Photo by Cara DeGette
Note: Colorado’s Senate District 9 in northern El Paso County has a rich legacy of conservative representation – starting with one of the most colorful characters in recent history, Charlie Duke, and continuing through the reign of congressman-elect Doug Lamborn and the district’s newest elected representative, Dave Schultheis.
Today, we begin the first of a three-part series profiling these men, beginning with Duke and his bizarre, very public and drawn-out meltdown.
Charlie Duke: Man Without a Country
Elected to the Colorado Senate in 1994, state Sen. Charlie Duke sought, and got, support from the Christian Coalition and from citizen militia groups. He warned them of the satanic forces at work under the golden dome.
“If you listen real close, if you really turn up your sensitivity, you can feel the evil that flows through the [legislative] body,” Duke said. “You can hear cackling in the ceiling, you can hear smiles of the beast as it’s trying to force its puppets to do its bidding — and is successful at it.”
Duke rose to prominence as a states’ rights guru, and his eventual immersion in the anti-government Patriot Movement left him positively swaggering in the spotlight of national notoriety.
Soon he was keynoting at citizen militia gatherings across the country, informing the crowds that the United States Constitution had been “suspended” by a treasonous government. After the Oklahoma City bombing, he stood on the steps of the state Capitol and suggested to a crowd of gun activists that the government had blown up its own building, killing 168 people.
Yet when the Freemen of Montana holed up on their compound, it was Duke whom the FBI flew in to help try to negotiate a standoff.
Duke’s paranoia reached a zenith on April 27, 1997, when he reported to police that he believed then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former drug czar Bill Bennett had broken into his Monument townhome and stolen, among other things, his 1996 tax files and his lucky pocket knife. In addition, Duke accused U.S. West of tapping his phone.
“The Constitution, she is a’burning”
Four months later, Duke reported that he had spent three days curled up in the fetal position under a friend’s kitchen table, Bible in one hand and gun in the other, fasting and praying and drinking fruit juice. During that time, God told him to quit the Senate, which he did. El Paso County Republicans picked Doug Lamborn, then a state representative, to fill out the Senate term.
Duke subsequently put in a two-year stint in Oklahoma, where he claimed he got married. But the marriage didn’t work out, he said, when then-President Clinton, through the “twisted, demonic minds” of the Internal Revenue Service, came after him and his wife.
“They were using spiritual and psychic and financial weapons, doing everything they could because I represent the Constitution to people,” he said.
Duke said God then gave him two options. He could return to Texarcana, Ark., where he is originally from. Or he could come back to Colorado, get down on his knees, ask forgiveness for leaving his Senate seat and go back to the statehouse as a representative.
“Our Constitution is being taken away from us,” Duke said. “The Lord said, ‘the Constitution, she is a’burning.’ That’s exactly what He said to me.”
Duke returned to Colorado and became a trucker. But, “the Lord told me the spiritual overhead it’s taking to keep you safe on these roads is very heavy, and I could keep you safer if you were tied down somewhere,” he said.
“Leaving it in the Lord’s hands”
So he quit driving, and in 2000 announced (ultimately unsuccessful) plans to challenge Rep. Lynn Hefley, the wife of Congressman Joel Hefley, in her reelection bid representing Colorado’s House District 20.
Then Duke went public with accusations anew. The gist of his claim involved Joel and Lynn Hefley, the President of the United States, the Mafia and an international Jewish banking conspiracy.
“The Hefleys are undermining me by manipulating the [stock] market,” Duke said. “They are not doing it personally, they are asking the president to do it, and he’s asking the Mafia. The Mafia controls the options rating and, as you know, the Mafia was created by the Rothchilds many centuries ago.
“[Lynn Hefley] and her husband have a lot to answer for, I’ll put it that way,” Duke said. “I’m leaving it in the Lord’s hands.”
At the time Rep. Hefley’s spokeswoman, Sarah Shelden, called the allegations ridiculous.
“Obviously, these are baseless and crazy charges,” she said. “[The Congressman] has heard about fabricated accounts that he, along with Alan Greenspan and Clinton and Newt Gingrich, is preventing Mr. Duke from making more money and the reality is, they don’t know who Charlie Duke is.
“No one member of Congress swings the stock market.”
Duke’s last reported public sighting was at the state Capitol in Denver, where he paid a visit to his successor. Duke told Lamborn that God wanted him to have his old Senate seat back.
Replied Lamborn: “Sorry, Charlie, God didn’t tell me that.”
Cara DeGette is a contributing editor and columnist at the Colorado Springs Independent, where she extensively covered the rise and fall of Charlie Duke.