From Congress to Aurora mayoral hopefuls, politicians weigh in in GEO protest flag vandalism

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This story has been updated to include statements from candidates Omar Montgomery and Marsha Berzins, whose Facebook post was inadvertently missed upon original publishing. We regret the error.

AURORA | The U.S. flag is again flying above the Aurora immigration detention center owned and operated by GEO Group Inc., but politicos, pundits and social media are still buzzing about the events that brought on the flag desecration and following police investigation.

At the demonstration organized by Lights for Liberty, the U.S. and Colorado flags and a GEO Group banner were removed outside of the facility, in their places appeared a Mexican flag, a “Thin Blue Line” police hero banner that had disparaging anti-cop graffiti, and a flag that condemned police officers.

Within the last week several council members, Gov. Jared Polis and Aurora Congressman Jason Crow have blasted the protestors.

“I condemn the desecration of the American flag. I fought to defend our flag and the values it represents. To deny the dignity and decency of people in detention is an affront to those values,” Crow said in a statement. “I support the peaceful protesters who were there to raise awareness of conditions at immigration detention centers and thank the Aurora police for their professionalism at the event.”

Crow himself wasn’t at the demonstration, but a speech was given on his behalf.

Some went further in calling out the protestors who trespassed and pulled the flags down, burned and replaced them.

Aurora councilman Dave Gruber charged three fellow council members — Allison Hiltz, Nicole Johnston and Crystal Murillo — with helping organize and lead the march in front of the facility. They had also denounced the flag desecration, but said they would continue to stand up to conditions in the Aurora detention center.

The trio called on Gruber for an apology.

Mayoral candidate Ryan Frazier took to Fox News to denounce the acts, which he described as “terrorist-related” and put the public’s safety at risk.

Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz didn’t order his police officers to intervene in the protest, saying he didn’t see a need to deploy them.

“Our folks were more than ready to decisively engage had we witnessed assaultive behavior or damage to the building or surrounding property that could jeopardize its security or public safety,” Metz said in a Facebook post following the protest.

Frazier, a former Aurora City Council member and candidate for U.S. Senator, said the topic of the protestors isn’t one that’s partisan, but one of acknowledging right and wrong. Frazier wrote in a Denver Post op-ed earlier this year he is no longer affiliated with the Republican Party.

“So many Americans are tired of politics today because they continue to get more of the same where we see things that happen in our cities and in our states and our country and people are afraid to step forward and say this is wrong,” he said on Carlson Tonight earlier this week. “We are better than that.”

Fellow mayoral candidate Mike Coffman, a former Republican congressman who represented Aurora, also condemned the acts shortly after the protest.

“A small group, from the large demonstration at the Aurora ICE detention facility last Friday, showed a total disrespect toward our country and our state by taking down the American and Colorado flags and putting up a desecrated American flag and a Mexican flag.  This was a criminal trespass that should not be confused with free speech,” Coffman said in a statement on Monday.

A following tweet precluded an observation that the vandalism wasn’t associated with the larger protest.

Candidate Omar Montgomery, the local NAACP president, was at the demonstration, but said he left the event before protestors pulled the flags down.

“I’m outraged at the disrespect of the American Flag. I’m equally outraged at the conditions of the people being held in the detention centers by the federal government,” Montgomery said. “I hope the message of the demonstrators is not overshadowed by the decisions of individuals whose mission was counter-intuitive to the peaceful protest. And I am thankful for the Aurora police and Chief Metz who were there and ensured all were safe.”

Candidates Marsha Berzins said on Facebook the following day she was “deeply disturbed and alarmed by this story about desecration of the American flag at the ICE facility in Aurora.” She went on to call the rouge protestor’s actions not protesting but “thuggery.” She thanked Metz and the police department for their work during the protest.

During a council comment period during the city council meeting on Monday, Berzins said the protest events were unfortunate and then said she was sending thoughts and prayers to people in Louisiana and California experiencing flooding and earthquakes.

Renie Peterson, another former council member who is running for mayor, hasn’t released a public statement.