Republican Officials Urge El Paso GOP Chair To Resign Over COVID-19 Post

April 2, 2020
The Martin Drake Power Plant In Colorado SpringsThe Martin Drake Power Plant In Colorado SpringsHart Van Denburg/CPR News
A view of downtown Colorado Springs, over the Drake Power Plant, March 3, 2020

Seventeen El Paso County elected officials, all Republicans, have asked their local party chair, Vickie Tonkins, to consider stepping down, a day after she made a controversial Facebook post raising the idea that the COVID-19 pandemic might be a hoax.

“We demand a formal apology to our Party and to the citizens of our community for your inappropriate comments. Furthermore, to protect the integrity of our Party, we strongly recommend you consider tendering your resignation,” stated the letter signed by eight state lawmakers, four county commissioners, the assessor, treasurer, coroner, clerk and recorder and sheriff. 

“To suggest the entire world has somehow been deceived and "that the Coronavirus is a PSYOP (Psychological Operation)" when citizens in high risk categories are dying, and indeed, a young, healthy law enforcement officer has just died in our community, is reprehensible," the letter continues.

On Thursday, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder announced that a 41-year-old deputy had died from COVID-19, becoming Colorado’s youngest victim of the pandemic. Eight other deputies in the department have also tested positive for COVID-19.

Tonkins’ post on the El Paso County GOP Facebook page was removed shortly after she published it Wednesday when the state party noticed and asked that it be taken down.

It read: “Hello El Paso County! Do you believe that the Coronavirus is a PSYOP (Psychological Operation)? Post your answer...the definition of (PSYOP) is below.”

The post that was briefly up on the El Paso County Republican Party's Facebook page.

Tonkins appeared to have lifted her definition from the Wikipedia page for psychological operations, which describes them as  “operations to convey select information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.”

Under a different post related to the coronavirus that Tonkins put on her personal Facebook page, a man commented that he believes Coronavirus is a psychological operation:“Tell me this Coronavirus isn’t that. Prove it to me. Because to me Coronavirus is psyops.” 

“You bet it is,” responded Tonkins. She then included the same definition of a PSYOP in that comment. 

The letter asking for a formal apology and resignation said Tonkins does not represent the views of the Republican Party. 

“Using your leadership position and posting this on the Republican Party social media platform, a place that serves as a trusted voice for our principles, is not appropriate and undermines the efforts of important public health official recommendations. This is not who we are as a Party.”

But not every elected official in El Paso County agrees that Tonkins should resign. Republican Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs said the entire situation has been overblown.

“Had I been asked, I would have encouraged them to be reasonable and realize that Vickie made what amounts to a mere typo and was not questioning COVID-19 but was questioning the hyper-response to the virus,” said Williams. “My elected colleagues are falling prey to corrupt party insiders who don’t like Vickie’s proven record of accomplishment on behalf of all El Paso County Republicans.”

Tonkins did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But on Wednesday afternoon Tonkins did address the controversy with another post on the El Paso County GOP Facebook page:

A follow-up post from the El Paso County Republican Party's Facebook page.

Tonkins previously ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner. She was elected to lead the county party last year.

Here's the letter:

Chairwoman Tonkins,


We the below, are proud to represent the Republican Party in El Paso County. We are grateful for the appropriate federal and local response to fight the COVID-19 outbreak. As such, we feel it is totally irresponsible and disappointing for someone elected to represent the Republican Party in El Paso County to minimize and marginalize the very real concern to our community and the response to this pandemic.


To suggest the entire world has somehow been deceived and "that the Coronavirus is a PSYOP (Psychological Operation)" when citizens in high risk categories are dying, and indeed, a young, healthy law enforcement officer has just died in our community, is reprehensible.


Using your leadership position and posting this on the Republican Party social media platform, a place that serves as a trusted voice for our principles, is not appropriate and undermines the efforts of important public health official recommendations. This is not who we are as a Party.


Our Republican values include upholding the rights protected by our Constitution, including that of free speech. However, just because we are free to say anything we want, does not make it prudent or wise. Our Party deserves a capable and thoughtful leader who takes this duty seriously.


This letter serves as a censure from all of the undersigned officials elected to represent El Paso County. We demand a formal apology to our Party and to the citizens of our community for your inappropriate comments. Furthermore, to protect the integrity of our Party, we strongly recommend you consider tendering your resignation.


We are concerned about the lives of those at risk who live in our community. We will stand beside our first responders, medical professionals, and each other to better our community during this uncertain time. And we, as members of the Republican Party, remain engaged deeply in the COVID-19 response both publicly and privately.


Sincerely,

Rep. Shane Sandridge (HD14), Rep. Larry Liston (HD16), Rep. Tim Geitner (HD19), Rep. Terri Carver (HD20), Rep. Lois Landgraf (HD21), Sen. Dennis Hisey (SD2), Sen. Paul Lundeen (SD9), Sen. Bob Gardner (SD12), Comm. Holly Williams (CCD1), Comm. Mark Waller (CCD2), Comm. Stan VanderWerf (CCD3), Comm. Cami Bremer (CCD5), Sheriff Bill Elder, Assessor Steve Schleiker, Clerk & Recorder Chuck Broerman, Coroner Leon Kelly, Treasurer Mark Lowderman