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Exclusive: Indigenous Climate Activist Jacob Johns Speaks Out After MAGA Gunman Shoots Him in New Mexico

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Broadcasting from COP28 in Dubai, we speak with Jacob Johns, a Hopi and Akimel O’odham environmental defender who is leading the Indigenous Wisdom Keepers delegation at COP28. This is his first interview after surviving being shot in the chest by a far-right agitator in September. Johns and other Indigenous activists were holding a vigil opposing plans to reinstall a statue honoring the 16th century Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate in Española, New Mexico, when a 23-year-old shooter wearing a red MAGA hat fired on the crowd. Johns says he died in the airlift on the way to the hospital and is still dealing with medical issues from the shooting, but wanted to come to the climate summit to share Indigenous wisdom with the world. “We as Indigenous people understand that as the old world dies, that a new one is created and that we must focus on that creation process.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

As we broadcast from COP28 in Dubai, we look now at threats to land and environmental defenders on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Global Witness documented that last year a climate defender was killed every other day somewhere in the world.

In a minute, we’ll speak with Jacob Johns, a Hopi and Akimel O’odham environmental defender with the US Climate Action Network who’s leading the Indigenous Wisdom Keepers delegation here at COP28 after he survived being shot in the chest by a far-right agitator in September in Española, New Mexico. The 23-year-old shooter was a supporter of Donald Trump, was wearing a red MAGA hat when he attacked a protest against the reinstallation of a statue of the violent Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate. Johns and other Indigenous activists were protesting plans to reinstall the statue honoring the 16th century conquistador, who was also New Mexico’s first colonial governor and ordered a massacre in 1599 that killed between 800 and 1,000 Acoma Indigenous people.

Three years ago, in 2020, a former Albuquerque City Council candidate was arrested for shooting a protester four times at a demonstration calling for the removal of another Oñate statue. Local and state officials in New Mexico reportedly ignored the warnings of potential gun violence ahead of the Indigenous-led peaceful action. 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: In October, a judge found probable cause to charge the gunman, Ryan Martinez, with attempted murder for the shooting of Jacob Johns during the peaceful prayer ceremony. Again, Melanie Yazzie.

MELANIE YAZZIE: It has been shown that the shooter was in possession of automatic weapons and deliberately targeted and attacked a peaceful and prayerful assembly of Indigenous peoples. He brandished his gun at women and children. If Jacob hadn’t interposed himself, there could have well been a mass shooting on September 28th.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Jacob Johns for his first interview since he put his body between women and children when the shooter charged at them. We’re so thankful you’re alive, Jacob, and that you have healed enough to come to Dubai for the U.N. climate summit. If you don’t mind going back to September 28th, and talk about why you had flown in from Washington state, where you live, to New Mexico, and what you were protesting when the shooter came forward?

JACOB JOHNS: Yeah. So, I’m based in Spokane, Washington. I’m a community-supported organizer underneath the fiscal sponsorship of the Backbone Campaign, and so I’m like a solo nonprofit group that does intersectional organizing around social justice and environmental protection. I am a part of the US Climate Action Network, which is a national network that has like 187 organizations that come together and really try to build momentum around forcing our government to do what they say they’re going to do, especially at these international tables of the COP.

I had applied for a grant, and I went to the West Coast regional meeting to talk about the grant and to meet with other orgs in the area. One of the things that the network likes to do is to support local movement spaces. And I was asked to come out and support the local Tewa movement that was taking place at the statue in Española. I’m part Hopi, which makes me cousins to my Tewa cousins in New Mexico, and so I felt obligated to go out there.

They told me that it was mainly women and children and two-spirits and elders that were holding ceremony and prayer vigil to pray that this statue wasn’t reinstalled. The statue was taken down in 2020. And the Akimel people and Jemez people and all the local Tewa people have oral history and oral testimony of the horrendous things that took place there at the hands of this person, Oñate.

So we came out to support. We spent the night there, and we had a prayer ceremony at sunrise, accompanied with the elders of the Tewa Women United and other members of the US Climate Action Network that came out to support. And the county commissioner ended up not reinstalling the statue. And so our prayers were heard and answered. You know, we weren’t protesting. We weren’t anti-anything. We were pro-logic, and we were pro-sensibility. And our prayers were sent out into the universe and were received.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what happened with this guy in a red MAGA hat?

JACOB JOHNS: So, a group of agitators showed up. A bunch of right-wing extremists showed up wearing, you know, “Make America great again” hats and were really just advocating for the statue to be built and — well, to be reput into place. This, they thought, was something that needed to be honored. This person who the statue is of is equatable to Hitler. And so, you know, when you think of the idea of putting up a statue of Hitler in a place where there’s mainly Jewish people, it’s a horrendous atrocity to, like, just moral responsibility.

And so, these people came out, and they were very, very aggressive, very, very agitative. There was one, specifically the shooter, that was walking around and being very, very aggressive, coming into the space, coming into the altar space, and was just taking a lot of video, getting in people’s faces, saying racist things to young children, and just really being in a negative space. The police ended up taking him and making him leave because of how he was being so aggressive to the gentle crowd. And then he was allowed to come back in. Once he came back in, the police left, and this is when the incident occurred.

AMY GOODMAN: And he opened fire. You went through several surgeries. That was at the end of September. This is only two months later. You’ve healed enough to come here. Talk about why you’re leading the Indigenous Wisdom Keepers delegation, and what you’re calling for here.

JACOB JOHNS: Yeah. So, you know, they said that they charged him with attempted murder. But I did, in fact, die. I died in the helicopter on the ride from Española to Albuquerque. And in that place beyond death, I ran into a council of spirits that I had to beg and convince to let me come back into this body. I had to sign a new life contract with a list, a long list, of things that I had to do. And so, this was one of them.

You know, we have been working for a year bringing together a group of Indigenous Wisdom Keepers and activists and youth activists from around the world to come together and put our minds into a document that would distill Indigenous wisdom from a global perspective and really stand in solidarity with each other. You know, a lot of us, as Indigenous folks, understand that what we are trying to push domestically often goes on deaf ears and that we have to step outside of our governmental forces and try to plead internationally to these type of venues. And so, we have 15 folks who had been coming from around the world to be here. And I was, first off, spiritually obligated, but morally obligated to continue to do this work. And, you know, first I’m the moneyman, too, right? Like, I’ve got to sign the checks. I’ve got to put everything in. I’ve got to make sure everything is in the space it needs to be. But I do have ongoing medical issues.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is most important you want to see out of COP28?

JACOB JOHNS: I want to see the hearts and minds of our world leaders shift into a more logical frame. You know, we must stand in solidarity with a future that is healthy and livable and just. We are being fed dystopian lies about how the world will end and how everything will fall apart. And, yes, the science is saying that. But we as Indigenous people understand that as the old world dies, that a new one is created and that we must focus on that creation process as being what it is we are trying to broadcast into the universe.

AMY GOODMAN: Jacob Johns, Hopi and Akimel O’odham environmental defender, part of the US Climate Action Network, leading the Indigenous Wisdom Keepers delegation, after surviving being shot in the chest in September by a far-right agitator in New Mexico. Thank God you’re OK. Thank you so much for being here in this first interview, Jacob.

Next up, as Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva calls for phasing out fossil fuels, we’ll speak with Amazon Watch about Lula’s climate record. Back in 30 seconds.


AMY GOODMAN: “Stop the War” by Benjamin Zephaniah, the British activist and poet. He was inspired by his roots in Jamaica and Barbados. He’s died at the age of 65. To see our interview with Benjamin a few years ago, go to

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