On June 15, a man was shot in Old Town over the “La Jornada” (The Journey) sculpture in front of the Albuquerque Museum. The shooting occurred during a protest for the removal of the figures of Juan de Onate de Salazar in the sculpture.
During the protest, there were 5 to 6 heavily armed New Mexico Civil Guard members, some dressed in military camouflage, present trying to “protect” the sculpture. It was reported that the shooting occurred when at least 3 of the protesters attacked a person identified as Steven Baca who was walking away from them. Steven Baca was struck in the head with a skateboard and Baca drew a gun, shot numerous times, with one shot hitting one of the protesters. The shot protester was rushed to the hospital and was listed in critical but stable condition. The shooting and violence resulted in the City taking the single figure of Onate in the sculpture grouping down.
On June 16, the Albuquerque Police Department released a photo of the 13 guns and 34 magazines taken from militia members at the. In the APD photo there are 4 semi-automatic rifles. A controversy is now brewing over the handling of the protest by the Albuquerque Police Department (APD).
THE NEW MEXICO CIVIL GUARD
On Sunday July 5, the Albuquerque Journal published a very lengthy front page story which is interesting and alarming on the New Mexico Civil Guard entitled “NM Civil Guard Is Marching Forward, Despite Calls To Stand Down” with the story written by Matthew Reisen, a Journal staff writer. According to a Journal introductory Editor’s Note: Journal reporter Matthew Reisen accompanied by a Journal photographer spent a weekend in Wagon Wheel, New Mexico with the New Mexico Civil Guard, the armed group that confronted protesters trying to remove the statue of conquistador Juan de Oñate in Old Town. You can read the full article here:
HIGHLIGHTS OF ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL ARTICLE ON JUNE 15 ONATE STATUE PROTEST AND SHOOTING
Following are the major highlights of the June 15 Onate Statue protest and shooting gleaned from the Albuquerque Journal news article:
Bryce Provance, age 30, is the chaplain and founder of the New Mexico Civil Guard (NMCG). Provance said the NMCG got involved in the Oñate incident after a local group associated with a presidential campaign told them there would be a riot after the statue fell and said they wanted “nothing to do with” Oñate and were there to give protesters “something to think about” and he had this to say:
“You know what the police are going to do, you don’t know what we’re going to do. … Our goal was to be that question mark in their minds that made them think maybe this isn’t the greatest idea to go burning through Old Town.”
NMCG group members said things would have escalated “either way” but admitted the protesters called their bluff on their firepower when they pulled out a pickax to remove the statue despite the armed patrol. According to the NMCG, its members do not shoot unless shot at or aimed at and they retreated soon after the pickaxe came out to knock down the Onate statue.
NMCG member David Rice said APD should have posted officers at the Oñate protest. Rice called Steven Baca’s actions of shooting a protester a “clean shoot,” asserting that Baca was being attacked. The shooting is still under investigation. Steven Baca’s lawyers say it was self-defense. District Attorney Raul Torrez has dismissed the most serious charges against Baca and far lesser charges have been filed against him that are unrelated to the shooting. Baca is charged with battery on other protesters and carrying a concealed weapon without a license.
After the gunfire, NMCG founder Bryce Provance said his men set their “scope” on Baca and “would’ve blown his brains out” if he kept shooting. NMCG member John Burks, an Army veteran who served in “quite a few deployments” said that he could not “specifically speak on” his kicking Steven Baca’s gun away to “secure the crime scene“ but did say “People said we protected him after he shot. … No, we detained him and formed a perimeter around him so that he didn’t pick that gun back up and shoot more people.” What the NMCG did with Steven Baca would also likely fall under the legal definitions of “aggravated assault with a deadly weapon” or “kidnapping.”
Civil Guard members told the Journal they take zero responsibility for what happened at the June 15 protest. They said Baca was “justified” in shooting Williams and believe their armed presence stopped more bloodshed.
Provance said when they were detained after the shooting, an APD officer and FBI agent treated them like “witnesses.” After being questioned and their guns siezed, Provance said the APD officers told them if it wasn’t for them, more people “would’ve left in body bags.” That may have been true, but what also would have been true is that NMCG members who did the shooting would have been arrested and charged with first degree murder.
THEY BARBECUE ON FRIDAYS AND OTHER THINGS WORTH NOTING
The July 5 Albuquerque Journal report contains the following highlights worth noting:
1. Local leaders and law enforcement authorities have condemned the group’s actions at the June 15 Onate statue protest even though the guard says it was not there to instigate and had “no clue” who the shooter Steven Baca was who shot a protester.
2. Albuquerque Police Department (APD) is not investigating the group but the city has asked the FBI to determine whether the Civil Guard meets the federal definition to be classified as a hate group. An APD spokesman said the group has repeated “blatant falsehoods” on social media to inject “anti-APD” sentiment into Albuquerque.
3. An FBI spokesman said the agency doesn’t designate hate groups. The FBI will “not confirm or deny” whether the agency is investigating the group.
4. The Black Lives Matter movement considers NMCG a hate group. Black Lives Matter organizer Kia Russ is quoted in the article as saying:
“Plain and simple, lives were at risk when they showed up as this ‘Civil Guard,’ and I feel that the police need to hold these individuals and hate groups accountable due to their blatant acts of just hate”.
Russ said the group with its guns, armor and posturing is a prime example of “white male fragility” emboldened by President Donald Trump.
5. Mark Pitcavage, with the Anti-Defamation League, said the New Mexico Civil Guard militia movement “as a whole” is about anti-government extremism, not white supremacy. According to Pitcavage, the Civil Guard, like most militias started since 2017, show up at places where they think leftists will be such as Black Lives Matter and George Floyd protests. Pitcavage had this to say about the recent militia that have emerged:
“There is a small amount of crossover [and some hold elements of racism and bigotry within their ranks but its too early to tell their intent] … They haven’t had much time to establish much of a track record. … They like the idea of confronting the leftists while rationalizing it, and by telling people that they are there to help police keep the peace or help protect everybody’s rights. … But what they really want to do is stare down the leftists and some of them probably wouldn’t mind brawling with them. … Even if they don’t ever break the law, they might do damage in terms of conspiracy theories, in terms of spreading extreme rhetoric and ideas. … The militia movement is not a beneficial or benign movement … Even if a particular militia group doesn’t have a track record of violence, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing.”
6. Bryce Provance, age 30, the chaplain and founder of the New Mexico Civil Guard (NMCG) proclaims he is 3 years sober, carries a Bible and claims he is the only member of the NMGC that does not carry a gun. Provance hides several revealing tattoos, including a swastika on his shoulder that he said he got “to survive” a lengthy prison stretch. Provance told the Journal his group does not take sides and is “very centrist” even though the majority of its members lean conservative and libertarian.
Bryce Provance told Journal reporter Matthew Reisen:
“The world is a scary place and, it seems like, if you don’t have friends with weapons – you better find some. … So we decided we want to protect our communities, we want to be an auxiliary force. … We go out and train, we learn cool stuff, then we barbecue on Fridays. … Your feelings don’t matter. … Well they do, but your feelings don’t dictate what happens in the world. … Because I have feelings on history, doesn’t mean that history is fake, just because I don’t like it. My feelings shouldn’t dictate your actions, your feelings don’t dictate my actions. Laws and the constitutions dictate our actions.”
7. Members of the NMCG claim they are the victims of bad press and that they have been victimized by being fired from their jobs and threatened. They strongly dispute they are racists by noting they have Hispanic and African American members. According to NMCG member David Rice:
“This [being a member of NMCG] isn’t something you do because you hate something. … This is an act of love, kindness and generosity. We know we’re putting ourselves in harm’s way.”
8. APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos has told the NMCG they “are not welcome” at public events and said:
“The fact remains that the New Mexico Civil Guard has actively worked to intimidate peaceful protesters, make them fearful and raise tensions “Their presence and actions have made these events less safe and put the lives of officers in jeopardy.”
9. NMCG Founder Bryce Provance says his group is now practicing crowd control techniques and plans to elect a “colonel” who would oversee members statewide so they can grow their ranks and said the NMCG will go when called, whether it’s to a campaign event.
10. The NMCG is a mix of characters. According to the Journal article “Some are loud and others are quiet, they talk about the end of the world “as we know it” and wax poetic on the “good old days” of militiamen before everything got “politicized.” Members advance conspiracy theories in one breath and talk about creating their own political party in the next. Its members seem to align best with President Trump by expressing their opinions on issues using Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric. CNN, Bill and Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Joe Biden are held in low esteem by the group.”
NOT THE FIRST TIME CITIZENS MILITIA SHOW UP TO PROTESTS
On June 2, it was reported on KUNM in Albuquerque after hundreds of people demonstrated peacefully on and around the University of New Mexico campus armed militia men showed up along Central Avenue. According to the KUNM news report, minutes after organizers told protesters to head home, the Albuquerque Police Department radio dispatch indicated officers had seen men with long guns east of UNM. Just west of campus, protesters came upon a group of at least 9 mostly white men on the side of the road, by a white cargo van, with body armor and assault style weapons. Several protesters were upset at the presence of the armed men . One Black Lives Matter protester was so upset that he cried out repeatedly “We have a peaceful protest! … Go home! Don’t ruin it!” Other protesters urged their fellow demonstrators to ignore the provocation and keep moving.
According to the KUNM report:
“The armed men said they were from the New Mexico Civil Guard and that they were there to protect people. The militia group has been recruiting people throughout New Mexico online since March, and made a showing at an Albuquerque anti-shutdown protest in late April. A post on their Facebook page, which features pro-Trump posts and people posing with yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flags, said their members would “be protecting local businesses every night until Sunday” amid what they called “violent protests.”
The first night of peaceful protests in Albuquerque calling for justice for George Floyd turned to violence when another group of people showed up after the protesters left. A confrontation with APD resulted, with some vandalism, but the incident ended with no one injured and the group dispersed. All subsequent protests have been relatively peaceful.
APD DISCOURAGES VIGILANTISM
On June 4, after three nights of protests, the Albuquerque Police Department felt compelled to discourage anyone from acting as vigilantes. APD’s discouragement is directly related to several groups saying they have been going to the protests to try and ease tensions and to protect local businesses while armed from break-ins, vandalism and looting. APD said that while these groups have good intentions, they’re asking them to leave public safety in the hands of trained law enforcement professionals.
APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos put it this way:
“We don’t want outside groups no matter what they’re intentions are to go out and enforce laws … Even if they have good intentions to protect protesters or property, generally it’s a bad idea. It can actually make the job more difficult for police, it can escalate tensions with people who are out there.”
Although New Mexico is an open-carry state, and people are allowed to have guns, APD is asking anyone going to the protests to leave the firearms at home in order to avoid escalating tensions.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
TRUMP’S CALL TO ARMS
The rise of vigilantism throughout the country and in New Mexico is on the rise and President Trump is contributing to the toxicity. There is no doubt that President Trump promotes hostility, mistrust and violence and he thrives on it and enjoys it. Trump is incapable of understanding the anger and the frustration African Americans feel about the violence they have endured at the hands of law enforcement for so many years. He promoted violence when running for President, he does it at his rally’s and he is doing it again after the killing of George Floyd.
Trump has already begun a campaign of promoting civil disobedience during the pandemic by tweeting on April 17 “LIBERATE VIRGINIA and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”, “LIBERATE MINNISOTA!” There is nothing that would satisfy Trump supporters more than to blow up our democracy and simply watch as Trump enjoys while watching the country burn to the ground.
On Friday, May 29, President Donald Trump tweeted amid unrest in Minneapolis that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. Trump’s tweet was flagged by Twitter as violating rules against glorifying violence. The tweet was the same language used by a Miami police chief in 1967 who believed that violent protests should be met with deadly force. About 13 hours after Trumps Tweet, he took to Twitter again and to claim that he wasn’t suggesting the shooting of rioters. Instead, he said he was referring to gun violence that has been spurred by the unrest.
Soon after his telephone conference call with the country’s governors, President Trump declared himself “your president of law and order.” He went on to say:
“… If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them. … I am mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting to end the destruction and arson and to protect the rights of law abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights … . “
Trump said he would call out and mobilize “thousands and thousands“ of soldiers to keep the peace.
When Trump says “I am mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting to end the destruction and arson and to protect the rights of law abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights”, many of his supporters no doubt are taking it to mean as call for vigilantism.
NEW MEXICO CIVIL GUARD
The Albuquerque Journal article confirms what many in law enforcement and the general public believe about the New Mexico Civil Guard and that it is organized vigilantism, like many in the United States. It is a symptom that is the result of President Trump’s call to arms on a national level.
Frankly, with so many guns seized by APD after the June 15 protest, Albuquerque is damn lucky it did not have a mass shooting during the June 15 protest. The 13 guns, including 4 rifles, and 34 magazines seized is an enormous amount of firepower that no doubt could have resulted in mass injuries and killings.
People showing up to peaceful protests bearing long rifles and assault rifles under the guise of protecting the general public, or for that matter themselves, and businesses from violence, vandalism and looting need to be called what they are: vigilantes. They are trying to take the law into their own hands and holding themselves out as law abiding citizens when they are not and they likely have evil intent. They are “on the hunt” to be able to use their weaponry when they attend protests.
Citizen Militia’s need to be condemned in no uncertain terms. It needs to be made clear they have absolutely no business showing up armed to the hilt with assault weapons and wearing military fatigues to peaceful protests. Such conduct only intimidates and antagonizes people which is the real intent of such militias.
No doubt self-appointed “citizen militias” and their supporters will argue they have second amendment rights to bear arms. The argument is nothing but a rue and a convenient excuse to start trouble.
Second Amendment advocates represented by citizen militias always ignore and seem to want to usurp people’s First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. Many would say are rights far more important than their right to bear arms.