A year ago, I was having lunch with 5280 senior editor Natasha Gardner and Eli Stokols, the political reporter for KDVR Fox31, when Stokols told us about a nonprofit organization that was exerting outsized influence in state politics. Its founder was a Second Amendment absolutist, a saboteur who wanted not only to take down Democrats, but was also more than happy to target Republicans who didn’t hew to his rigid definition of conservatism. His name: Dudley Brown.
Brown is the executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which bills itself as “Colorado’s only no-compromise gun rights organization,” and the executive vice president of the National Association for Gun Rights. And, as it turns out, he may be the Colorado poster boy for the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations and special interest groups to pump unlimited funds into elections. You may not have heard Brown’s name, but chances are you’ve seen his handiwork, which Stokols details in “Dudley Brown’s War” (page 92).
What’s surprising about Brown’s campaign shenanigans—which at best fudge facts and at worst trade in deceit and outright lies—is that they don’t appear to be in the service of actually winning general elections (although he’s supported a host of GOP primary winners). His mission, on its face, is more about purity of philosophy. In Brown’s world, compromise is a fundamental sign of weakness, and so the political horse-trading that is a necessary precursor to actually passing legislation is not part of Brown’s calculus. Instead, his groups support candidates who unequivocally oppose any form of gun control and who, ideally, oppose gay rights and other left-leaning ideals. As the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners website says, “Rather than blindly pursuing public opinion, RMGO uses a well-developed, comprehensive, no-compromise strategy for victory.”
That kind of marketing copy may be more than a bit of hyperbole. Indeed, Stokols paints a vivid portrait of the myriad general election defeats Brown’s candidates have faced as the far-right, no-compromise strategy has backfired. More important, earlier this year the state Legislature passed multiple gun control bills that are among the strongest in the nation, which means RMGO’s claims of “victory” don’t exactly square with reality.
So, you may ask: If Brown’s candidates aren’t winning general elections and shaping policy, what is it exactly that he wants to accomplish? The answer, as Stokols reports, is both convoluted and stunningly clear once it’s revealed. In the end, what should be worrisome to Colorado voters isn’t whether Brown’s extreme platform will succeed on a wide scale, but rather the notion that his brand of politics may become our new reality—if it hasn’t already.