First came the death threats on Facebook, with a stream of anonymous voices threatening to burn down the ranch and take all the guns. Then came the tails — unfamiliar trucks following them, usually for miles at a time, all the way home.
But the final straw came the evening of March 5th, when two groups of men quietly traversed the quarter-mile dirt road to the front gate of the ranch. One pair were caught by the night guard around midnight, fiddling with the light and lock on the gate. Several hours later, two more people clambered across a field, flanking toward the main house. “Our guy James [a pseudonym] spotted them. He hit them with a spotlight, and told them, ‘Remove yourselves, or die.’ And they ran like jackrabbits. I credit him for potentially saving our lives that night,” Penny Logue tells me. “It was a literal wake-up call.”
Logue, 40, is an Army vet with wavy blond hair and the confident air of a person who’s seen some shit, but she grimaces as she recalls the trespassing incident. She is the founder and co-owner of Tenacious Unicorn Ranch, a livestock farm on 40 acres of land that’s also a self-sufficient sanctuary for trans and queer people who need a place to stay and work. Set on the golden plains near the town of Westcliffe, Colorado, it’s a one-of-a-kind venue for a project that’s inspired both scrutiny and solidarity from allies and critics across the country.
Tenacious Unicorn has all the trappings of a farm — nearly 200 alpaca and dozens of sheep, plus ducks, chickens, dogs and cats — but also a ton of gear you don’t normally see in an agricultural setting: a scoped rifle, a couple of AR-15s, pistols, bulletproof vests and enough ammunition to launch a hunting expedition. Some days, amid the bleating of the alpaca, you can hear the distinct ping of 5.56 rounds hitting metal as the ranch hands drill long-range shooting in the backyard.
Logue and Bonnie Nelson, 34, came here two years ago. They now live at the ranch full time, along with 29-year-old J Stanley and Nelson’s husband, Sky. The home can comfortably fit a dozen people, making it a tranquil refuge in uncertain territory: Westcliffe is deeply conservative, and Logue is keenly aware of the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters and other right-wing agitators who roam this part of Colorado.
The nighttime trespass was the crest of a violent wave that began to swell on July 4, 2020, when Logue and Nelson witnessed a protest in Westcliffe while drinking coffee. The annual parade had been canceled due to the pandemic, but that didn’t stop local conservatives from congregating. The coterie included men holding Three Percenter banners, shirts supporting “white lives” and reams of MAGA gear. Incensed, Logue took to Twitter to write that the Fourth of July protest in Westcliffe was full of “Nazi propaganda.”
After that, the harassment took off.
“I came to Penny vehemently anti-gun, but after that Fourth of July protest and everything that happened, I bought the biggest rifle I could get my hands on,” Nelson says with a chuckle.
In addition to being trans, Logue, Nelson and Stanley are self-identifying anarchists, which has made them a particular threat to some observers (including a local blog that righteously deemed Tenacious Unicorn “left-wing fascism… xenophobes full of hate and obsessed with violence”). More than anything, though, their philosophy is one of self-reliance.
Logue and fellow ranchers don’t trust local law enforcement, telling me that they feel uneasy because of a few negative encounters with deputies coupled with Custer County Sheriff Shannon Byerly’s own behavior, which includes lying about the group’s behavior to the media and his admission that he spoke at an Oath Keepers rally.
In an email, Byerly says that his office hasn’t contacted the ranch since the spring, but hopes the members will report any threats. “Early on, there were a couple of instances where ‘anonymous’ sources called to complain about the way the animals on the ranch were being treated and a deputy went out there one time. We found the animals were all in very good care and so we haven’t listened to any other complaints against the folks there,” he writes.
Nonetheless, five months after the attack, Logue says a sense of calm has returned to the ranch. She attributes that calm to the silver lining of the chaos: When Tenacious Unicorn started posting and tweeting about the incursion in March, allies emerged from the woodwork almost immediately, enthusiastic to join the fray and fight back. Dozens of people from across Colorado and beyond, many of them anti-fascists and anarchists, reached out to Logue to volunteer for guard duty. Some sympathetic strangers sent money to pay for cameras and new fencing along the exposed edges of the ranch. Others delivered body armor, ammunition and gun accessories, such as Chris Bilynsky, a 39-year-old blacksmith in Kansas, who drove to Tenacious Unicorn to deliver handmade bulletproof plates and first-aid kits.
“Given the violence toward trans people, and how it’s increasing, it just felt like an important group to assist. Penny, Bonnie and everyone there are doing important work, and from an anarchist perspective, I think rural areas of America are ripe for positive change,” Bilynsky explains.
Tenacious Unicorn readied for the worst, with a stockpile of bulletproof plates and plentiful ammunition. So far, however, the best defense has been solidarity, not bullets. Logue remains cowed by the sheer volume and enthusiasm of people who reached out to help. (Some of the outreach was completely unexpected. “A lot of Boogaloo folks reached out to us. We had to say no, although the gesture was, err, hugely appreciated,” Logue says with a shrug.)
“It’s been insanely humbling, to say the least,” adds Logue. “These networks for support weren’t ready before the massive 2020 summer of protest. People would’ve been sympathetic to our cause, and we might’ve gotten donations, but the on-the-ground mobilization wouldn’t have been possible.”
For more than a month after the March incident, a four-person volunteer team patrolled the ranch every night, serving as a visible and armed deterrent for anyone watching with binoculars. Nowadays, the security regimen has relaxed a bit — but everyone sleeps easier knowing that help can, and will, arrive.
In an America hostile to queer and trans people, the ranch is evolving into a rare, radical blueprint for securing agency and joy in wide-open rural spaces through strong community support. The timing couldn’t be more urgent, with homelessness and violence rising sharply in the trans community in recent years. It’s what propelled Nelson to join Penny as a co-owner in the endeavor just months after joining the ranch.
“It’s a very hard life to be trans by yourself. I started to transition ten and a half years ago, and I had zero community until I left New York and joined this place,” Nelson says. “I don’t think Penny knew whether I’d be useful, [but] the ranch gave me a job, a home, and a way to help other trans people up.”
The ranch is sustained partly through selling wool from its alpaca and sheep herds, but the trio also conduct off-ranch work around Westcliffe and southern Colorado, tackling repairs, landscaping and other odd jobs for cash. Over time, they’ve grown a loyal clientele — some of whom even reached out privately to warn them about angry threats they’ve heard in town or read online.
These flirtations with violence don’t phase Stanley, 29, who joined Tenacious Unicorn in spring of last year after falling out with her family in North Texas. Stanley discovered the ranch via replies to her offhand tweet — “Trans commune when?” — and has since partnered as a third co-owner of Tenacious Unicorn, as well as the resident permaculture expert. “I didn’t expect things to escalate this soon, but I did expect it would eventually get to these kinds of fights because of the accelerated nature of the crises we’re facing in America,” Stanley says. “Right-wing ideologues are the real face of America. It’s the historical legacy of settler colonialism, and if you just leave, you’re going to find the same people in another place. At some point, you just have to make a stand.”
Buoyed by their community’s support, Tenacious Unicorn is seeking new ways to leverage their strength. Logue is excited about working on the front line to find and help vulnerable trans people around southern Colorado, following tips from local advocates and people on Facebook. She has photos on her phone documenting a recent case in which she and others drove to a campground littered with white supremacist graffiti to find a frail woman, alone and delirious, with a broken foot.
The long-term plans are shifting, too. They’ve nixed previous goals to expand the ranch on site, instead shifting their fundraised dollars to support a new rural project for indigenous queer people in Arizona, in a similar model to Tenacious Unicorn. And as these early partnerships continue to grow, Nelson says they want to help facilitate a network of safe spaces across the country.
“We’re here to stay. It took us a month to move into this house. I’m never moving again,” Nelson declares. “This is my home; my community is out here. There’s so many people in town that I’ve come to know and appreciate and love. Others who need protection, too. I’m not leaving.”
Eddie Kim is a features writer based in Los Angeles, covering social and cultural issues for MEL.