Littwin: Stapleton must wish his KKK-stained great-grandfather was his biggest problem

It had to happen. Denver’s KKK-stained history has gone national. A New York Times story Tuesday, written by the excellent Julie Turkewitz,  questions whether Walker Stapleton’s election run for governor will be affected by the state’s “grappling with his family’s past.”

I had a different question. What grappling?

As you may know, Stapleton’s great-grandfather, Ben Stapleton, was a five-term mayor of Denver. And when he was mayor, he was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan, which, shockingly, ruled the state. Many people are probably unfamiliar with this shameful period in the 1920s or the hooded Klansmen who paraded down Denver’s streets.

But does anyone really believe that it will matter in Stapleton’s race against Jared Polis? Do you think Polis will make it an issue – or even mention it?

In the Times story, Turkewitz notes that Colorado may not be so great at dealing with the shameful parts of its past. Is that changing? It is true that as Southern states argue over what to do with Confederate monuments, the Stapleton neighborhood did vote on whether to change the neighborhood organization’s name, given its namesake’s KKK membership.

That vote, by the way, failed — falling short of the two-thirds requirement.

I’ve lived in states — Virginia and Texas to name two — that are obsessed with their past. Colorado is obsessed with its 21st-Century problems, and I don’t mean the tractor slow-chase in downtown Denver. We are a state overflowing with newcomers who are probably more concerned with fast-rising housing costs and an overwhelmed infrastructure than with Colorado’s past.

For a brief history lesson, Colorado’s Klan — the violently anti-black, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic hate group — is said to have been the second largest group in the country in the 1920s. Ben Stapleton embraced the Klan, filled his office with Klan members and somehow survived the period with his reputation largely intact, which says little for our state. This particular Klan era, which lasted about a decade, is inarguably one of the more shameful periods in the state’s history.

But it has nothing to do with Walker Stapleton. You know, sins of the fathers and the great-grandfathers and all.

What do you know about the politics of your great-grandfathers? Two of mine came here from Russia, one from Hungary, one from Poland. The 1920s rise of the Klan — less well known that the post-Civil War terrorist-group Klan or the 1960s Civil Rights-era terrorist-group Klan— was in large part a reaction to that wave of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was a force in states across the nation.

But if Stapleton’s family isn’t the issue, that is not to say that Stapleton is off the hook. In the governor’s race, the past is far less important than the present. And in the present, the specter of immigration remains a major issue. Just ask Donald Trump about the wall he wants to build to keep out the so-called rapists and murderers. Or ask him about the agents he had sent to literally grab children from their parents’ arms at the border.

In the present, one of Stapleton’s principal issues is the defunding of so-called sanctuary cities, which is little more than a dog whistle to those who believe that undocumented immigrants represent a danger to our state. It’s an issue that would have played well in the ‘20s.

In the present, Stapleton — who is a Bush family member and who has seen both Bush presidents come out strongly against Trump — has embraced the president, sort of. He certainly embraced him during the primary season and now has no idea how to deal with the fact of Trump’s unpopularity among independents and Democrats. He is stuck with the same Trump whom I like to describe — at the risk of repeating myself — as a demagogue, a xenophobe, a misogynist, a bigot, a sexist, an authoritarian, a boor, etc., etc. Some in Colorado seem to agree with that assessment. In the last poll I saw on Trump’s favorability in the state, he was underwater, 55-to-42.

In the present, Stapleton has welcomed the endorsement of Tom Tancredo, who nominated him at the state assembly. Stapleton, you’ll remember, had planned to petition his way onto the ballot but had rather badly botched the signature-gathering process. And so, in a last-minute change, he had to try to win at least 30 percent of the vote at the state assembly. Enter Tancredo, who was brought in to help Stapleton appeal to the assembly’s right-wing fringe. It worked then. But how about in November?

I don’t have to tell you about Tancredo. Whether it’s suggesting the bombing of Mecca or defending white-nationalist groups, Tancredo has been at the ugly center of the immigration issues for decades. Trump is somehow president, and Tancredo is the Trump precursor who ran for president once himself and who now writes columns for Breitbart.

As you know, Tancredo ran for governor three times. He failed in the first two runs and dropped out in the last campaign. Not only has he never been elected governor, he has never won the Republican nomination for governor. The only time he made it onto the ballot was as the Constitution Party candidate in the year of the Dan Maes fiasco.

In the present, Tancredo was called out just this week by 9News’ Kyle Clark, who noticed a Tancredo retweet of what seemed to be an anti-democracy rally by Muslims. Superimposed on the photo were the words: “It Won’t Happen Here, You Say? Hello, This is Dearbornistan, Michigan.”

Of course, it wasn’t Dearborn, Michigan, where many Muslims do live and where, to be fair to Tancredo, he has never advocated bombing. The photo was from Afghanistan, which, as Clark noted, you could learn in 10 seconds on the Google. In other words, Tancredo, to no one’s surprise, had retweeted a vile, fake-news Internet meme. And yet he told Clark he didn’t know who would care other than the “snowflakes.”

Which struck me as pretty funny. The year Tancredo did make it onto the ballot, I attempted to cover his election-night party. He had heard I was coming, though, and, apparently unwilling to face me himself, had two extremely large bouncers there to kick me out. Do you have to wonder who the snowflake really is?

And do you have to wonder whether Stapleton has far more problematic relationships in 2018 than with a hood-wearing mayor who died, as Stapleton points out, 30 years before he was born?


  1. It is difficult to reconcile Walker Stapleton’s affinity for trump given Colorado’s preference for anyone but trump. BUT, given that the past can be prologue for the future, trump’s feelings about dark-skinned folks and Ben Stapleton’s love of the KKK do attract a certain group of fanatics who love trump for that reason.

    Walker Stapleton has got some ‘splaining to do.

  2. ‘“The West is troubled land,” said Patty Limerick, a state historian. “It’s a temptation to look at the South and say, ‘Look at that very dark place.’ Well, we had segregation. We had lynching. We had all those things, but it’s somehow gotten a pass.”

  3. I think Stapleton panicked when his team fumbled his petition effort, thus the last minute desperation move to embrace Gadfly Bombthrower Tancredo, and of course Demolition Man Trump, in order to have the best shot at winning the extremist right wingers at the GOP Assembly.

    Now he’s got to wash as much of that dirt off as he can. Good luck with that!

  4. Elections have consequences

    “Hiding news that doesn’t fit an ideological or a partisan agenda is perhaps the worst form of media bias. And it’s one more reason the public holds the press is such low esteem.” – Investor’s Business Daily

    “(Mr. Trump) won’t be president. He was sliding in the polls before the video, and the video now means that he has no way to climb back. Which independent voter, which suburban woman, which Main Street Republican on the fence is going to vote for Trump now?” – Mike Littwin

    Magical thinking: The belief that one’s own thoughts, wishes, or desires can influence the external world. It is common in very young children. – Radiotherapy

    President Trump 306 Electoral votes
    Hillary Clinton 232



    This is Mr. Littwin at his passive/aggressive best (worst?).

    It’s a hatchet job masquerading as opinion journalism. It’s an attempt to prove guilt by association while piously and unconvincingly claiming it isn’t. And it was all so unnecessary since—-with one notable exception—-none of Mr. Littwin’s loyal readers would ever consider voting for Walker Stapleton.

    First, Mr. Littwin offers readers an extended history lesson on Walker Stapleton’s great-grandfather and five-term Denver mayor Ben Stapleton’s membership in the KKK. Then, after reminding readers the Klan was a “violently anti-black, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic hate group”, dismisses its importance in the upcoming gubernatorial race, “But does anyone really believe that (Ben Stapleton’s membership in the KKK) will matter in Stapleton’s race against Jared Polis?” and “But it has nothing to do with Walker Stapleton.”

    If Mr. Littwin actually believes all that then why bring it up?

    As smear jobs go, it was above standard but who would expect less from the very experienced Mr. Littwin. He reminds readers of how Walker Stapleton “sort of” embraced President Trump and how this “sort of” embrace would have negative effects on Mr. Stapleton. Then he suggests Walker Stapleton could be hurt at the polls by welcoming Tom Tancredo’s endorsement.

    It must be pointed out here that Mr. Littwin’s intense dislike of Tom Tancredo goes way, way back and he never misses an opportunity to remind readers of that dislike regardless of its relevance to the story. How far back does his feud with Mr. Tancredo go? Well, here’s a 2013—-that’s right, 2013—- quote from Mr. Littwin, “When Susan Greene, the editor here, asked me to join her merry little band at The Indy, I could have said how much I’d missed the rush of deadline or how journalism needs to be saved or how democracy depends on a free press. But what I said was, “If Tancredo’s in, I’m in, too.”

    You can’t make that stuff up!

    The only thing Mr. Littwin failed to explain—-again—-is how Donald Trump, a man he described “as a demagogue, a xenophobe, a misogynist, a bigot, a sexist, an authoritarian, a boor” defeated Hillary Clinton and became the 45th President of the United States.

    I don’t expect that to change.

    November 08, 2016
    “’Cause I don’t have no use
    For what you loosely call the truth” – Tina Turner

    Flags of Valor
    Folds of Honor
    Special Operations Warriors Foundation

  5. Jim,

    What truths are you talking about? The truths about Walker Stapleton’s great-grandfather and his membership in the KKK?

    Here what Mr. Littwin said about those truths:

    – “But does anyone really believe that it will matter in Stapleton’s race against Jared Polis?”

    – it had “nothing to do with Walker Stapleton”

    – the sins of the father—-or in this case the great-grandfather—-shouldn’t be visited on the son.

    If Mr. Littwin actually believes Walker Stapleton’s hood-wearing great-grandfather—-who died thirty years before Walker Stapleton was born—-won’t matter in this year’s gubernatorial race and if Mr. Littwin actually believes it had nothing to do with Walker Stapleton and if Mr. Littwin actually believes the sins of the great-grandfather should not be visited upon the great-grandson why bring it up at all?

    Answer: Because it was a smear job disingenuously masquerading as opinion journalism.

    You have a good day, too.

  6. Stumpleton is gonna lose come November, probably in a landslide. And his great- pappy direct ties to the KKK won’t have anything to do with it.
    His direct & personal ties to our proud-as-a-peacock racist, sexist, psychopath of a prez will have everything to do with it; not to mention his ties to the equally racist Tommy the Terrible.
    Did I mention the fact the Trump is, at the least, a borderline traitor?
    So there’s that.

  7. KKK still exists in Colorado. Like Community Organizers are still here under other names, Social Democrats (re: Adolph Hiltler) are still here and college kids and high school kids are learning about social democrats, and it sounds and reads good to them, since their teachers and professors preach that. Sent a perfectly normal kid to school, and get back a globalist, just as we see now with election in New York city, preaching free college, free goodies from the state or federal treasury, along with wage controls, and higher taxes from those who still work. KKK ruled through fear, but by changing names and cloaking their past, they now try buying the elected positions, as we see DNC and Pelosi, and others pouring money into Colorado. Same goes for Walker’s opponent, who made heaps of money in computers, and buys a seat. And as for Tom Tancredo not wanting you at any of his meetings. Name one time in all the years Littwin wrote for the Rocky, or the Post, that he or they ever wrote a “positive” editorial or comment about Tom Tancredo, Mayor Paul Tauer (17 years Mayor of Aurora) or any Republican. I returned to Colorado in 1977, having bought my Aurora home in 1963, and cannot remember many positive articles in Post, after the Rocky closed. Newbies who moved here from high taxing states and cities are voting same high taxes here, and now are complaining. REALLY? Let’s have honest reporting where media tells us the news, not gossip or fake news

  8. This probably won’t make a difference but it is fair to bring it up since Stapleton brought him up when running for his current position. Do you think he knew about his great grandfather’s history when he was running for treasurer? It’s probably not something I would want to carry around and it would be something I would work to atone for even at four generations back. I’d rather have Ralph Carr as my great grandfather.

  9. I work for a progressive non profit, and while protesting a Stapleton event someone drove by us, thrust his hand out the window, and yelled “seig heil” at us. He had a Walker Stapleton yard sign in the back seat… just saying…

  10. Mike did a great spin job when he failed to mention that Benjamin Stapleton was a member of Democratic Party. The fact that the KKK was founded by Democrats for Democrats is the Dems best kept secret.

  11. Mr. Littwin has a history of being a liberal hack. I am surprised to find him contributing his ridiculous view of the world on this site. I would far prefer to see an actual objective viewpoint. On any subject. If I wanted left wing zealot editorializing I would have maintained my subscription to the Denver Post.

  12. Ralph Carr was my great-uncle. Our family has a long tradition of principle over politics.

    My dad was a career CWO in the Army. He rarely talked politics, but did teach us about his uncle Ralph, and also talked about President Trumans EO 9981, integrating the military.

    I was born and raised under that EO, from 1951-68.

    I know you replied in 2018, and I’m replying in 2020.

    We need EO 9981 now more than ever.

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