An anti-immigration group is suing Colorado Springs for $1 million, claiming the mayor’s public opposition violated its constitutional rights by leading to Cheyenne Mountain Resort canceling a planned three-day conference last year.
VDARE argued in the lawsuit, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Denver, that the city violated its First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly when John Suthers said in August 2017 that the city would not provide “support or resources” for the convention, which was scheduled for April.
Suthers said this week that the lawsuit “is completely without merit,” and he is “confident that the city will prevail.”
The lawsuit comes at a time when the issue of illegal immigration has become a focal point of national politics. It was filed the day before a government shutdown began due to an impasse among lawmakers over President Donald Trump’s long-promised wall along the southern border to restrict people from entering the country unlawfully.
In Suthers’ August 2017 remarks, made as local residents were planning protests against the VDARE conference, the mayor also encouraged local businesses to “be attentive to the types of events they accept and the groups that they invite to our great city.” He added that the city “does not condone hate speech in any fashion.”
A writer for VDARE’s website had organized a rally for Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., that, days earlier, had turned deadly when a counterprotester was killed by a car that plowed into a crowd.
The resort stated it would cancel its contract with VDARE on August 15, the day after Suthers posted the statement to his website. Until the post, the resort “had been actively communicating and coordinating with VDARE about logistics and safety” for the event, the lawsuit states.
“Mayor Suthers’ comments were more than an expression of his opinion(s) and/or encouragement of local businesses to not support the VDARE conference,” VDARE’s attorney, Randy Corporon of Aurora, said in an email.
“Suthers said expressly that ‘(t)he City of Colorado Springs will not provide any support or resources to this event,’ a promise that city services (police, fire, etc.) would not be provided for the conference because participants might express views with which he disagrees.”
The group’s demands include “compensatory damages of $1 million” and an injunction barring the city “from denying municipal services to entities or events based on their controversial viewpoints and affiliations,” according to the lawsuit.
Private properties are responsible for security and services for events, city spokeswoman Jamie Fabos said in an email.
But, Colorado Springs police and fire departments would respond to any public safety threats if the conference had occurred, “as per usual,” Fabos added in another email.
Groups bringing conferences or events to town sometimes ask the mayor to provide a welcome letter. Although VDARE did not ask for such a letter, Suthers stated he would not provide one, Fabos said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center lists VDARE.com as a white nationalist extremist hate group that’s based in Virginia.
The group’s website states that “diversity per se is not a strength, but a vulnerability.”
“VDARE.com recognizes that mass immigration both legal and illegal has driven America to the verge of bankruptcy” in employment, income, national security, crime, education, race relations and culture, the website says.
Corporon said that VDARE “had no participation or involvement” in the deadly Unite the Right rally in Virginia in 2017.
Jason Kessler, who organized and attended the rally, is among the website’s free-lance contributors.
“Guilt by association is a dangerous gauge for culpability,” Corporon said.