In the latest example of how former President Donald Trump’s denial of the election fueled escalating political violence in the United States, Solomon Peña, the former Republican candidate for the New Mexico House of Representatives, was arrested earlier this week for allegedly masterminding a plot to fire four states and Homes of local officials after refusing to accept his loss in the November elections.
An ardent supporter of Trump He attended a pro-Trump rally In Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, Peña lost his race in the New Mexico House District 14 against incumbent Democrat Miguel Garcia by over 47 percentage points.
But he refused to concede, and it was alleged that he conspired with four individuals to carry out the shooting for political reasons. He paid at least two of them to shoot into the homes of Democratic leaders while he was driving stolen cars. Police said he also tried to shoot an AR-15 rifle jammed into Senator Linda Lopez’s home.
No one was hurt in the attacks, which took place between November and early January. But as former county commissioner Debbie O’Malley, one of the officials targeted, he told NBCPeña “You could have killed us.” He currently faces at least 15 counts, including home shooting, drive-by shooting, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, conspiracy and criminal solicitation charges, but not attempted murder, according to New Mexico court filings.
The scale of the conspiracy makes this case unusual—this was not a lone wolf, but a person seeking elected office who engaged several people over the course of several weeks in plotting attacks targeting Democrats. Overall, though, politically motivated violence against government officials and their families has become increasingly common, last October A violent attack on the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi In their home in San Francisco one of the most notorious incidents.
said Lindsey Schubener, director of programs at the Center for Western States, an organization focused on building an inclusive democracy. “What we’re seeing now are the results of the way Donald Trump opened the door to welcome bigoted movements in mainstream politics, and you can’t put that genie back in the bottle.”
The plot explained
Peña warned of his motives on Twitter before the attacks occurred. He argued on the eve of the election that his opponent should “rely on falsificationTo win and announce On November 9, after the race was called, “I am opposition. I am the King of MAGA.” Days later, he admitted that he had never given up the race and said he was “looking into my options”.
His next step was to show up on the doorstep of two Democratic Bernalillo County commissioners and two state legislators to plead his case. Albuquerque police said he brought papers claiming the election was rigged.
Bernalillo County Commissioner, Adrian Barbois he told NBC News that he sounded “erratic” and “aggressive” when he tried to argue that his votes did not match his ground game. (The district, which includes downtown Albuquerque, has long been blue, and there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud.) O’Malley told NBC that she found her interaction with Peña “disturbing” given that he was “angry with losing the election” and felt it was “unfair and untrue”. Both commissioners called the police after the incidents, and in O’Malley’s case, the police patrolled her home for a few days before the shooting occurred.
criminal complaint Acquired by USA Today He asserts that Peña “was upset that he had not won election to public office” and that he urged his co-conspirators to fire into the homes of legislators while they were awake with the intention of “causing death” or at least serious injury.
During the attack on Lopez’s home on Jan. 3, the most recent shooting, bullets flew over her sleeping 10-year-old daughter, causing pieces of sheetrock and dust to fall onto her bed, according to the complaint. The next morning, after describing the gunshot explosion as fireworks, Lopez discovers bullet holes in the side of the house.
She called the police, who found shell casings in her home that matched a gun confiscated at a traffic point the night of the shooting. Police also found about 800 fentanyl pills and an assault rifle inside the car, which was registered to Peña. The driver had an unrelated criminal arrest warrant but was later found to be one of Peña’s co-conspirators.
With the help of an informant who witnessed the shooting, police used cellphone records that implicated Peña as the “mastermind” of the attacks, and discovered that he had provided his co-conspirators with addresses and instructions on how to carry out the shooting and pay. them to do so, according to the complaint.
It is another example of the escalation of political violence in the United States
The attacks reflect an increasingly dangerous environment for politicians in the United States.
“Every situation of violence has its own elements, but the trend line is clear: There are individuals planning attacks and working with others to carry out armed attacks. People with opposing viewpoints are being targeted either with the intent of causing harm,” said Daryl West, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. them or silence them.
The number of threats against members of Congress rose dramatically between 2017 and 2022, with the US Capitol Police investigating nearly 10,000 threats in 2021.
In addition to the attack on her husband, Pelosi’s home was also It was vandalized in December 2020. Republican Senator Susan Collins he told the New York Times In October 2022, an intruder broke a storm window at her home in Bangor, Maine, and she said she “wouldn’t be surprised if a senator or a member of the House got killed.” He was a man too felony stalking charges in July after he shouted insults outside Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s home in Seattle while armed with a semi-automatic handgun with live ammunition.
In the aftermath of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, the Federal Election Commission Rule Members of Congress can use campaign funds to pay for personal security services. Since then, their own personal security expenses swellespecially among those with a high national profile and a controversial legislative record, such as Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Ga), as well as among Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump.
But there has been no similar financial support for the safety of state and local politicians, who are also on the front lines in the fight against anti-democracy movements and the rejection of elections. This left officials like those in New Mexico largely dependent on their personal resources and local law enforcement for protection from attacks.
The largest social movements that have led [insurrection] They continue to organize to build strength in communities across the country. We see this particularly at the local level targeting democratic institutions.
The solution, she says, is not entirely law enforcement; Instead, Schopener argues, the federal government should provide security training and resources to election officials and other public servants who are victims of harassment and intimidation by anti-democratic and bigoted groups. She said the risks of not doing so are too great.
“What we’ve seen is that when local governments or community institutions weaken or fail, there are many examples of fanatical and extremist groups stepping in to occupy whatever void there is,” she said.