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A demonstration on Monday demanding the removal of a statue depicting a repressive Spanish colonial official in New Mexico resulted in bloodshed when one person was shot after agitated counterprotesters, including a small right-wing militia, crashed the protest. It was not the first time protests around toxic monuments ended in apparently politically motivated right-wing violence.
The removal of statues commemorating Confederate leaders, slaveholders and colonial despots has become a flashpoint for conflict and right-wing vigilantism, most notably during the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017, when hundreds of white nationalists traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the city’s plan to take down a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee. During the riot that ensued, far-right militia members inserted themselves into the fray and trained automatic weapons on anti-racist counterprotesters, heightening the potential for bloodshed.
Monday’s shooting in Albuquerque occurred after a far-right militia group called the New Mexico Civil Guard showed up at a demonstration near the statue of Juan de Oñate, New Mexico’s 16th century colonial governor, who brutally oppressed New Mexico’s indigenous population. Oñate massacred 800 inhabitants of the Acoma Pueblo and ordered the right feet cut off of 24 captives.
When protesters tried to pull down the statue of Oñate, the militia members, heavily armed and clad in camouflage, moved to stop them. The crowd grew agitated. A man in a blue T-shirt later identified as Steven Ray Baca, 31, waded into the protesters and, according to local news reports and multiple videos, grabbed a woman from behind and threw her to the ground before scuffling with other people in the crowd and being forced out onto a street.
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