HIGHLANDS RANCH — It began with one guy in a cowboy hat holding an American flag in one hand and a Joe Biden flag in the other.
It was the Fourth of July, and thanks to coronavirus, Bob Marshall’s other plans were canceled, which is how he ended up at the intersection of Broadway and Highlands Ranch Parkway, walking in a square for almost five hours. Each time he reached a corner, he pushed the crosswalk button for another walk signal.
The white-haired, retired Marine was encouraged by the honks from passersby and occasional thumbs up sticking out of car windows. Some of the drivers in this conservative suburb gave him surprised looks. A few shouted F-bombs, screamed “Donald Trump!” or yelled that he was a socialist.
Marshall, a former Republican who said he left the party because of President Donald Trump, started walking the intersection after the president railed against liberalism and “violent mayhem” in a speech at Mount Rushmore. Marshall wasn’t shocked that his Biden flag drove people to yell obscenities out their windows, but he didn’t expect what came next.
Within weeks, the intersection near the community library, a farmers market and three churches would become a near-daily, in-your-face reminder of the bitter politics separating neighbors in 2020. Then came a literal brawl, a fistfight that would end with five people, including Marshall, cited for disorderly conduct.
After that first one-man rally, the man now known as “Cowboy Biden” kept coming back to the intersection, during evening rush hour on weekdays and on some weekend afternoons. Sometimes he went to other intersections, but this was the closest major intersection to his house.
Marshall hadn’t planned to walk again after that first day. But as he was leaving, two older women ran up to him, almost in tears, he said. “They said, ‘Oh thank God, we thought we were alone here in Highlands Ranch. You don’t know how happy you made us.’”
“I’ll run you over”
He went back out a couple days later, and a day or two after that.
Soon, a second guy was walking behind him. The man pulled over when he spotted Marshall, and hopped out with a homemade Sharpie-and-cardboard sign that said, “I’m here to support this guy.”
As the coronavirus summer wore on, more Joe Biden supporters gathered at the intersection. While Marshall walked, they waved flags on the corner in front of a Safeway. Trump supporters started coming too, setting up on an opposite corner, in front of a Walgreens.
For a few weeks in September, as the crowds grew larger, the intersection was a ruckus of honking, yelling and disruption as drivers slowed to shout back or hand over gifts, including Trump hats and stickers. Someone stuck their head out of a sunroof and shouted “F… Donald Trump!” with a megaphone. A carload of teenagers shouted “Donald Trump sucks!” and then drove around the block to do it again.
The Biden corner grew to include Black Lives Matter protesters. The Trump side came with Blue Lives Matter flags. One side wore face masks. The other did not.
Sheriff’s deputies were called a handful of times. Once, when Marshall walked to a nearby intersection instead, a man and his two sons followed him through the crosswalks, running past him and covering the signal buttons with their bodies. Someone saw them shouting in each other’s faces and called authorities.
Another time, a man in a pickup truck rolled down his window and told Marshall, “Step in front of my truck and I’ll run you over.” It was one of four times that Marshall says he was nearly hit by a car at Broadway and Highlands Ranch and had to leap out of the way.
As dusk fell one late-summer night, a sheriff’s deputy parked his patrol car on the side of Broadway facing the crowd, just watching.
The next night, Sept. 10, the intersection was illuminated in flashing red and blue after fistfights broke out between members of each group. Multiple patrol cars from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office lined the streets and deputies charged five people with disorderly conduct just after 7:30 p.m.
Details of how it all went down are sparse. A flagpole holding an American flag was broken. An uninvited protester showed up with a Confederate flag and wasn’t welcomed by either corner.
Kellee Fertig, a Trump supporter who was cited after the fistfight, told The Colorado Sun, “They are the ones who jumped us. Stupid erratic liberals. Like always.” But she refused to explain further, as did Trump supporter Destiny Washington, who also was cited with disorderly conduct.
Washington declined an interview but in a text message said that she has been threatened over social media and involved in multiple arguments while rallying for the president.
“When we are out supporting our president we get name-called,” she said. “I’ve had several altercations with people. We have Mexican Americans, mixed races, moms, dads, people who care and work hard.”
Cowboy Biden, who continues to walk the intersection even after the melee, didn’t want to talk about it either, though he alleged that he wasn’t treated fairly by the officers and said the case could end up in court.
Even the sheriff’s department refused to release its report on the incident, citing an “ongoing investigation.” Deputy Lauren Childress said no weapons were involved, just hands and fists, and there were two fights — one involving four people and one involving two people. The sixth person was a juvenile and was not charged.
“This is our corner”
The brawl put a damper on the political honking match for a couple of weeks, though Marshall still showed up regularly in his cowboy hat and American flag shirt. A handful of Trump supporters occasionally appeared on the grassy patch in front of Walgreens.
But as the Nov. 3 election nears, the intersection is filling up again.
Lisa Vargo, who had never before done any political campaigning, put out the word to fellow Trump supporters on Facebook, inviting them to the Walgreens corner every Tuesday evening until Election Day. Four people joined her the first week. The next week it was more than 10, including a few high school boys.
This week, as she stood at the intersection smiling at people cheering from their car windows, her glittery American flag earrings sparkled in the sun.
“I just felt the need to go out and show people that there are Trump supporters in this culture of ‘you can’t admit it,’” she said. “The culture has us so silenced being a conservative. You hesitate to put a sticker on your car because it’s going to get vandalized. You hesitate to put a sign in your yard. If you walk around Highlands Ranch you see more Biden signs than Trump signs but I know there are more Trump supporters.”
So for Vargo, standing at the intersection feels like validation — people might not put up a Trump sign in front of their house but they will honk as they drive by.
“It ranges from ‘Four more years!’ to yucky language,” she said, holding a “Honk for Trump” sign and a giant Trump flag. “We got the p-word last time. And a lot of f-words. But we get a lot more honks.”
The group was buoyed by a driver who handed them four Trump hats while she was stopped at the light. A man parked and asked to get a picture taken with the group. And a woman pulled over to give them a sign in support of Proposition 115, a state ballot initiative that would ban abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy.
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“This is our corner. We’re not giving it up,” said Jamie Hothem, another Highlands Ranch resident who saw Vargo’s Facebook post and joined the Tuesday night rallies. Trump is the first president she’s ever campaigned for, she said, because she appreciates his straight talk. “He’s honest. He’s real.”
A week and a half earlier, on the opposite corner, Diane Shannon also used Facebook to put together a Saturday afternoon Biden rally. She didn’t know Cowboy Biden, but she’d heard about him out there, walking alone.
“I’ve never seen the country the way it is now,” Shannon said. “There is just so much division, it’s awful. We need new leadership. I think we need a president who cares about people.”
As the group, mostly women and wearing masks, displayed signs honoring the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and in support of Biden and vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, the Saturday traffic erupted into beeps and hollering.
“That’s socialism!” shouted a man stopped at the light.
“Joe Biden is not a socialist! He’s a moderate!” a supporter shouted back. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Both sides say the number of honks they get is picking up the closer it gets to Nov. 3.
“It’s not scientific, but this is a huge difference from two months ago,” said Marshall, as blaring beeps drowned out his voice. He wore the straw hat that first day to keep the sun out of his eyes and now wears it every time because it became his “thing.”
Hat on his head, Marshall said he liked walking the intersection as Cowboy Biden more when the groups were smaller. He even befriended some of the original Trump supporters who arrived in July. A man who helped organize the Republican side of the street told Marshall he dug out his Trump flag and came outside because he was “inspired” by Cowboy Biden, out there walking in a square path, alone.
“I was trying to demoralize you,” Marshall told him, jokingly, “not inspire you.”