By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
A suspect accused of smashing 11 windows at the Colorado Democratic Party headquarters early Tuesday morning is connected to ultra-liberal groups once investigated by the FBI for potential domestic terrorism incidents.
Maurice Schwenkler, 24, was being held Tuesday for questioning after being arrested in the smashing of windows with a hammer. A second suspect was able to elude an officer who happened to be driving by the 700 block of Santa Fe Drive at around 2:20 a.m. when the incident reportedly took place. The officer was only able to pursue one of the suspects — Schwenkler — as the two were fleeing on bicycles.
A description of the second suspect is unclear because the men disguised their identities with clothes and latex gloves.
The attack came one year after Denver hosted the Democratic National Convention.
But State Democratic Party Chairwoman Pat Waak was quick Tuesday to suggest that the vandalism was over controversy surrounding President Obama’s health care reform proposal.
“I just feel like a lot of the hate-rhetoric that’s out there has really not been good for the country and certainly not good for the dialogue on health care, and so I don’t think this was random … I think it was really aimed at us,” she said.
Posters on the shattered windows were that of pro-health care reform position statements and Obama propaganda. A flier opposing the health care plan also mysteriously appeared on an outside wall near the building.
Police, however, were “uncertain what motivated the suspects to commit this crime,” according to a Denver Police Department news release.
Originally assumed by many that the incident was committed by Republicans angry over the reform proposal, a trail of evidence connects Schwenkler to ultra-liberal groups investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
A woman listed as a resident of Schwenkler’s home in the 1000 block of Lipan Street was once questioned by investigators over various protests, including plans to disrupt the 2004 Republican and Democratic national conventions and the 2004 presidential election.
Investigators in August 2004 visited the Lipan Street home of Sarah Bardwell, an anti-war organizer and member of the Denver chapter of Food Not Bombs, to “conduct pretext interviews to gain general information concerning possible criminal activity at the upcoming political conventions and presidential election,” according to a Freedom of Information Act request made public by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Raleigh, N.C., chapter of Food Not Bombs was connected with a November 2004 incident in which the North Carolina Republican headquarters was vandalized.
Schwenkler was also once paid $500 by liberal-leaning group Colorado Citizens’ Coalition for “communication” work, according to 2008 expenditure filings to the Secretary of State’s office. The Colorado Citizens’ Coalition is a political 527 committee dedicated to social issues such as health care and education reform.
When contacted by the Denver Daily News, a friend of Schwenkler’s — identified only as Ben — answered the phone of the Lipan Street residence but declined to comment in detail.
“Right now we’re just trying to get him out of jail,” said the friend.
Schwenkler’s mother, Alice Marie Schwenkler, answered the phone at her Shohola, Penn., home but declined to comment on her son’s past when informed by the Denver Daily that her son had been arrested earlier in the day.
Schwenkler’s aunt, Mary Schwenkler, also declined to comment from her Ambler, Penn., home, saying she had not kept “many tabs on him.”
A public records search of Schwenkler revealed little details of his past other than that he previously lived in Milford, Penn., and Hillsdale, N.J.
State Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams called the act “reprehensible,” but said it is unfair to connect the incident to Republican opposition to the president’s health care reform plan.
“The people who oppose the Obama-Democratic health care plan are hard-working American citizens who legitimately oppose that plan,” he said. “That opposition has nothing to do with this despicable act against the Democratic Party headquarters.”
Meanwhile, Waak is asking for donations to help with the estimated $10,000 in damage. She herself joined a group of volunteers Tuesday in cleaning up the broken glass and boarding up smashed windows.
She said it does not surprise her that the suspect may be involved with extremist liberal groups.
“I do hear from people from time to time on each end of the extreme,” said Waak.
“Whatever the issue is, it seems to be stimulated in some small part by this,” she continued. “I think we need to have a civil debate about health care and it needs to not be on one extreme over the other.”
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters