Republicans call on El Paso County party chair to resign over controversial coronavirus comments

The vast majority of El Paso County’s elected Republicans are calling for the local party leader to resign amid a series of social media posts about the coronavirus sweeping Colorado and the rest of the world.

While Vickie Tonkins, the county chair, appears content to hold her seat, the latest controversy adds to an already-tumultuous time for the El Paso County Republican Party. Tonkins is the third chair to hold the seat within the last 18 months. She did not return a call seeking comment.

Tonkins asked on the party’s official Facebook page Wednesday whether people believe the coronavirus is a “PSYOP (Psychological Operation).” The post also included a definition of the operations, which are conducted “to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups and individuals.”

While the post was quickly deleted, images of it were captured and are circulating. Tonkins also offered additional comments on her personal Facebook account, sharing a post that falsely indicates that staying indoors increases the risk of contracting coronavirus.

“Time for civil unrest,” Tonkins commented on another post.

Tonkin’s post from the official county page drew the most attention and swift condemnation, especially in light of the death that day of 41-year-old El Paso County Sheriff’s deputy Jeff Hopkins.

Nine deputies, including Hopkins, have tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, Sheriff Bill Elder has confirmed.

“To suggest the entire world has somehow been deceived… when citizens in high risk categories are dying, and indeed, a young, healthy law enforcement officer has just died in our community, is reprehensible,” Republicans responded in a letter.

It was signed by 17 state and locally elected Republicans representing El Paso County, including Elder, state Sens. Dennis Hisey, Paul Lundeen and Bob Gardner and Reps. Shane Sandridge, Larry Liston, Tim Geitner, Terri Carver and Lois Landgraf.

“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,” the letter says.

Tonkins offered a partial apology from the party’s official page but gave no indication that she might resign.

“I am sorry a few of you were offended by a definition, that was NOT the intention. I did not give an opinion I just asked what people’s thoughts are we have asked your thoughts on other issues.”

“Let’s be slower to judge and quicker to learn, it is how we grow as a person!” she continued.

At least one elected official, state Rep. Dave Williams, defended Tonkins, saying in his own letter that the call for her resignation was an overreaction.

“In all my years with our local party, I’ve never seen this kind of coordinated and organized effort to “censure” and remove a wildly popular chairwoman who won over 60% of the central committee’s support, and this was after the incident where a former chair accidentally killed an individual,” Williams wrote. He did not return a message seeking comment.

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