Note: This is the first in a two-part post.
It’s been nearly a decade since Charles Duke held office under the golden dome in Denver. And still, not a month goes by without someone wondering aloud what happened to one of the most colorful characters in recent Colorado politics. For much of the 1990s state Sen. Duke swaggered in the glare of the national media, rising in prominence first as a states’ rights guru and then as a hero in the anti-government Patriot Movement.
A conservative Republican from Monument, Duke sought and got the support of the Christian Coalition, warning its members of the satanic forces at work under the golden dome. “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,” he warned.
Among his other highly publicized escapades, Duke filed a report with the Sheriff’s Office, accusing former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former drug czar Bill Bennett of masterminding a break-in of his Monument townhome. The two, Duke said, made off with his 1996 tax files and a lucky pocket knife – a charge Gingrich’s spokesman denied.
In addition, Sen. Duke accused U.S. West of tapping his phone – a charge the phone company denied.
In 1995, immediately after Oklahoma City was rocked with the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building – which killed 168 people and injured 800 – Duke attended a rally on the steps of the state capitol. He told a group of gun enthusiasts that the federal government was to blame.
At the time, the only Republican who publicly denounced Duke’s statements was then-El Paso County GOP Chairman Bob Gardner, who in turn was chastised by members of his party for criticizing a fellow Republican. (Gardner, from Colorado Springs, was elected to the state House of Representatives last year.)
Indeed, the following year, in 1996, Duke ran for the United States Senate – and received more votes in the El Paso County Republican Assembly than two other GOP candidates, former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton (who went on to become George W. Bush’s Secretary of the Interior) and Wayne Allard, who was the eventual winner. When the Freemen of Montana holed up on their ranch that year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation brought Duke in to try to negotiate the standoff.
In all, voters in his northern El Paso County district elected Duke to public office twice as a state representative, and twice more as a senator. But in 1998 he resigned, after an episode involving three days spent under a friend’s kitchen table, consuming nothing but fruit juice, with a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other. When he emerged, God told him to quit politics.
“He said, `I want you to resign from the Senate’. “I said, `Why, Lord? I’m having so much fun kicking the New World Order’s ass.’ “
But the Lord, said Duke, was insistent. And so he left office. The Senate District 9 vacancy committee selected Doug Lamborn to fill out the term.
Two years later Duke reappeared, announcing plans to challenge then-state Rep. Lynn Hefley in a primary. Duke was also wielding charges anew:
Hefley, along with her husband, then-Congressman Joel Hefley, were conspiring with Bill Clinton, the Mafia and an international Jewish banking conspiracy in an effort to bring him down, Duke insisted.
“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 comeback effort got no traction, and so off he went again, into the sunset –