Riot-cop protecter is done with protests. Meet the ‘creepy white guy’ whom Burque Media’s Dinah Vargas called the Duke City’s ‘protest mascot.’
By Tom O’Connell
Photography by Joseph Shaul
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., May 3, 2017 – The first thing Rick Coe always did when he got to a protest in Albuquerque was look for the Anonymous masks. The images of the masks at the raucous first Trump rally last May were burned into his brain, and they became the focus of the counterprotest activities he embarked on after he graduated from the 49th class of the Albuquerque Police Department’s Citizen’s Police Academy. (Full disclosure: I graduated from the 50th class, right after Coe, and have been encouraging other journalists and activists to take it ever since. I had a much different experience than Coe, and saw the class largely as an APD propaganda tool.)
“I always locate the people in the masks first,” Coe told me recently, a couple of months after he was jumped at an Albuquerque rally against President Trump’s immigration policies. “I locate them so I can keep an eye on them because I feared that something like this was possible, and I was right.”
Coe, 57, who’s become a reviled figure in the Albuquerque protest community, was referring to the day he got pummeled at that immigration rally, on Feb. 21 at Civic Plaza. (Although his first outing was at the last Trump rally, where he stood guard in front of riot cops, Coe says he’s an independent who voted for Gary Johnson for president.)
I tracked down Coe after hearing about the beatdown. I remembered him from the last Trump rally, and was curious to learn why he was hanging around demonstrations. Was he dangerous? Was he a creeper? Was he one of these 3%ers who’ve been seen open-carrying AR-15’s to intimidate protesters?
Coe Denies Being Drunk or Grabbing Girl
Coe denies that he grabbed anyone, despite sources claiming they saw him go hands-on with a girl at the immigration rally. He says a teenage girl in a black Anonymous mask got in his face and taunted him the whole time he was there. He says he disagrees with Trump’s immigration policies, and wonders why protesters saw him only as a “creepy white guy.”
“I was threatened at least half a dozen times that if I didn’t get out of there, something was going to happen,” says Coe. “They had that little girl in the black mask stand in front of me for a solid hour and a half. She’d walk away for five or 10 minutes, and then walk right back up in my face. There are pictures of her within inches of touching me. I would ask her to back up, and she would say, ‘Make me.’ And I would say, ‘I don’t fight women.’ ”
Coe Claims Attack Was Setup
Coe suspects he was set up at the immigration rally by nefarious forces, but some would argue he had it coming. This would-be vigilante had been a mysterious skulking figure at events for months, seemingly courting the inevitable.
“They sent that little girl in to provoke me into doing something, and if I had done something, it would have been on,” he says. “She slapped my phone out of my hand and I didn’t know where it went. I think somebody picked it up immediately because I didn’t see it. That freaked me out because of all the information on our phones. So now she’s body blocking me as I’m looking for my phone. I took my hand, and she’s making physical contact with me, and I put my hand right here, open palm in front of me, and marched her two steps back, and then the shit hit the fan. And it came fast and hard.”
A group of people pounced on Coe when he put his hand in front of him, he said, and he received dozens of blows. Two organizers stepped in to protect Coe from his assailants.
“Two women at the immigration protest saved my ass,” he says. “When it was all over, one lady walked me to my truck, made sure nobody was following me.”
Burque Media’s Andy Christophersen says he saw Coe following two young women into a parking structure at the January Women’s March, and that that’s likely why he was targeted. Coe denies he followed anyone.
Witnesses to the beatdown told Christophersen that Coe’s attackers were skater kids looking for a fight, not actual protesters or Anonymous members.
“They didn’t even know her,” says Christophersen of the aggressive girl in the mask. “She was antagonistic, over the line for sure.”
Local media later reported claims that Coe was drunk. Coe says he was once an alcoholic but hasn’t had a drink in 15 years. He also laughed off rumors that he’s a 3%er.
‘Beating Was Nothing Compared to the Mental Damage’
In the days after Coe’s beatdown, he says his phone and Facebook account were hacked. The alleged hackers made it appear as if Coe were having a romantic conversation with an old female acquaintance, and sent the exchange to his wife. There were even physical threats, he claims.
“It’s really been a nightmare. It wasn’t worth it. My wife stayed mad at me for days. My daughter’s freaked out. The beating was nothing compared to the mental damage it did to me.
“My daughter saw what was going on, and she got on Facebook and pretty much begged one of the Anonymous guys to cut me a break. And he said, ‘It’s totally up to your father how far he wants to take this.’ ”
So Coe posted to one of his tormenters that he had given up, that they had won.
“And that was it. So far as I know, we have called a truce.” Coe ended up filing a report with APD.
Counterprotesting Was Part of ‘Bucket List Dreams’
Rick Coe has been a fixture at protests in Albuquerque since the violent second Trump rally before the election on Oct. 30, where I first met him. I chatted with him as he stood guard between anti-Trump protesters and heavily armored APD riot cops along with a few other likeminded citizens making a show of protecting the police from what they saw as violent radicals. (The police didn’t need any protection from protesters, but as it turned out, the protesters—and one photojournalist—needed protection from a handful of Trump supporters who attacked them that night after the future president spoke. APD looked the other way as Trump faithful picked fights.)
At age 13, Coe’s old man put a shovel in his hand and told him he was going to be a ditch digger. He’s been digging ditches ever since, he says, but now he does it as the owner of a construction company. Still, deeply unsatisfied with the legacy he had to leave his daughter, Coe says that when he turned 55, he drew up a list of “bucket list dreams” he wanted to achieve.
One thing he wanted to do was learn about police work, so he signed up for the APD Citizen’s Police Academy, went on some APD ride-alongs, got to know a bunch of cops, and then started going to protests.
When he filed a police report about the digital harassment, the officer who did the paperwork told him APD didn’t need his protection.
Now he says he’s looking at other dreams to mark off his list: “I’m done with protesting. You’ll never see me at another event.”
He’s looking for positive ways to make his mark on a world that never embraced him with open arms.
“I don’t need hugs and kisses or told how special I am. I never got that, I never wanted that. All I wanted was to be treated with a little respect.”