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Republican Denver Riggleman is mulling a run for governor of Virginia, according to a new profile by The New York Times

By Virginia Chamlee
April 05, 2021 01:38 PM
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Denver Riggleman
Denver Riggleman
| Credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll

Denver Riggleman lost his primary race last summer in the wake of conservative fallout over his officiation of a gay wedding.

And while he no longer holds public office, the former Republican Virginia lawmaker, 51, is still focused on his party — particularly, he told The New York Times for a new profile, as it relates to baseless conspiracy theories like QAnon.

Riggleman, a self-described libertarian who formerly represented southwestern Virginia in Congress, was primaried after officiating the wedding of two men who had volunteered for his 2018 congressional campaign.

"I'd have been a coward if I didn't [officiate]," Riggleman told NPR following the backlash over the ceremony. "The Republican Party is the party of Lincoln, we're the party of individual liberty."

Riggleman's detractors insisted at the time that the wedding wasn't the reason for the push against him, instead pointing to his votes on immigration and other issues. But local party officials censured him over the wedding and the man who beat him, Bob Good, campaigned on his conservatism on LGBTQ issues.

Since leaving office, Riggleman and his wife have been running Silverback Distillery, a bar and distillery they own near the Blue Ridge Mountains.

But the Times reports that the former Air Force intelligence officer isn't completely removed from the political world. Instead, he's devoted much of his time to shining a light on the disinformation he says plagues the modern-day GOP.

Riggleman, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump during his 2018 run for Congress, told the Times that it now gives him "shivers" to be called a Republican.

After he left office, he says, Riggleman was shunned by members of his own party, constituents and even family members as he tried to discredit the conspiracy theories touted by Trump, who has insisted the November election he lost was "rigged."

He also published a book, Bigfoot . . . It's Complicated, which examines how beliefs in Bigfoot mirror beliefs in the lies touted by Trump and his allies. (The book's title has another meaning: In 2018, Riggleman was accused by a Democratic challenger of being a "devotee of Bigfoot Erotica.")

"If you look at the Giulianis or the Sidney Powells of the world, they're making money off the grift because they're asking for donations to help in a mythological quest of things that can't be proven," Riggleman told The Washington Post following the release of the book. "I saw it with Bigfoot. I'm seeing it with QAnon. It's about money. And sometimes crazy and money live in the same space."

Riggleman says not everyone is enthused by his attempts to examine how conspiracies are hurting Republicanism. Speaking to the Times, he recounted one instance of a fellow lawmaker telling him he was "killing himself" professionally.

"I had a colleague of mine pat me on the shoulder and say: 'Denver, you're just too paranoid. You're killing yourself for the rest of your life politically by going after the big man like this,' " he told the Times.

Riggleman is now working with the Network Contagion Research Institute, a self-described politically neutral group that tracks the spread of disinformation and conspiracy theories on social media platforms, according to the Times.

Despite his displeasure with the GOP, Riggleman hasn't quite given up on politics and is mulling a Virginia gubernatorial run while simultaneously "writing a book about his experience with the dark side of Republican politics," the Times reports.

As part of his work with the institute, Riggleman has prepared reports countering the false claim that the Jan. 6 Capitol riots were undertaken by far-left radicals rather than by a pro-Trump mob.

In November, following Trump's loss to President Joe Biden, Riggleman told Yahoo News that the former president was riding the "crazy train" when it came to conspiracy theories.

"So you have Sharpie-gate. You have the watermarks. You have ballot burning, and now you have this bizarre, ridiculous conspiracy theory," Riggleman said then. "You have crossed the Rubicon, you jumped on the crazy train and you're headed into the cliffs that guard the flat earth at that time, brother."

Those remarks echoed similar statements Riggleman made to PEOPLE last year, when he said that "many" lawmakers were "scratching their head wondering what's happening," when it came to conspiracy theories seeping into U.S. politics and the GOP in particular.

Riggleman said then that it didn't matter which political party conspiracy theorists belong more to — because "if you stick your toe into crazy, it could infect the whole body."