As protests against police brutality continue into its third week after the death of George Floyd at the hands of former Minneapolis police officers, a man was shot on Monday evening, June 15, during demonstrations in Albuquerque, New Mexico as protesters attempted to topple over a conquistador's statue.
The shooting occurred during a clash between individuals trying to take down the controversial statue and five or six heavily armed New Mexico Civil Guard members, a civilian group, trying to protect the monument that features conquistador Juan de Oñate. According to NBC affiliate KOB, after protestors directed their attention toward a man brandishing a gun and ensuing struggle, the subject shot his gun four times, wounding one. A number of members with the New Mexico Civil Guard, a self-described militia, were seen being arrested along with the subject who fired at the protesters.
But what is the New Mexico Civil Guard? The group's Facebook page states that its mission is " to provide rapid local lawful response to emergency and dangerous situations, including Natural disaster, humanitarian crisis, civil disturbances, and civil [defense]." A quick look at the Facebook page shows posts regarding "Basic Fundamentals and Principles for Ambushing" and "Basic considerations for defense." The Facebook page was established on March 12, 2020, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. In March, there was a "militia muster call" for the creation of the group.
A post from June 8 calls for people to join the New Mexico Civil Guard, stating, "With police departments across the nation settling on the prospect of defunding or wholly disbanding their police departments it is going to be up to the Citizenry to take up the slack and keep our cities and counties safe. The NMCG has been out every night in ABQ since the violence happened after that one protest."
The group, headed up locally by painter O'Rion Petty, made itself known publicly for the first time Wednesday night, June 10, on the perimeter of a "Clovis Vigil for George Floyd" gathering in Greene Acres Park. According to the Eastern New Mexico News who spoke to a New Mexico Civil Guard leader, Bryce Provance, many members across the state are retired military and/or law enforcement personnel who are highly trained "in CPR and being prepared, tanning food, and arms training as well."
The group's captain, Petty told the publication that the group is not against protesters, saying, "We're not there to intimidate the protesters or anything like that. We're not with Antifa. We're there because of everything that's going on (around the country) and we're not going to watch our community be destroyed if it comes to that."
Further, Mike Morris, Clovis' mayor, said city police and New Mexico State Police have been in contact with the NM Civil Guard and Petty said his group is "following guidelines given to us by police." Petty added that the police are "completely fine with us being around. They wanted to make sure we don't look like law enforcement or military and so we're staying in plain clothes for this."
The group is equipped with weapons, with Petty saying that the Civil Guard "will always go the non-lethal option when it's available." He added, "We do carry things like pepper spray ... but if we feel like someone's life is in imminent danger or our lives are in imminent danger, at that point we would have to go ahead and use lethal force if necessary."
During anti-lockdown protests in April, many members of the New Mexico Civil Guard were in attendance to call for a return to work — and provide a “visual deterrent” to what they claimed were threats of violence preceding the demonstration. According to Daily Lobo, a member cited a spurious and disproven claim that the coronavirus was a “more aggressive strain” of the seasonal flu and said his group practiced social distancing guidelines while protesting.