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Gunman Wearing MAGA Hat Shoots Indigenous Activist at New Mexico Protest over Conquistador Statue

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Image Credit: Instagram / @studio_1_eleven (right)

In New Mexico, a 23-year-old gunman wearing a red MAGA hat opened fire last week on Jacob Johns and other Indigenous activists opposing plans to reinstall a statue honoring the 16th century conquistador Juan de Oñate, New Mexico’s first colonial governor. Johns, the prominent climate activist, was airlifted from Española to an Albuquerque hospital and required emergency surgery. We speak with Malaya Peixinho, who participated in Thursday’s gathering, about how the statue of the colonial leader has divided the local community. “It is a really controversial thing to talk about Oñate,” says Peixinho, who believes funds for the statue could go to social programs instead. “That feels more important than funding a statue being resurrected.” The shooter, Ryan Martinez, was arrested and charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for shooting Johns and aiming the gun at Peixinho, who calls the charges “fair” and blames police for not intervening. “They didn’t show up for us,” says Peixinho.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

In New Mexico, a 23-year-old white supporter of Donald Trump has been charged with attempted murder for shooting an Indigenous activist last week during a protest over the reinstallation of a statue of the violent Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate. The shooting occurred in the city of Española, New Mexico. The gunman, who was wearing a red MAGA hat, opened fire and shot Jacob Johns, who had to be airlifted to a hospital in Albuquerque for emergency surgery.

Johns is an Indigenous activist, muralist, artist and father. In two months, he’s planning to lead the Indigenous Wisdom Keepers Delegation at the U.N. climate summit in Dubai, COP28, to advocate for Indigenous solutions to climate change. A GoFundMe collection to help with his medical expenses has already raised over $200,000.

The shooting occurred while he and other Indigenous activists were protesting plans to reinstall a statue honoring the 16th century conquistador Juan de Oñate, New Mexico’s first colonial governor, who in 1599 ordered a massacre that killed between 800 and a thousand Acoma Indigenous people. Three years ago, in June 2020, a former Albuquerque City Council candidate was arrested for shooting a protester four times at a demonstration calling for the removal of another Juan de Oñate statue.

Local and state officials in New Mexico reportedly ignored warnings of potential gun violence ahead of Thursday’s Indigenous-led peaceful action in Española. This is Melanie Yazzie of The Red Nation.

MELANIE YAZZIE: Denise Williams, mother of shooting victim Scott Williams, who was targeted at a 2020 Oñate protest in Albuquerque, said prior to Thursday’s event she called Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office, the office of U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, New Mexico state police, the Office of the New Mexico Attorney General, all members of U.S. Congress representing Valencia County in New Mexico, and all New Mexico state representatives and senators from Valencia County to warn them of the high chance of gun violence directed at attendees. State Senator Elizabeth Stefanics was the only one to respond. Immediately after the shooting, Scott Williams’s father, Dan Williams, called the Governor’s Office again to tell her that she, quote, “had blood on her hands” for failing to properly respond to and prevent both shootings.

AMY GOODMAN: During Thursday’s protest in Española, New Mexico, the gunman also pointed a gun at Malaya Peixinho, who joins us now from Albuquerque.

Malaya, I know you are still suffering from the shock of what happened, the shooting of the Indigenous activist and the gunman waving his gun at you and others. Can you talk about your experience, what happened then, and why you were all there in that peaceful action?

MALAYA PEIXINHO: Yeah, absolutely. I just first want to say good morning.

My experience, well, I’ll start with why we were there. They proposed to put up this statue, and there was a budget, a certain amount of money allotted. And I didn’t feel it was right for our community money, that could be spent on resources and support and our healing of our community, to be spent on this statue. And so, Thursday wasn’t a protest. Thursday was a sunrise ceremony in the morning time, and it was a celebration. We came together, and we prayed, and we celebrated as a family that we were able to postpone this statue.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Malaya, could you talk about who was proposing to install this statue, given the horrific history of Juan de Oñate? In fact, he was — if you could tell our viewers and listeners a little bit about his legacy? He was so cruel that even the Spanish government, colonial government, at the time put him on trial, and they were, obviously, extremely cruel toward the Native populations. But even he, they considered, had gone beyond the pale.

MALAYA PEIXINHO: You know, sorry, the feed that I’m getting is cutting in and out a little bit, so I didn’t hear the whole question. But I heard you mention — you asked me about Oñate and who he was as a man.


MALAYA PEIXINHO: You know, and that’s a really interesting question, and it brings up a lot of controversy in our community, because, on one hand, there are the people whose ancestors and whose history was that violence that he committed and was brought from that pain, you know, of him and the suffering that he put our Indigenous peoples through. And that’s one side of it. And then, on the other side of it, you know, we have Spanish people in our community, part of our valley, who he was their ancestry, and he was the — what they feel pride in, you know? And so there is a lot of division going on in our community, and it is a really controversial thing to talk about Oñate.

And I think, for me, you know, as important as it is to recognize his violence and how much he hurt people, it was less about him as a man and more about the fact that I see pain and suffering in our community, and I see how some funds for the missing and murdered Indigenous women, some funds for our alarming rates of overdoses, our housing crisis, that feels more important than funding a statue being resurrected.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the response of Governor Lujan to calls for her to be aware that there was possible violence, how do you feel she responded in this situation?

MALAYA PEIXINHO: You know, I haven’t really — after the incident, I’ve just been with family, so I haven’t been looking at politicians’ responses to the incident. But I do feel that they had a duty to protect us, you know? From the morning time, the shooter was there, and he was watching us. And it was brought to the attention of the police that people felt uncomfortable with him there. And so, they had a duty to protect us. And it’s my personal opinion that they did not do that, that when you see a rally of people and then you see an opposing side starting to form, that’s — you show up. And they didn’t show up for us. So, that’s what I have to say about that.

AMY GOODMAN: Malaya, you’re 23. Apparently, this white gunman who shot Johns is 23, as well. I wanted to turn to the Palestinian activist Mohammed El-Kurd, who spoke at the rally only 15 minutes before Jacob — before Jacob Johns was shot.

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: I am so disgusted by the people here who have nothing better to do, whose lives are so empty that they have nothing better to do than to celebrate the legacy of a murderous war criminal. Life could be so much better. You could build a much better legacy. You could wash your hands of this blood. And yet you decide to do this. Not only should these statues come down, but all land must be given back.

AMY GOODMAN: Soon after Mohammed El-Kurd spoke, 15 minutes later, the gunman shot Jacob Johns. Malaya, you’re still coping with the violence against all of you. Your response to him being charged with — what was it? — attempted murder, and of the whole community right now, as there was such — as we just heard before, such knowledge of the possible threats of gun violence against your action? Malaya?

MALAYA PEIXINHO: Sorry, the ending cut out just a little bit. If you could repeat it?

AMY GOODMAN: If you could respond to the charges? He’s being charged, the gunman, with attempted murder. And also, if you could tell us how Jacob Johns is doing, and how you’re doing? Because you all experienced both his shooting and the threatened shooting of you and others.

MALAYA PEIXINHO: You know, that’s a really good question. I thank you for checking in on how we’re all doing. It means a lot.

I think that his charge for first-degree — attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault, because he pointed the gun at me, I think that’s fair, because he came there, and watching his attitude and the way he carried himself beforehand, it felt like he was getting himself ready, you know, and he would go to the altar and invade a sacred space. So, it felt that way, that there was this preparation on both sides, and specifically for him, his own mental preparation.

And I was able to — my father has been checking in with Jacob’s family as much as we can. Last I heard, he’s doing OK, and he’s recovering. We just put out lots and lots of prayers that his breathing is good and his voice is good. In the morning time, he came and he sang us some songs. And so, I know, as a community, all we want to do is hear Jacob sing again for us strong like that.

And as far as I’m doing, I’m OK, because I have a community that is full of love and compassion and humanity. So, you know, ever since this, there hasn’t been a moment where I haven’t been taken care of. So I’m blessed in that way.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Malaya Peixinho, I want to thank you so much for joining us from New Mexico Public Television. She attended Thursday’s peaceful action over the planned reinstallation of a statue of the infamously violent colonizer Juan de Oñate in Española, New Mexico.

Coming up, we speak to two researchers with the La Raza Database Research Project that reveal the number of Brown and Black people killed by police may be more than double the amount that’s widely reported. Back in 30 seconds.


AMY GOODMAN: We Were All Mistaken, that song, “Fuerza Obsoletas,” from that album by various artists to accompany the new Raza Database Project, which we are talking about now.

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