There are exactly three customers sitting in Shooters Grill the day after its owner, Lauren Boebert, created a national brouhaha when she heckled President Joe Biden during the State of the Union address – as he spoke about his dead veteran son.
The Republican congresswoman’s restaurant is on Main Street in Rifle, Colorado, sandwiched between her constituency office and an interesting business that’s a tattoo parlour/pawn shop. Shooters has been home to controversy for even longer than Boebert has been making headlines with her outspoken, far-right views; after an incident in the town, Boebert bragged that she and all her waitresses were openly carrying weapons. The restaurant also flouted Covid lockdown laws and subsequently got into trouble.
Boebert seems to revel in drama, whether it’s posing with guns at Christmastime – with her underage children also armed in the viral photo – or posting outrageously on social media.
The congresswoman really caused a stir on Tuesday night when she shouted at President Joe Biden during his State of the Union speech, accusing him of being personally responsible for the deaths of 13 service members in Afghanistan last year. Her heckling came as the president was speaking about his veteran son, Beau, who passed away in 2015; addressing burn pits in war zones and their residual affects on veterans, Mr Biden raised questions about his late son’s own toxic exposure while on deployment in Iraq.
In addition to the heckling on Tuesday night, Boebert joined fellow Republican provocateur Marjorie Taylor Greene in turning her back on the Cabinet.
Not everyone in Boebert’s constituency loves her outlandish behaviour. Far from it, in fact.
Less than 48 hours after the congresswoman’s outburst during the State of the Union, Republican Kathy Hall was walking through the streets of Grand Junction, where Boebert also has a constituency office, with a petition in support of a new candidate to run against the 35-year-old mother of four.
“The thing that bothers me so much about the politicians we have … [is that] instead of just doing good policy, instead of just working hard for their constituents, they’re being controversial,” says Ms Hall, who has worked in public life for a quarter-century and currently chairs the Colorado Department of Transportation commission.
“Their game is being controversial, and that really upsets me – because the kinds of things that Lauren Boebert has done creates a bad image of Western Colorado people,” she says.
Boebert defeated incumbent Scott Tipton in the 2020 Republican primary with 55 per cent of the vote, then went on to win against Democratic challenger Diane Mitsch Bush, a retired sociology professor from Steamboat Springs. She took office in January 2021 and recently announced her re-election campaign.
So far, at least one opponent is coming across as brazen as Boebert is; last month Democrat Alex Walker released a campaign video featuring faeces falling from the sky onto the heads of Coloradans as he announced: “Colorado needs a bull, not a bull******r.”
He’s one of 10 Democrats running in the party primary, while Marina Zimmerman and Don Coram – a Republican state senator for whom Ms Hall is campaigning – are running in the June Republican primary against Boebert.
Ms Hall says that she and her social circle “despise what [Boebert’s} causing as a representative for western Colorado”.
“She’s creating a reputation that we’re a bunch of wackos over here, and we’re not – we’re a beautiful community, we’re very community-minded people … this mean-girl attitude of just getting national attention is very detrimental to us on the Western Slope, and it harms our reputation.
“And we’ve worked hard to have a strong reputation of a good place to do business, a good place to raise your family, and … it’s making even a lot of my really good friends throughout the country, who are very strong conservatives and very strong Republicans, make us look like we’re crazy – and we’re not.
“But those antics do nothing but create that image. And they’re nothing but antics. They’re all about just getting publicity. Nobody has to wear a gun on their leg all the time in skintight clothing, dangly earrings, all the things that, as a woman who’s been in public life all these years, we always wanted to be known for the fact that we were smart enough to hold the position. We didn’t go on a sexy image.”
She believes, however, that Boebert’s rhetoric resonates with older and middle-aged voters who feel like “they haven’t been heard all these years”.
“Lauren Boebert says all the things about Nancy Pelosi and AOC that resonates with them,” she says.
To say Boebert is polarizing, even within her own constituency, is an understatement. Most people tell The Independent they think opinion is split about 50-50; another Grand Junction business owner, who is not a fan of the congresswoman, puts it at 60-40 – not in Boebert’s favour.
“There are four of us who work here, and three of us can’t stand her,” he says.
But Colorado’s third congressional district, which Boebert represents, is geographically huge. It includes much of the Western Slope and extends into the Eastern Plains, incorporating Grand Junction, Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Ignacio, Pueblo and Durango. The terrain is rugged and unforgiving in most of the catchment area; the drive from more liberal Denver alone is beautiful but intimidating as elevated highways weave through canyons and gorges, nothing but a small barrier separating vehicles from deadly drops.
Roadsides repeatedly warn motorists to look out for falling rocks and wildlife as you pass places with names like Antlers, No Name – really, that exists – and Silt, which is where Boebert lives, before getting to Rifle. Most people in the 10,000 population town – which seems a lot smaller – are either squarely in her camp or unwilling to say otherwise. She’s certainly put Rifle on the map; Shooters has become something of a de facto MAGA museum and tourist attraction, featuring cardboard cutouts of Trump and Boebert and selling merchandise with slogans like “Let’s Go Brandon” and “Guns don’t kill people, Alec Baldwin kills people.”
The day after the State of the Union, a curious passer-by wanders in off the street and asks a waitress to take his picture with Boebert’s cutout.
The restaurant is, obviously, gun-themed; in the women’s bathroom, there’s a framed copy of the preamble to the Constitution above the changing table and, next to the sink, a picture of two rifles and the defiant Greek phrase Molon Labe, meaning “come and take them” – a favourite adage of gun-rights advocates.
This is hardcore gun territory, and everyone seems terrified “the left” is going to take their guns away. Guns are a part of life out here, whether they’re used to shoot prairie dogs on a ranch, go hunting or spend time at the rifle range.
Most of Boebert’s supporters bring up her wildly pro-gun stance as the reason they stand behind her.
“She could say anything, but as long as she fights for gun rights, I’d vote for her,” one Coloradan and major gun enthusiast – with a collection that includes assault weapons – tells The Independent.
When pressed on why there’s such an importance placed on guns in this part of the world, he says: “Just look at what’s happening in Ukraine right now.”
He doesn’t elaborate on who, exactly, he thinks might start invading homes in western Colorado.
At the local VFW in Grand Junction, Post 1247, opinions are about as divided as they are across the general constituency. One Army engineer reiterates that, if Boebert’s standing up for gun rights, he’s with her; the woman with him interrupts.
“I think she’s a bully and a thug,” she says.
Another retired Marine agrees; he thinks Boebert is a loudmouth and an idiot.
“The whole thing is, as a veteran and as a citizen, I think right now, more than ever, we need some really smart people to deal with the current problems in this country,” says Steve Young, 61, who grew up in a military family and served all over the world, including a combat tour in Beirut.
“She’s just not a very smart person,” he says of Boebert. “She’s a person that makes statements that are either lies or half-truths. [She] plays to the camera or microphone. There’s no substance there.”
Mr Young, who takes care of the VFW grounds, was particularly disgusted by the congresswoman’s performance at the State of the Union address.
“I saw the heckling and, especially to do so when a man is talking about the loss of his beloved son, I mean, that’s lower than snakes***, as far as I’m concerned,” he tells The Independent.
Boebert defended her actions in a tweet this week, writing: “When Biden said flag-draped coffins I couldn’t stay silent. I told him directly he did it. He put 13 in there.
“Our heroic servicemen and women deserve so much better,” she said, adding that a “mutual friend” of a mother of one of the 13 service members told her the grieving parent “really appreciated you speaking out.”
Boebert’s team did not immediately return a request for comment from The Independent.
Mr Young describes himself as a McCain Republican who was turned off by the party’s treatment of the late war hero – and further disillusioned by Trump’s antics and disparagement of the prisoner of war.
“Muscle is definitely taking over from minds in this culture,” he says.
Speaking to the same culture of the younger generation of politicians, Ms Hall believes that the problem extends across the aisle.
“AOC is the same thing,” she tells The Independent. “It’s all about me. It’s not about, ‘What can I do for my community and my constituents? It’s, ‘The more outlandish I am, the more comments I get.’ And that’s not good government.”
That presumed narcissism definitely does seem to be working against Boebert in some corners – as the constant stream of vitriol is viewed by many as nothing more than attention-seeking.
“I used to support her, but I don’t follow her anymore,” one grandmother, whose daughter went to high school with Boebert and who watched the woman grow up, struggle as a pregnant teen and then gain a major profile, tells The Independent. The congresswoman has gotten a bit too much, she feels.
Several constituents, who rarely speak up or get involved in politics, tell The Independent they’ve emailed the congresswoman to complain after her heckling of the president on Tuesday night. There’s such a thing as manners, they say – and that’s another big thing out here. People are polite; almost no one ever uses profanity, and it’s not unusual to have a cowboy hold the door for you.
On the other hand, of course, many people like Boebert’s brash, stick-it-to-the left attitude. A long-haired musician working in a Grand Junction crystal store, of all places, tries to explain her popularity.
“She’s not your typical politician, and I think that’s what’s appealing,” Will Heckard, born and raised in the constituency, tells The Independent.
“My thing on Trump is like, as a person, he’s kind of a dirtbag … but what I can’t deny is the good that he did for the country while he was president. He’s a dirtbag as a person, but he was a pretty damn good president. I can’t fault him for that.”
With Boebert’s antics, he says, “I think that, though some people might get mad at it, everybody’s entitled to what they believe.
“I think she believes it, because I think there’s some stuff there that, like, maybe she knows that we probably don’t.”
A lot of people, however – particularly those who own businesses – are afraid to say anything at all about Boebert or, well, anything else even remotely political.
“People don’t want to share their opinions because [customers] will blacklist you,” one elderly shopkeeper tells The Independent.
A bar owner estimates that “about 70 per cent” of his clientele want to talk politics – but he’s too savvy to get dragged in.
When it comes down to it, there’s another factor to consider – and that’s the fact that, in reality, a huge percentage of people in the constituency are armed.
“When they talk about the Wild, Wild West – you’re here,” Mr Young says.