Protesters in Albuquerque, New Mexico, gathered Monday night to demand the removal of a statue commemorating Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate, a 16th-century colonial governor responsible for the massacre of indigenous people. After a series of speeches, and a prayer, the demonstrators began forcibly taking down the statute when they were confronted by heavily armed counterprotesters, self-styled protectors of the statue. Video taken at the scene showed the far-right counterprotesters, resembling troops outfitted in camouflage fatigues and carrying semi-automatic weapons, intervening to stop protesters from removing the statue. A series of confrontations flared between the two groups that resulted in a man who appeared to be a counterprotester, though not wearing military garb, firing shots in the middle of the street. One protester was shot in the melee and is critical but stable condition.
The armed counterprotesters identified themselves as the New Mexico Civil Guard, a vigilante militia that has cut an intimidating presence at Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the past. The evening started peacefully, as protesters gathered outside the Albuquerque Museum, where the statue is located. In addition to the militia members, there were also counterprotesters toting “All lives matter” signs, according to the Washington Post. When protesters attempted to remove the statue, armed members of the militia group forcibly intervened.
The tense scene boiled over when a man appeared to incite the demonstrators. The demonstrators confronted the man and the altercation spilled into the street. Protesters followed the man, dressed in a blue shirt and shorts; “he has a gun!” can be heard shouted in the background of a video of the scene. Protesters continued to advance on the man, trying to tackle him in the street, before he fell to the ground, got back up and fired shots at one of the advancing protesters. The gun shots shattered the crowd and the vigilante group surrounded the shooter to protect him.
Police arrived on the scene and used tear gas and flash-bang explosives to disperse the crowd before making several arrests, including the apparent gunman.