a dearth of detail on issues important to the 3rd District.
It is left to the party faithful to decide if Boebert’s gun and insult-slinging persona can trigger the kind of enthusiasm that will carry a novel, first-time candidate to Congress.
Colorado Sun correspondents Sandra Fish and Sue McMillin contributed reporting, as did staff writer Jesse Paul.
CORRECTION: This story was updated Sept. 14, 2020, at 11:57 a.m. to clarify where in the 3rd Congressional District candidate Lauren Boebert performed best during the primary.