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'This Guy’s Been Watching the Wrong Type of News Channel or Something'

When a Black lineman from Colorado State went knocking on doors in a white neighborhood, he found himself at the dangerous intersection of a national racial reckoning and a world of internet-conspiracy fanaticism.

Barry Wesley had told himself to be confident, but now he was starting to shake. His palms dampened with sweat. His heart kicked like a double bass drum. Later he would compare the moment to a terrified cliff diver standing on the edge of a 50-foot bluff, staring down at a blackened abyss, “and there’s no water in sight.”

In reality, the nervous 20-year-old was occupying an aisle seat behind the home sideline at sunny Canvas Stadium, where he has anchored Colorado State’s offensive line for the past two seasons. His teammates were there too, socially distanced across the stands, their looks of concern and confusion covered by medical face masks. Down in front, standing next to a few college administrators, coach Steve Addazio offered an introduction to this emergency, all-but-mandatory team meeting on June 12.

Halfway up the bleachers, his words penetrated Wesley’s fog in fragments:

… one of our teammates … involved in a situation … the climate of this country … Barry? Where are you sitting?

A weak hand went up, and Wesley slowly rose from his seat. He stepped into the aisle and trudged down the stairs, growing increasingly unsettled with each set of eyes that turned to him. At the front, where Addazio ceded the floor, Wesley—6' 6", 305 pounds—turned to face his teammates and steadied himself with a deep breath, counting: one … two … three. Then he spoke about what he calls “the most unforgettable day” of his life. Yesterday.

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He talked about his new summer job as a door-to-door roofing salesman, and about an otherwise quiet afternoon of work in a nearby suburb. About the stranger in tactical gear who broke the silence by charging at Wesley and a colleague, screaming about “antifa” and terrorists, ordering the salesmen onto the ground. About the gun barrel the man jammed into the back of Wesley’s head, and the knee he pressed into the back of Wesley’s neck. About the seven or so minutes Wesley was pinned on the ground—hardly less time than a white Minneapolis police officer had spent atop another Black man, George Floyd, in a similar position, until Floyd died, just three weeks earlier.

Wesley stumbled more than once, choking back tears. Each time, though, he took another deep breath—one … two … three—and soldiered ahead. He described the thoughts that raced through his mind while he was on the ground. His parents and his girlfriend. His teammates and their football season. His 21st birthday, then a month away, and how badly he wanted to buy a legal drink.

“I don’t even know you yet,” he said at one point, addressing the incoming freshmen in the group, who were only just finishing their first day on campus, “but you’re family. I love every single one of you. I can’t wait to build our relationship.”

When he was finally finished, as silence hung over the stadium and the early-evening sun dipped below the Southern Rocky Mountains in the distance, Wesley collapsed back into a bleacher seat, dropped his head and sobbed. He thanked everyone for coming out on short notice, and for listening to the story he needed to share. Then he left them with a parting message, of which he hoped his fellow Black players in the stands would take special heed:

“Be safe,” Wesley said. “If you think it can’t happen to you, it definitely can.”

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***

Aside from a brief stint at a Denver-area Walmart during his senior year of high school, all of Barry Wesley’s past work experiences had involved children. Not that any of it ever felt like work. He babysat nine of his 10 younger cousins. He supervised Little League baseball umpires. A few summers ago he interned at a Boys & Girls Club, which he loved so much that he decided right then to one day become a guidance counselor.

He was drawn by “the pureness, the naiveté” of children, he told the Rams’ website in May after receiving a campus-wide award for student leadership. “When you get older, you see the bad and the ugly and evil in people.”

The roofing job, though? It was just that—a job. He had wanted to start saving money heading into his redshirt junior year, so he followed a few teammates who already worked for Premier Roofing, taking a commission-based position as an intern-level sales associate.

On Wednesday, June 10, Wesley set out with a supervisor, 28-year-old Kyle Farrell, for his first day in the field, hoping to drum up some storm-damage-repair business in Loveland, an overwhelmingly white (nearly 85%) and middle-income (about $61,000 annually per household) community just south of campus. Wesley and Farrell wore standard company uniforms: khaki shorts, navy polo shirts and tennis shoes, plus surgical gloves and face masks on account of the pandemic. Farrell showed Wesley the ropes, offering tips on the sales script as they walked.

At one point in the morning, after a handful of stops with little to show for it, the two came upon a house with a white Jeep parked in the driveway and a NO SOLICITING sign on the door. Farrell knocked anyway, and an older man answered. Seeing the salesmen, Wesley recalls, 65-year-old Scott Gudmundsen—half a foot shorter than Wesley, with green eyes, auburn hair and a beard—flew into a rage. “He’s like, ‘What are you doing? Get off my property! Don’t you see the sign? Get the f--- off!’ So we leave.”

Across the street, Wesley and Farrell saw an elderly couple taking out the trash. But as they headed over to help, sensing an opportunity to marry altruism and capitalism, Gudmundsen bolted across his lawn, demanding to see identification. When Farrell replied that his ID was in his truck, Gudmundsen followed with his cellphone raised, filming the vehicle’s license plate, relenting only after inspecting Farrell’s solicitor’s badge and driver’s license.

Even as his tone turned friendly, Gudmundsen—wearing a hat with an American flag and identifying himself as a former police officer, Farrell says—conveyed the gravity of his concerns. “He goes on to explain how he thinks there have been ‘members of antifa, Mexican people in black-and-white cars, building pipe bombs and trying to terrorize the neighborhood,’ ” Wesley recalls.

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At the time, Wesley says, he didn’t know anything about antifa—a broad term, short for anti-fascist, that encompasses an autonomous, leaderless protest movement committed to fighting far-right extremism. Based on Gudmundsen’s behavior, though, Wesley assumed that this perceived threat was serious, that “something must’ve happened” in the area to cause such alarm, he says. This idea was reinforced when Gudmundsen patted his hip, drawing attention to a handgun. Wesley, who says he’d never before encountered someone in public carrying a concealed weapon, was taken aback. “Like, this guy’s no joke. He’s really trying to protect the neighborhood.” (Colorado is a “shall-issue” concealed carry state, meaning police can issue permits for civilian firearms.)

Here the two sides parted ways. Gudmundsen returned to his house, Wesley recalls, hollering at the elderly couple across the street as if to validate his vigilance: “Don’t worry! They’re legit!” Wesley and Farrell, meanwhile, headed down the block to finish their day. They hit some 20 more homes before calling it quits. If the interaction with Gudmundsen had left any impression, it didn’t last long; that night Wesley was more focused on the contract that he and Farrell had scored to restore a roof damaged by hail.

“It was weird, but not really concerning,” Wesley says. “We talked about [Gudmundsen] on the way back to Fort Collins, about George Floyd and the climate of our country and how sensitive it is right now. I just figured: This guy’s been watching the wrong type of news channel or something.”

***

On June 11, Wesley awoke at the apartment of his girlfriend, Myanne Hamm, a recent CSU graduate and former basketball player. He attended a team workout and then reported to the Premier Roofing office in Fort Collins, eager to take the sales lead for his second day on the job, like he and Farrell had planned.

By the time he arrived, though, the plan had changed. Wesley recalls not being told much—just that Gudmundsen had phoned the roofing company that morning and spoken to a supervisor; and that, as a result, he and Farrell were to avoid Gudmundsen’s street. (He says he wasn’t informed until later, however, that on the call Gudmundsen had again accused the salesmen of being “antifa,” citing the way they were dressed—particularly their face masks. Nor was he informed that the call ended when Gudmundsen began acting “erratically” and “yell[ing] violently,” as the supervisor would later tell police.)

Wesley again shrugged off any concern. “I didn’t think too much of it,” he says. So he and Farrell sat outside their office, practicing their script. Then they drove to Loveland, where Wesley used football as an icebreaker, ingratiating himself with a homeowner who had a Denver Broncos tailgate van parked in the driveway, earning an invitation to inspect the man’s roof.

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The afternoon plodded along. The salesmen rang some more bells, knocked on some more doors, but no one answered. Nearing the end of one street, they turned right, away from Gudmundsen’s home, into a cul-de-sac, and tried several more houses, to no avail. At that point, Wesley says, he stopped in a driveway to log their efforts on a clipboard. Farrell was nearby, standing closer to the road, when Wesley spotted a man coming their way, “dressed in full body armor, all camouflage, with a reflective optic sight on his gun.”

Scott Gudmundsen was toting a veritable arsenal as he rushed in screaming, “Police! Get on the f------ ground or I’ll kill you!” Among his gear, which all together weighed upward of 35 pounds: two loaded Glock 17 pistols, one installed with a micro RONI stabilizer, such that it resembled a rifle; two 33-round Glock 9mm magazines, containing 50 total rounds of ammo; an armored plate carrier; four 30-round rifle magazines; and two knives.

Eyeing the gun in Gudmundsen’s grip, Wesley says he dropped to the pavement and locked his hands above his head. Farrell initially tried to defuse the situation, pleading with Gudmundsen to remember their interaction from the previous day. But it was no use. “Shut up!” Wesley says Gudmundsen yelled, repeating his orders: “Get on the ground!”

As Wesley remembers it: Gudmundsen marched up the driveway, “right over Kyle,” who was now splayed out, “and goes straight to me.” Again, Gudmundsen accused the salesmen of being antifa, which he said negated their civil rights. Face down, Wesley couldn’t see what was happening, but he felt Gudmundsen grab his ankles, attempting to restrain them. “I’m too big,” he says, “so it didn’t work.”

Instead, Wesley says Gudmundsen knelt on the back of his neck, jamming the rifle-like gun against the offensive lineman’s skull. Fearing that Gudmundsen would pull the trigger at the slightest movement, Wesley tightened his fingers until his arms throbbed with pain. He bawled and begged:

“Please don’t kill me. … Please don’t kill me.”

Gudmundsen’s reply still haunts him.

“You’re lucky,” Wesley remembers hearing from above. “I’m not going to kill you. The police are going to do that for me.”

***

“At that point,” Wesley says, “I was in my own head.” Visions raced by, of a life and a future on fast-forward: his mother and stepfather, who never missed one of his football, basketball or baseball games. The cousins he used to babysit, the youngest just about to enter high school. His home in Bear Creek, Colo., and a childhood full of pool parties, barbecues and backyard Wiffle ball tournaments.

He saw Hamm and the apartment they planned to move into together. He pictured his best friends at CSU—the teammates who’d encouraged him as he busted ass to earn a scholarship as a walk-on in August 2018, and who competed alongside him when he started all 24 games over the next two seasons, appearing at all five line positions. He wondered whether he would ever play another snap.