The main turnoff toward the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch in Custer County, Colorado.

Westcliffe, Colorado — As a sea of stars, stripes, and “Make America Great Again” hats made its way up Main Street this July 4, the festivities gave the illusion of a respite from the tensions that have been building here since Independence Day two years ago. 

A vehicle representing the Custer County Republican Party elicited lively cheers, and was followed by a woman waving a huge flag of the Three Percenters, the far-right militia. At the rear, a column of smiling men and women marched forward with rifles strapped to their shoulders.

George Gramlich, the editor of the town’s far-right newspaper, the Sangre de Cristo Sentinel, stood watching the parade from the paper’s office on Main Street.  

“Where else would you see 100 people with guns on the street and, hey, it’s not Beirut?” said Gramlich, who’s in his 70s and moved here from upstate New York a little over a decade ago.

Nearby, a “Trump Won” sign had been planted on the paper’s lawn.

“It’s there to annoy the liberals,” Gramlich said with a smirk. He added that he doesn’t personally believe the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

The Sangre de Cristo Sentinel office on Main Street in Westcliffe, Colorado.

A “Trump Won” sign outside the Sangre de Cristo Sentinel office. “It’s there to annoy the liberals,” said the paper’s editor.

Some 125 yards away, at Peregrine’s Coffee Roasters, Penny Logue was holding court over iced chai lattes, avoiding the parade. 

Perched on a sun recliner in the cafe’s gated garden, a rifle resting on her shoulder, Logue is wearing in a pink t-shirt with a heart containing the colors of the trans flag, along with paint-stained cargo pants and black boots. 

Like Gramlich, she’s a relative newcomer to this rural farming community of little over 4,500 people. In March 2020, Logue was part of a collective that bought land in Westcliffe and co-founded the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch — an alpaca farm and refuge for transgender women. 

Before coming to Westcliffe, Logue and the others had leased a ranch in northern Colorado, close to the Wyoming border and not far from where Logue, who’s 41, grew up. But they wanted to buy, and land in Custer County was relatively cheap. 

According to the Denver Post, Colorado’s recent push for trans-inclusive policies has helped draw people from other states. Changing your name and gender on state documents is relatively easy here, and Colorado was the first state to require that certain private insurance plans cover gender-affirming care.

A few months after their move, Custer County’s Independence Day parade was canceled due to COVID-19. Gramlich’s Sentinel organized an informal, open-carry parade of their own.

Logue went on Twitter and called it a “Nazi propaganda parade.” (As a trans woman whose grandparents survived the Armenian genocide, Logue said she’s acutely tuned into fascism in America and eager to call it out.) At a small counter-protest, some of the Tenacious Unicorn ranchers hurled insults at the Independence Day marchers. “They took it badly,” Logue says. 

Penny Logue moves a herd of alpacas.

This year, they decided to stay away, and instead hold their usual Monday meet-up at the cafe to discuss leftist politics with like-minded people.

Logue doesn’t regret the confrontation of 2020 and even seems to relish it. She’s thinking of organizing an LGBTQ pride event in the town next year. That will “really piss people off,” remarked J Stanley, who also lives at the ranch. 

The Sentinel’s staff, however, are still furious. They say that being called “Nazis” and “fascists” helped set the tone for their relationship with the ranch. 

Beyond the Westcliffe town line, the Fourth of July clash inflamed hostilities toward the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch, and Logue says that probably helped set the stage for the events of the following March — an incident the ranchers call “the siege.” 

The Wild West 2.0

Across the 35 acres of the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch, 200 alpacas roam freely, nibbling on bales of hay and taking a curious interest in the other animals on the property. There are huacaya, and suri alpacas, each with different types of fleece, which the ranchers shear and sell on to suppliers. It’s not hugely profitable, but it keeps the ranch afloat. The ranchers also take on the odd construction job at nearby ranches, and sell meat and eggs to locals.

The ranch was created as a place where trans women could live freely and safely. Those who call it home share more than just their transness, but also a commitment to a certain worldview. They identify as anarchist leftists, have plenty of guns, and want to be left alone to operate in a collective, community-based fashion. They aren’t fans of either President Joe Biden or the progressive Squad, who Logue scoffs are actually “center-right.”    

Penny Logue, front and center, at the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch. Behind her (from left to right): Kat Gibes, Jen Radford, and J Stanley.

Four people live here permanently. The guests who regularly cycle through help with the animals and maintain the property in exchange for accommodation and communal meals. There are also several chickens, a couple of cats, and 8 dogs —  two of them, Gadget and Gizmo, were recently adopted from a nearby wolf sanctuary. 

“We’re a shelter in the storm,” says Logue.

It’s been a few hours since they returned from their meet-up at the coffee shop, and a few of the residents are relaxing in the ranch’s cluttered living room before heading to their next event, the “not July 4th” party. Nonbinary, agender, and lesbian pride flags have been tacked onto the walls of the dome-shaped ranch house. A rifle is resting on an end table, beside the couch. 

Stanley, who’s 28, is sitting at the dining table, while Logue searches for a coffee cup from a pile of unwashed dishes.

They begin to tell the story of what happened here on March 6, 2021, when their little haven came under attack. “To be honest, it’s all kind of a blur,” says Stanley, pensively.

Penny Logue, center, chats with Kat Gibes, left, and Jen Radford, right, in the ranch house.

J Stanley walks down the stairs of the ranch house.

At 3 or 4 in the morning, they say, a volunteer rancher acting as a guard found two intruders armed with rifles on the property. The intruders, wearing body armor, had come up the dirt road and tampered with the locks of the ranch’s main gate, before crossing over a fence and onto the property. 

The guard, who spotted them some 100 feet away, threatened to shoot. The intruders ran off the property so quickly they dropped their guns in the mud, and then scampered back to retrieve them.

Stanley says they did not report the incident to the police because they didn’t have faith that they would do anything about it. (Indeed, there’s no police record of the incident, and Custer County Sheriff’s Department did not respond to Insider’s request for information.) They’ve also declined to name the rancher who was there, so as not to jeopardize the person’s health and security, they say. 

“We don’t call the cops for anything we do, ever,” says Logue. “If this was a different world where cops were trustworthy and kind to queer people, maybe we would have called the cops.”

The incident did reach the press, and a wave of stories appeared that profiled the gun-toting, trans alpaca farmers who had opened the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch in this conservative bastion of Colorado. 

Since the siege, the ranchers haven’t had any intruders but the harassment has taken on a new form — much of it via Kiwi Farms.

Kiwi Farms is an internet forum dedicated to doxing and trolling so-called “lolcows” a portmanteau of “lol” and “cows” which has become a niche meme used to describe people who can be “milked” for laughs. One particular thread dedicated to the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch goes on for more than 800 pages. 

Kiwi Farms’ anonymous users post daily, bestowing offensive nicknames on the ranchers, ridiculing their appearances, and accusing them of animal abuse. They pull images from social media videos and Google Earth and, at least once, a drone was flown over the property. Comments range from petty mockery to violent fantasies. 

The ranchers don’t keep track of the comments themselves. Friends of theirs occasionally monitor it for potential threats of violence, helping the ranchers to determine if they need to step up their security.

The ranch now has 10 security cameras around the property. They carry guns, and guests provide visitors with bulletproof vests. They do a nightly patrol of the premises to check for possible intruders.

“We’re always keeping an eye out,” says Stanley.

“It’s the Wild West 2.0,” says Logue. “But this time with automatics.”

Logue, who has two children from previous relationships, is the matriarch of the ranch. Those living there depend on her for guidance and support. She exudes warmth, but can snap into moments of sternness — perhaps a remnant from her time serving in the military.

“There’s a lot of people that are very welcoming here,” she says. “It’s just the extremist right-wingers that we’re constantly in conflict with.”

Stanley grew up in a white, conservative military family in Texas. When she could no longer stomach her parent’s opposition to Black Lives Matter protests, she said, she left home. Once a Bernie Sanders supporter, she says her ideology is now more in line with the militant politics of the Black Panthers.

Eventually, she heard about the ranch through friends. Living here has given her the space to develop and voice her own views and, she says, to begin her gender transition free from the judgment of her parents.

The goal here is self-sufficiency — to create their own little island here in Custer County. “Giving away your power to representatives will never end well for you,” Stanley says. 

The conversation ends. It’s time to go. 

Stanley walks outside and whistles to her favorite alpaca, Mocha, who got his name from his brown “teddy bear” huacaya fleece. He is an intrepid explorer, regularly wandering off by himself to explore the property’s boundaries.

The herd appears, with Mocha coming in behind. Behind them, Stanley double-locked the gates. Four ranchers pack into a truck and head off to the “not July 4th” party.

J Stanley hugs an alpaca.

The ‘Not July 4th’ Party

When the ranchers arrive, a lesbian couple is adding the red, white, and blue icing to their middle-finger-shaped “fuck you” cookies. The couple, who recently moved back to Colorado after spending years living in New Zealand, has invited the members of the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch to their picturesque ranch to mark Independence Day in their own style. 

There’s a surplus of food; jalapeno beef burgers, pretzels and dip, and a cheese board. Guests are helping themselves to beers and making themselves cosmopolitan cocktails at a minibar in a renovated shack.

Inside, a blond woman with a beaming smile is sitting on a camping chair. A paper plate with cookies is balanced on one knee, and a political campaign leaflet, with her name in bold letters, rests on the other. 

She introduces herself as Deb Adams, the chairperson of Custer County’s tourism board. She says she’s running for the Board of County Commissioners. “Is everyone here registered to vote?” she asks. 

Stanley furrows her brow, not thrilled by the direction the night has taken them. How, she asks pointedly, would Adams differ from other politicians?

Adams is running as an unaffiliated candidate, she tells them. She rejects labels.

Adams settled in Colorado in 2017. Before that, she lived in Santa Barbara, California for 25 years. She supports the Second Amendment, as well as a “safe gun ownership” culture. She’s unimpressed by both Biden and former President Donald Trump, saying that they are “too old” to run again. The Sentinel (“the voice of conservative Colorado”) recently described her as a “really hard, hardcore lefty.”

The conversation gets more animated as Stanley and Logue suggest to the room that perhaps armed resistance is more effective than voting. Wasn’t Malcolm X more impactful than today’s career politicians? 

The debate peters out. Adams seems unfazed and continues to smile and socialize. (She later says she felt as though their reaction had been favorable.) 

The Tenacious Unicorn ranchers step away and confer about where to go next. Stanley’s mood has visibly soured, and she whispers to Logue that it’s time to go home, rather than to the flag-burning party they’d originally planned to hit next. 

“Not to worry, we can do that any day of the week,” Logue says, while packing up her stuff.

As they drive their Ford Explorer back to the ranch, Stanley continues to lay out her disagreements with Logue.

“The system isn’t working,” she says, in part because politicians aren’t made to say where they really stand on things. She says she doesn’t trust the government to deal with the issues that worry her most — climate collapse, “trans genocide,” a possible civil war, protecting people like her.

J Stanley, standing outside the ranch house, pets two dogs.

Alpacas roam freely across the 35 acres of the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch.

All this leads back to the ranch, and the need for them to become self-sufficient.

Logue nods her head. “The main way to undermine the state is to become self-sufficient,” she says.

‘It’s 1950s America here’

If the events of July 4 left the members of the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch feeling frustrated, Gramlich, the Sangre de Cristo Sentinel’s editor, was jubilant. The turnout at the parade was bigger than it had been in years, and Gramlich was thrilled.

Gramlich is standing in the Sentinel’s Main Street office, which wouldn’t be out of place in a Spaghetti Western movie if it wasn’t for the lifesize cutout of former President Donald Trump that dominates the room. In one dusty nook, there’s a sort of memorial-cum-minibar, where antique weapons from the Vietnam War are laid out beside a half-empty bottles of whiskey. Among the plaques on the wall, one reads: “Warning: Does not play well with liberals.”

Rifles are seemingly everywhere in this town, and one sits atop one of the room’s wooden tables. When Gramlich turns, his handgun, nestled in a hostler, is in clear view.

“We are unabashedly and totally conservatives,” Gramlich says. “Hyperpartisan partisans.” 

Conservatism runs deep in Custer County, and often comes with a Christian and libertarian bent. Gramlich says the prospect of existing in what felt like a bygone era was part of what drew him to the area 12 years ago. “It’s 1950s America here,” he remarks. “It’s the old America. There are real cowboys here.”

Before all this, Gramlich had been a cattle rancher in upstate New York, but he became fed up with Democrats “ruining” the state with liberal politics. He and his wife arrived in Colorado as “basically political and Second Amendment refugees,” he said in a podcast interview

On Main Street in Westcliffe, various buildings are reminiscent of the town’s gold mining era.

Custer County has voted Republican in every presidential election for the last 58 years, and has only voted for a Democratic governor once — Richard Lamm in 1982. The county also has a penchant for electing members of Congress who are keen to take the fight to Washington. Representative Lauren Boebert, who has parroted QAnon conspiracy theories and reportedly sought permission to carry her Glock pistol on Capitol grounds, won this district with 76% of the vote.

In April, she suggested that Americans in the LGBTQ+ community should be 21 before they can make “life-altering decisions about their sexuality and identity.” And since then, she has implied that monkeypox is a conspiracy designed to help Democrats win the midterm, Venezuelans eat dogs’ because they don’t have guns, and has blamed same-sex marriage for “undermining masculinity.” Boebert, who’s given positive coverage by the Sentinel, has been described by the publication as a “purveyor of the Constitution” and an “overnight sensation.”

But Gramlich was disappointed that his new neighbors seemed to be dispirited and jaded about politics. Shortly after President Barack Obama’s second election victory in 2012, Gramlich held talks with members of the local Tea Party and the decision was made to set up a local, right-wing newspaper. 

For a newspaper representing a rural farming community, there’s a significant amount of commentary on national political issues in the pages of the Sentinel. Recent editions feature articles criticizing “Soros-aligned” politicians, gun control laws, and gender reassignment procedures for teens. 

The Tenacious Unicorn Ranch is a frequent target. After a story in High County News portrayed the ranchers as queer trailblazers, Gramlich published an annotated version of the article. In it, he accused the ranchers of “left-wing fascism” and urged readers to pray for their “lost, lost souls.” 

“Who are the intolerant ones? Who is doing the hating? They use the classic progressive vehicle, ‘accuse your opponents of doing exactly what you are doing’ to attack us,” he wrote. 

A vision for the future

Logue doesn’t engage much with the Sentinel, which she sees as peddling hate. “We’re out here talking about building communities,” she said. 

Logue’s hope is that self-sustaining, queer-inclusive communities like the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch will rise up around the nation. 

“Our vision is having one of these ranches in every state, so that we can network with each other and make it possible for people with limited funds to get to them,” she said. 

An alpaca shows its teeth on the grounds of the ranch. The creatures’ teeth can grow quite long and typically require trimming for the animal to feed efficiently.

They’re in talks with some people in Texas that want to start one, Logue says, and there is a tentative plan for another in Oregon.

And right now, they’re helping a group of indigenous queer people find land to buy in Arizona. Once they find an affordable property, the ranchers intend to co-sign on it, provide a herd of alpaca, and help them develop a detailed plan for success. 

Part of that plan, Logue said, outlines how to avoid being targeted by right-wing agitators. 

“Because I don’t see a future where we’re not dealing with that kind of thing constantly,” she said.

Read the original article on Business Insider