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Defeated GOP Candidate in New Mexico Arrested over Shootings at Homes of 4 Democratic Officials

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As election violence fueled by lies about “rigged” elections escalates, we go to New Mexico to look at how a former far-right Republican candidate and election denier faces charges of orchestrating shootings at the homes of four Democratic officials following his landslide election loss. We speak with Debbie O’Malley, former Bernalillo County commissioner, whose home was attacked, and with New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in New Mexico, where new details are emerging about a former far-right Republican candidate who lost his bid for a seat in the New Mexico state House by a landslide this past November but refused to concede his loss, was arrested by a SWAT team Monday for orchestrating shootings at the homes of four Democratic officials. Police say the suspect, Solomon Peña, paid four men to shoot at the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislators. This is Albuquerque police acting commander Kyle Hartsock.

KYLE HARTSOCK: After the election in November, Solomon Peña reached out and contracted someone for an amount of cash money to commit at least two of these shootings. The addresses of these shootings were communicated over phone. Within hours, in one case, the shooting took place at the lawmaker’s home.

AMY GOODMAN: In a series of attacks, Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa’s home was shot at multiple times on December 4th. On December 8th, incoming New Mexico House Speaker Javier Martínez’s home was shot at. Then, on December 11th, the former Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley’s home was shot at. Finally, on January 3rd, New Mexico state Senator Linda Lopez’s home was shot at. No one was hurt, but the bullets from a Glock pistol did fly through the bedroom of Lopez’s sleeping 10-year-old daughter.

Solomon Peña is accused of trying to participate in the last shooting himself, but his gun jammed. He appeared in court Wednesday to face multiple charges, including aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, criminal solicitation and four counts each of shooting at an occupied dwelling.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said the shootings were politically motivated.

MAYOR TIM KELLER: I also know that, fundamentally, at the end of the day, this was about a right-wing radical, an election denier, who was arrested today, and someone who did the worst imaginable thing you can do when you have a political disagreement, which is turn that to violence.

AMY GOODMAN: Authorities say Peña actually visited the homes of his four targets in the days prior to the attacks and tried to persuade them his election had been rigged. Video obtained by the Albuquerque Journal appears to show Peña at a former residence of one of those targeted, former Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley. Doorbell camera footage shows him asking to speak to her.

SOLOMON PEÑA: Hi. My name’s Solomon Peña. Can I speak with Debbie O’Malley? OK. Well, the public record says she owns it. Do you know where she lives?

AMY GOODMAN: And then he went to the house where she lived. It was that house that was shot at.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, Debbie O’Malley joins us. She’s the former Bernalillo County commissioner in New Mexico, was one of the four Democratic elected leaders in the state whose house was attacked in the shootings, allegedly orchestrated by Solomon Peña. And in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we’re joined by New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who is a Democrat.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Debbie O’Malley, let’s begin with you. So, we see this video footage of Solomon Peña going to property you own, asking for where you live. Can you talk about what happened then on the — what happened next? You actually spoke to him. That was well before your house was shot at.

DEBBIE O’MALLEY: Yes, it was right after the residents told him where I lived. And that’s not unusual. Once in a while, constituents will drop by for some reason. But normally, people are very respectful of, I think, electeds’ homes here in Albuquerque and don’t want to, you know, disturb them while they’re at home.

He did go directly to my house. There’s a video where he shows — it shows him approaching my gate. And then there’s a clip also where I meet him there. He’s waving his arms, trying to get my attention, so I walk over there to talk with him. And that’s when he tells me that he felt that he was cheated out of the election, that he had actually won, that it was rigged. And he said, “I had knocked on all these doors, and, you know, I should have more votes,” and on and on. And I did tell him, you know, “That doesn’t mean that you get votes if you see people or knock on doors. That’s not the same. You know, it doesn’t equate to votes.”

And he became very agitated, and he handed me a stack of papers — not a big stack, small stack. I did scan them after I received them and — on my way back into my home. And I could see that there was a letter, you know, stating the same things he told me and that he wanted my response, you know, immediately. I did see the rest of the papers, scanned them. And clearly, those had been downloaded from a website, you know, that moves the narrative forward about voter fraud.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Debbie O’Malley, describe what happened on the night of December 11th, when your home was attacked.

DEBBIE O’MALLEY: And, of course, this would be, you know, a month later. Well, my husband and I were sleeping. It was in the middle of the night. I think they determined it was close to 2:00 in the morning. And we heard this loud banging. And I describe it as someone, you know, knocking on our door with their fist. It was so loud. We both sat up at the same time, and we heard more of that sound. And we just realized it was gunfire.

We did get up. I did look to see where my — the gate cam was, and it didn’t lit up. No other security lights were lighting up. We figured nobody was on the property, and went back to bed. And my husband didn’t discover the gunshots on the wall, the holes in the wall, bullet holes, until the next day. And then, I wasn’t even home at the time. He did — took a photograph and texted it to me, and we were like, “Whoa!” I was pretty shocked to see that. So, soon after that, we did call the police.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what did the police tell you? Did they come immediately to your house?

DEBBIE O’MALLEY: Well, they did. They sent a team out. They checked the area for casings. Yeah, I met with a detective at the time. I did mention that the only thing unusual was this visit from that individual, Peña. And they — you know, they did take that information.

And so, I didn’t hear anything, really. I think that there was much more focus when Senator Lopez’s house was shot at. I mean, I think they realized that there was something going on. My husband was very worried about it. He was suspecting something was going on earlier than that, that these weren’t just isolated things. So, that’s when I believe the New Mexico state police got involved, and then FBI and others got really focused, and this became a priority for this — for law enforcement here in Albuquerque.

AMY GOODMAN: And as you said, when state Senator Linda Lopez’s home was shot at, her daughter, 10-year-old sleeping daughter, was nearly hit. She talked about the dust that was on her as a result of the bullet flying. In the complaint — and I want to bring in the New Mexico secretary of state her — the complaint, citing an unnamed source, said, “Solomon wanted them to aim lower” — these are the people he allegedly hired to shoot at the houses, though he apparently was involved with one of them, and his gun jammed. “Solomon wanted them to aim lower and shoot around 8 pm because occupants would more likely not be laying down.” He wanted to hit someone, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver. You run the election apparatus system in New Mexico, as all secretaries of states do in their states. Your house personally was not shot at, though you went into hiding last year. Talk about what’s going on here, this political violence at home.

SECRETARY OF STATE MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER: Sure. Well, thank you for having us on to talk about this important topic.

You know, I’ve been an election administrator in New Mexico, at the local and now at the state level, for the last 16 years. And, of course, the last two years, I think, have been unprecedented in terms of the violent political rhetoric that we are all being exposed to as election officials. And now, of course, we can see the through line with Mr. Peña, a radicalized pro-Trump supporter who not only took threats that he made toward me personally and other election officials, but, obviously, into actions against former Commissioner O’Malley and our other friends and colleagues.

And I think, you know, this is a topic that I’ve been talking a lot about with the public, that, you know, because of the big lie and because of the mis- and disinformation that has been spread through a certain portion of the population so extensively over the last two years, we have now seen individuals like Mr. Peña, frankly, somebody who already had a criminal record in the past, who might have been already disposed to commit acts of violence, taking that rhetoric as truth and changing from a pattern of verbal or social media-based threats into actions. I’m very grateful for law enforcement in our state, for the Albuquerque police and the state police, the FBI, to have acted so quickly once this pattern of actual violence was established and to take quick action to obtain and arrest those who were involved. But what concerns me is that this may not be where this radicalized behavior based on lies and mis- and disinformation end.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Maggie, could you explain — as you mentioned, Peña had a criminal record. So, how is it, first of all, that he was able to run for political office at all? And how did he get access to guns?

SECRETARY OF STATE MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER: Well, I don’t know the answer to the second question. I think our members of law enforcement would be better equipped with that information.

But what I can tell you, in New Mexico, we have a little bit of a disjoint in terms of our laws around candidacy and holding office. So, in New Mexico, someone who has been convicted of a felony cannot hold a public office; however, there is no such prohibition for somebody to seek office and be placed on the ballot. So, the grand irony of Mr. Peña’s candidacy is that although he could run for office, he could never have actually assumed office, had he won the election.

But as you already stated, you know, this was a landslide loss, and it wasn’t even close. And so, you know, the allegations of election rigging are just ludicrous.

AMY GOODMAN: He lost by something like 50 percentage points. But if you could tell us, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, why you went into hiding last year?

SECRETARY OF STATE MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER: Following the 2020 general election, as I think folks are very aware, there was a tremendous campaign orchestrated by former President Trump and his supporters to cast aspersions and doubts. Of course, we saw the most visual and violent culmination of that with the January 6th insurgency attack on the Capitol.

However, I and many of my colleagues from around the country who conduct elections, on both sides of the aisle, independents, we were subjected to a massive doxxing campaign, that ultimately turned out to be orchestrated by the Iranians. It was a website called “Enemies of the People.” My home, along with the home of about 70 other election officials from around the country, photos of our homes, our home addresses, our personal private information was posted on this website. And they went so far as to create a bitcoin wallet to collect donations for bounties, for individuals who may be so inclined to commit acts of violence against us. So, yes, I had to relocate from my home. I had a police, state police, protection detail for several weeks, until that website was ultimately taken down and until some further security measures could be taken to keep my home safe, moving forward.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Debbie O’Malley, could you talk about what you think needs to happen, what your concerns are now?

DEBBIE O’MALLEY: Well, I mean, that question has been asked of me many times now: What needs to happen? And I don’t — if you’re talking about security or how to secure our homes and our — you know, so that we are not vulnerable, I don’t have the answer to that. I mean, I’m a local official. I’ve lived here. I was born in Albuquerque. My family has been here for many generations. My constituency knows who I am. They see me at the grocery store. If they need to get a hold of me, they can. You know, that’s the life of a local official. Am I supposed to have a detail follow me everywhere? Well, that’s not — you know, that’s not feasible to have that happen. So, obviously, my vulnerability level was increased greatly, and I certainly have a higher alert in terms of my safety and security, and we’re doing what we can there. But, you know, other than that, I don’t have the answer.

The access to guns is — anybody can pick up, get a gun. I mean, we see this everywhere. And people don’t think twice about using it. So I don’t have the answer for that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end with New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver. If you can comment, overall, on the climate now? I mean, you have the chair of the secretaries of state, Jena Griswold — she’s the secretary of state of neighboring Colorado — who lobbied to get bodyguards, as well. Are we seeing this all over the country, not only for secretaries of state, who run elections, but local-level officials? I mean, what is, do you feel, the country coming to at this point? Do you see this white supremacist violence, far-right violence as only increasing at this point? What needs to be done?

SECRETARY OF STATE MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER: Well, it’s a good question. You know, interestingly, I was just doing interviews a couple of months ago talking about how election officials around the country, myself included, were heaving a huge sigh of relief post the 2022 election because the level of violence and threats of violence did seem to be significantly lessened over 2020. However, I warned at that time, and I obviously have to say now, that we don’t think that that is over, that, you know, particularly as we head into the 2022 election, particularly as we have former President Trump seeking the nomination once again — and, of course, it is he and his supporters who have been the most virulent in terms of making lies and accusations about the election process — you know, that again we can see that through line of what happens when you have this heightened rhetoric translated into actions.

So, to answer your question, yes, I think we are still — security of election officials and public officials, in general, now is top of mind. In my state here in New Mexico, we are going to be looking at some pieces of legislation to keep public officials’ private home information less public, to make it less public. And we are also continually seeking more funding and resources for security measures for those of us who run elections. Now we are also going to have to look at all of our public officials. New Mexico is a very accessible place. It’s a small place. It’s very community-based. As Commissioner O’Malley was saying, folks are used to knowing who their elected officials are, where they live, how they can get in touch with them. Now we have to try to strike a balance between that access and the security of our public officials, because of this increase and, of course, the recent events of public — excuse me, of political violence here.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico secretary of state, speaking to us from Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Debbie O’Malley, former Bernalillo County commissioner. Her home was shot up by a right-wing Trump supporter who denies the election results in his own case. He ran for the state Legislature.

Coming up, we’ll look at Azerbaijan’s month-long blockade of the disputed area of Nagorno-Karabakh, a home to mostly ethnic Armenians. And then you’ll meet the climate scientist who was fired from her job in a federal lab for her climate activism. Stay with us.

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