Garfield County sheriff, commissioner provide conservative take on COVID-19 at Saturday ’Freedom Rally’

Valley View ER doc counters claims regarding mask use to combat disease spread

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario speaks Saturday in front of the sheriff’s office in Glenwood Springs. Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario addressed what he considers to be growing threats to First Amendment rights during what was billed as a non-partisan rally Saturday in Glenwood Springs featuring staunch conservative keynote speakers.

“I’m very concerned right now that our free-speech rights and how they are rapidly being canceled and shut down and shut off,” he said before the gathering of a little more than 100 people, many of whom were maskless. “Some of the social media platforms are deciding what messages they want to get out and not.”

The rally, hosted by Stay Free Colorado — a coalition of Colorado residents whose aims and goals stated on their website center on promoting the First Amendment — unfolded just outside the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.

In addition to Vallario, keynote speakers included Republican Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, mask opponent Dr. Jeff Barke of California, local conservative activist Sherronna Bishop, and others.

Vallario, whose monthly Facebook live feed “Just the Facts” has continued to come under scrutiny for being too divisive, said he has no plans on quitting his online program and that if what he says offends people — “I don’t care.”

The statement was met with applause.

Audience members listen to Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario on Saturday. Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Vallario, wearing a Thin Blue Line hat with a similar style COVID-19 neck gaiter scrunched underneath his chin, also spoke to other issues and hot button topics pertaining to the First Amendment, saying he supports anyone’s right to assembly but that a line needs to be drawn.

“Rudy Giuliani said when he was the mayor of New York, you have an absolute right to protest and we’ll do everything we can to help you. But as soon as you throw the first rock, the first bottle, break the first window, you’re a criminal and you just lost that privilege,” he said.

Vallario also spoke on how laws are made and enforced.

“If we want to maintain law and order and our system of government, and not just have anarchy like a lot of these socialists and Marxists are trying to take us down the path, we have to have the process,” he said.

Vallario has served as Garfield County sheriff for the past 18 years.

Throughout the course of his political career, Jankovsky has been an ardent supporter of the natural gas industry. He’s also continued since early 2020 to voice opposition to Gov. Jared Polis’ approach to combating COVID-19, at one point during his Saturday speech referring to Polis as a “dictator.”

He also suggested to the crowd that COVID-19 was artificially manufactured in China, in a “Wuhan Lab.”

“Some people may say that that was an accident, but that wasn’t an accident, in my mind,” he said. “They knocked down our economy; it took out our president. But we are in a cold war with that country, with China.”

A cameraman records Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky as he speaks in front of the Sherrif’s Office Saturday. Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Bishop, a local mother of four and also a vocal opponent of what she argues is government overreach in relation to COVID-19 restrictions, said it’s not the government’s role to protect public health.

“We are not a socialist country yet,” she said. “We are still land of the free, home of the brave.”

Barke, a family medicine physician based out of Orange County, California, is a vocal opponent to mask wearing. The trained reserve deputy for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office was once in fact quoted in a September 2020 Los Angeles Times article, saying, “I’d rather see somebody carrying a concealed [weapon] than masking up.”

Hospitals with any association to Barke have since repudiated themselves from the certified primary care doctor of more than 25 years.

During his speech, Barke encouraged the crowd to check out his book — “A Physician’s Take on the Exaggerated Fear of the Coronavirus.”

He also referred to Anthony Fauci — the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 who, among others, was also national health advisor for President Ronald Reagann — as “King Anthony Fauci.”

“If there’s no better sign of tyranny than the mandating of the people wearing masks without science to support it, I don’t know what else there is,” Barke said.

Amid jeers and abrupt shrieks from the audience, however, Valley View Hospital Emergency Room Director Dr. Ben Peery would take the microphone from Barke during a question segment of his speech and essentially contradict everything Barke had said leading up to that point.

He also encouraged the entire crowd to purchase and wear masks.

“We’re caring for COVID patients every day at Valley View. We can walk in there into the ER right now and see the divided section for our COVID patients,” Peery said. “We have got them in the ICU, we’re flying patients out. And I just want you to understand that there is a 100% correlation of not wearing a mask and getting sick, and the repercussions are severe.”

“Even for younger patients,” he added. “I’m seeing patients that are in their 20s or 30s, that have had debilitating joint problems, long-term complications…”

As an anti-mask doctor from Orange County, California looks on, Valley View Hospital Emergency Room Director Dr. Ben Peery encourages a crowd Saturday to wear masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Peery’s comment was met with more audience heckling.

“I’m just telling you my experience. I’m not a politician, I don’t have an agenda,” Peery continued. “I’m just telling you how it is. … All my peers and colleagues and on the front lines — law enforcement, EMS — wear a mask for a reason. This is not bogus, and if you don’t wear them, you put yourself at risk and we’ll just keep taking care of ya.”

Will Hodges, an audience member who lives in Carbondale, was asked his thoughts on Saturday’s event.

“I mean, I agree,” he said. “I think we all have a right to beliefs and to express them. It just concerns me that we have a county commissioner and a sheriff who are part of a panel who are giving out bad information.”

During Jankovsky’s speech, Hodges yelled something regarding Colorado 3rd District U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., who was publicly accused of helping to incite violence at the nation’s Capital on Jan. 6.

“I wish (the speakers) would acknowledge the calls for violence and incitement that are happening by our congressional rep in Washington D.C.,” Hodges said. “I’m concerned about the extremism from the right.”

Another audience member, Brandon Mason from Paonia, also shared his opinions on the rally, which centered more on the validity of COVID-19 and how related legislation has impacted the economy.

“Instead of looking at this one metric of how is people’s health affected by the virus … how is the economy affected by this policy? How is the psychology of the population at large being affected?” he said. “What about children and the disruption (in) their schools. What about the disruption to global supply chains?”

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