By Tom O’Connell
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., May 27, 2016 – When the smoke cleared after the civil unrest following Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s stump speech on Tuesday, Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis took to social media to decry the mayhem that exploded on the city’s streets that night.
Confrontations between protesters and police erupted toward the end of Trump’s speech at the Convention Center, and raged till nearly midnight. Fires were lit, rocks and plastic water bottles and barricades were thrown at cops and their horses, and police cars and Convention Center windows were damaged. Now, social media is blowing up as angry villagers sharpen their pitchforks, light their torches and attempt to hunt down the monsters responsible.
“The violence that we’re seeing this evening is absolutely unacceptable, and it is not the fault of Donald Trump, his campaign, or the attendees at the rally this evening,” Lewis wrote in a Facebook post. “This was not a protest—it was a riot that was the result of a mob trying to cause damage and injury to public property and innocent citizens exercising their constitutional right to peacefully assemble.”
That’s putting it mildly. Far less articulate local commenters aimed harsher words directly at the Democratic Party of New Mexico, ProgressNow NM and the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP).
Ex-GOP Commissioner Goes After City Councilor Pat Davis
Former New Mexico GOP County Commissioner Michael Wiener accused Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis and his group ProgressNow NM of inciting the violence: Davis, he wrote in a Facebook post, “was behind organizing and staging these violent protests that injured police and damaged property last night!”
Wiener continued: “Davis should be CENSURED for his involvement and PROGRESS NOW NM responsible for the cost of repairs! His cell phone records and emails should be examined closely by the Police and News Media outlets and his fingerprints will be everywhere; how despicable!”
Wiener came under the spotlight while serving in his GOP post in 2012 after photos surfaced of him with some scantily clad young women in a red-light district in the Philippines, which he still maintains was perfectly innocent, but unfairly triggered accusations of misconduct.
APD: ‘Peaceful Protesters Were Not Involved’
After reading Wiener’s comment, Davis responded: “As you may know, and is clear from the news reports and attendees last night, the peaceful protest events ProgressNow helped to organize before the Trump rally concluded before 7.
“The disruptive events happened after the event and APD was clear to note in their tweets from the scene that the peaceful protesters were not involved.”
‘She Laughed When the Handicapped Man Was Assaulted’
KRQE riled up local commenters when it reported as fact APD Chief Gorden Eden’s claim of gunfire during the protest.
“Eden says at least 7 shots were fired near 3rd and Gold,” the station reported, although no video or audio has yet emerged to back up this claim, even though recording equipment was in use everywhere that night. “Officers and others ducked for cover but no one was hit and the shooters were not found.”
The story spurred dozens of angry comments as people searched for someone to blame.
“We all can BLAME #DebraHaaland the chair of the Dem Party in New Mexico,” wrote one Steven O’Shea on KRQE’s Facebook page. “She was on TV requesting this type of protesting! She has not come out to denounce the violence or the groups behind them. She supports all of the groups that organized the violence & damage. I am sure that she laughed when the handicapped man was assaulted, and the Police horses were made to be targets!”
Margie Montoya Cumbie commented: “If she actually called for a riot, she should be charge and made to pay all damages, including medical bills!”
But how can you hold an entire organization responsible for the actions of a few rabble-rousers? Many commenters couldn’t be bothered with rationalizing the situation.
“If they organized a protest, which they knowingly did, which has a history of the ignorant protestors getting violent, which they did know, then they are responsible for the actions of those they called to assemble that day,” wrote Randy Powell.
Dem Party Chairwoman Haaland Responds
“People I think are misunderstanding or they aren’t even reading anything, they’re just making up their own minds about things,” said Democratic Party of New Mexico Chairwoman Debra Haaland.
Haaland said that during the aforementioned press conference at 1 Civic Plaza, she made it clear that the Democratic Party of New Mexico was not an organizer of the protests, but that when she saw her interview with KOB later, the story made it seem like her organization was solely responsible for organizing protests.
“I think a lot of people saw KOB that night and never bothered to read anything,” she said. “I was horrified. We never, ever condone violence.”
Haaland said the media focused more on the violent portions of the protests rather than the earlier family-friendly part, when children as young as 5 could be seen holding signs alongside other peaceful protesters.
“I got the feeling that a lot of those folks after the peaceful protest, the folks that decided to throw rocks and burn things and break windows, weren’t doing it for the same reasons as the peaceful protesters who came out and chanted and sang and spoke,” she said.
City Councilman Dan Lewis Demands Resignation of SWOP Spox
Albuquerque City Councilman Dan Lewis doesn’t fault the Democratic Party of New Mexico or ProgressNow NM with any of the violence, but did say that SWOP has plenty to answer for, even going so far as to demand the resignation of its spokesman, George Lujan.
“SWOP spokesperson George Lujan told the ABQ Journal that our police officers should share in ‘some of the blame’ for the riot that was triggered at Tuesday’s protest,” Lewis told Burque Media in a lengthy private Facebook message.
“I don’t think I’ve heard anything so callous and absurd since I entered public service,” he continued. “Mr. Lujan should immediately resign his position and the board of directors of SWOP should apologize to the men and women who served last Tuesday night in the face of vicious mob violence, and who, along with their horse mounts, sustained multiple injuries while protecting innocent people who simply wanted to hear a presidential candidate speak.”
Lewis Accuses SWOP of Conspiring to Disrupt Inside and Outside Rally
Lewis had some choice words for SWOP Executive Director Javier Benavides, who was removed from the Trump rally for disrupting the candidate’s speech almost as soon as it started. Lewis was there as a Trump supporter, so one could say his extreme accusations against the community organizers smack of bias.
Benavides, he said, “hid among the rally attendees, sneaking into a reserved area behind the stage, and assuring those who recognized him, in Trump T-shirt and all, that he was there with his family (he wasn’t—I sat a couple of rows away from him and he was alone) to peacefully attend the rally. Yet, within a few minutes of Mr. Trump’s speech, Mr. Benavides stood up, ripped his shirt off in front of everyone while he screamed like a madman, frightening people around him and physically resisting police and secret service efforts to remove him.”
Lewis also went after activist Tylina Hardy, who also was arrested for disrupting Trump’s speech.
“A short while later, he was followed in turn by Tylina Hardy, also with SWOP, who exploded into a physical and verbal frenzy, also fighting and resisting law enforcement as they tried to carry her out of the hall kicking and screaming,” Lewis said. “Her reaction was so wild that she was one of the few people arrested that night.”
Lewis believes SWOP members inside the rally were communicating with protesters outside.
“Reviewing KOB TV’s published chronology of events, these timed outbursts occurred at about the same time the protestors outside became more aggressive,” he said. “If he were willing to share them with the public, it would be most revealing to read the texts Mr. Benavides was feverishly typing out during the long wait for Mr. Trump’s arrival to help the public gain some insight into the well-staged drama playing out both inside and outside the convention center.”
SWOP’s Rodrigo Rodriguez Responds
Although he understands the fury that was unleashed Tuesday night, SWOP community organizer Rodrigo Rodriquez denies that the group instigated it, and that it instead helped organize the 30 “peacekeepers” in hi-viz green vests who eased tensions throughout much of the protest.
“Albuquerque is not in a bubble, we are not a unique snowflake,” said Rodriguez. “This has happened in other cities, Chicago, Costa Mesa, Arizona, there’s been this unrest. I think it’s been the nature of this campaign that they’re running.”
He said SWOP members have been threatened by Trump supporters.
“Our people have been getting death threats, people are dealing with really hateful stuff that this campaign has stirred up,” he said. “It really emboldened a lot of people who are just straight-up racist. There’s a lot of bigotry being thrown at these organizations.”
SWOP ‘No Longer Had the Manpower’ to Keep the Peace
Rodriguez insists SWOP was there “to help run interference between the police and the protesters.” The team of 30 highly visible peacekeepers “were stuck between a rock and a hard place in a very real way,” he said. “The police, the Trump rallyers and the protesters were all antagonizing each other back and forth for six hours. At a certain point, we no longer had the manpower to keep doing that.”
“My peacekeepers were jostled around by the cops, the protesters and the Trump supporters,” he continued. “Our folks were trying our best to keep a lid on it, but you can only keep a lid on a boiling pot for so long.
He questioned the media’s description of the unrest as a “riot,” but acknowledged the frustrations that led to the extreme reaction to Trump’s visit to the Duke City.
‘Treat People Like Animals, They Respond Like Animals’
“Folks got out of hand, but when we’re in a city like Albuquerque that’s dealing with the kind of poverty and pain that’s out there, and this fear and hateful rhetoric rolls into town, it’s very scary for folks,” said Rodriguez. “You treat people like animals, they’re going to respond like animals. I understand those expressions of anger. People were seeing their friends stomped on by police horses.”
Rodriguez believes Trump knows exactly what he’s doing by taking his rallies into communities of color.
“This is what follows this dude around,” he said. “He goes specifically into Latino communities—Chicago, Arizona, Southern California, New Mexico. He’s going into our communities to stir the shit, to kick the hornet’s nest.”