By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Despite an elaborate hoax Thursday, the annual Columbus Day Parade will march on.
A bogus news release was issued to local media Thursday afternoon on behalf of the Sons of Italy Columbus Day Parade Committee stating that the parade had been cancelled due to lack of financial support from the city. The release blamed the funding shortage on pressure by anti-Columbus Day activists.
“Due to the City of Denver’s lack of direct financial support stemming from what we believe is a fear of a possible lawsuit from disgruntled anti-American activists, we are unable to secure public funding,” the fake news release stated.
At least three news organizations — the Associated Press, KUSA-TV 9News and KMGH-TV 7News — posted stories announcing the cancellation.
But repeated media inquiries by the Denver Daily News and other organizations sparked the curiosity of the mayor’s office. City officials pulled records, which indicated that a permit for the parade was in effect and the event was on schedule. Eric Brown, spokesman for Mayor John Hickenlooper, immediately found the e-mail suspicious when he pointed out that the city had not provided direct financial support in years past.
Phone calls by the media to Richard SaBell, the president of the Parade Committee, were not immediately returned. It turned out the fake e-mail included a phone number to a bogus voice mail account that appeared to belong to SaBell when it did not.
The mayor’s office eventually got SaBell on the phone. He confirmed that the e-mail was a hoax, forcing media outlets to quickly pull their prematurely posted stories.
Meanwhile, Sons of Italy has contacted the Denver Police Department. The department’s Computer Crimes Unit is investigating, confirmed police spokeswoman Loretta Beauvais.
“We’re certainly aware of the situation and the press release and we’re looking into it,” said Beauvais.
SaBell told the Denver Daily that he is outraged by the hoax, but added that he is not surprised given intense actions by protesters in years past, who have year after year attempted to disrupt the parade, resulting in mass arrests.
“This is serious. I’ve got to tell you, we’re tired of these people infringing on our rights,” said SaBell.
“I feel violated,” he continued. “Somebody impersonated me and tried to stop something that’s very important to me, to my family and to my history.”
The Denver Columbus Day Parade is the nation’s oldest. This year will mark its 102nd celebration.
The parade has been plagued by violent protests, often disrupting the parade itself. The Transform Columbus Day Alliance — comprised of Native American activists and their supporters — protest Columbus Day because of believed atrocities committed in the 15th century by explorer Christopher Columbus.
Mark Cohen, an activist organizer with the Transform Columbus Day Alliance, said he does not know of anyone from his organization being involved with the hoax. He added, however, that it does not surprise him.
“A lot of people have been doing stuff like that lately … I guess that’s become part of the scene now,” he said.
When originally contacted by the Denver Daily for comment on the cancellation, Cohen laughed.
“This parade was a celebration of racism and genocide, it celebrated an individual who was responsible for the murder of millions of indigenous people that set off a quest of 500 years of racism and environmental destruction,” he said. “It’s just not something that belongs in the City of Denver.”
But SaBell does not find the issue a laughing matter. He said that while the parade had briefly dwindled down to mostly older participants, a new generation is taking up the cause and won’t let it die.
“This is a new generation, and we’re not intimidated,” he said.
Columbus Day Parade
WHEN: Saturday, 10 a.m.
WHERE: Starts at Court Place and 15th St.; ends at Broadway and 14th Ave.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters