Metro Weekly

Club Q Shooter Avoids Death Penalty

Club Q shooter Anderson Aldrich has agreed to a plea deal on hate crime and weapons charges that will allow them to avoid the death penalty.

Anderson Lee Aldrich – Photo: Colorado Department of Corrections

Anderson Lee Aldrich, the 23-year-old perpetrator of the 2022 mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, will plead guilty to 74 counts of federal hate crime and gun crime charges as part of a plea deal arranged with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Aldrich is expected to receive “multiple concurrent life sentences plus additional consecutive sentences totaling 190 years imprisonment,” if a judge accepts the plea deal.

According to a news release from the Department of Justice, both Aldrich’s lawyers and the department jointly filed a motion to schedule a change of plea hearing for Aldrich and the sentencing hearing on the same date. While the court has granted that motion, a date has not yet been selected.

Aldrich entered Club Q, a popular LGBTQ nightclub, on November 19, 2022, dressed in body armor and armed with a rifle and a handgun. He opened fire inside the club and continued firing until he was subdued by a couple of patrons.

Five people were killed, and 19 were injured in the attack, which prosecutors claim was committed because of the actual or perceived sexual orientations or gender identities of club patrons.

Aldrich is currently serving five consecutive life sentences, plus an additional 2,208 consecutive years without the possibility of parole, at the Wyoming State Penitentiary after pleading guilty in June to five counts of first-degree murder and 46 counts of attempted murder — one for each patron on the Club Q premises on the night of the mass shooting.

Under the terms of the federal plea agreement, the United States will agree not to seek the death penalty against Aldrich, reports CNN.

Aldrich, whose lawyers claim identifies as nonbinary and uses the pronouns “they/them,” visited Club Q multiple times before the attack — ostensibly because their mother “forced” them to go, according to prosecutors.

Aldrich previously told The Associated Press that they were on a “very large plethora of drugs” and abusing steroids when the attack occurred, and denied that their actions were motivated by hate.

But prosecutors claim that Aldrich made a map of Club Q and planned the attack in advance, using “computers, Internet service providers, web-based retail platforms, web-based financial payment process platforms, and interstate commercial mail carriers, to acquire firearm components, ammunition, and tactical gear.”

According to Colorado Springs CBS affiliate KKTV, Aldrich even expressed a desire to become the “next mass killer,” further indicating that the attack was premeditated.

Detectives previously found examples where Aldrich expressed hatred for police, LGBTQ people, and minorities, used anti-LGBTQ and racist slurs while playing video games, and ran a neo-Nazi website featuring a white supremacist training video glorifying mass shootings.

They also reportedly posted an image of a Pride parade with a rifle scope on it.

Colorado Springs area District Attorney Michael Allen has claimed that Aldrich’s professed gender identity is a ruse employed to avoid hate crime charges and the death penalty and has repeatedly argued that there is no evidence of Aldrich identifying as nonbinary prior to the shooting.

Xavier Kraus, one of Aldrich’s former friends, told NBC News that he believes Aldrich’s claim of being nonbinary is “a total troll on the community, and a total troll on the system.” Kraus said Aldrich never identified as nonbinary, or used gender-neutral pronouns, and in fact, would frequently make racist and homophobic statements. 

A digital expert on online extremism and disinformation previously told Metro Weekly that it is not uncommon for people on the far right politically to attempt to “troll” their victims or targets of their ire. To such individuals, the very idea of LGBTQ identity, particularly gender nonconformity, is a joke and a way to “muddy the waters” in an attempt to avoid hate crime charges or harsher penalties.

The uncertainty around Aldrich’s gender identity also attempts to put the LGBTQ community in a lose-lose situation, allowing right-wingers to either cite their purported gender identity as “evidence” that transgender people are mentally ill, violent, or both, or to use skepticism of Aldrich’s purported gender identity to argue, in a broader manner, against allowing trans and gender-nonconforming people to self-identify in terms of their gender identity.

Ashtin Gamblin, a survivor of the Club Q shooting who had been working at the front door when Aldrich opened fire, told KKTV that she was disappointed in the plea deal, saying that without the possibility of facing the death penalty, the punishments handed down in relation to the federal charges are redundant, as Aldrich will already remain in prison for rest of his life. 

“It’s not doing anybody any good. Just because you smack him with federal hate crime charges doesn’t mean that you’ve made a point,” she said. “Whatever you hand him, you’re just basically telling him ‘You’re grounded again, go to your room, and you’re going to be there the rest of your life.'”

She added that she plans to push for Colorado to change its laws to require harsher penalties for bias-motivated crimes, which are currently only charged as misdemeanors and don’t prevent a perpetrator from becoming eligible for parole.

Michael Anderson, the vice president of operations for Club Q, released a statement thanking federal prosecutors for pursuing the hate crime charges against Aldrich.

“Every single person in our country is to be guaranteed the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Anderson said. “What the shooter chose to do on November 19th, 2022, was a malicious and bigoted act of violence meant to deprive countless lives of those rights — including my own. While justice cannot undo the bullets fired, lives forever changed, and friends we’ve lost on that horrific night, I hope these additional charges will serve as a deterrent from any other individual seeking to commit violence.”

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