Armed Militia Group Alarms BLM Protesters Late Monday After Peaceful Rally
After hundreds of people demonstrated peacefully on and around the University of New Mexico campus Monday night, armed militia men showed up along Albuquerque’s Central Ave., causing fear and confusion among Black Lives Matter protesters heading home. Around the same time, a shot was heard in the area; police later said it was fireworks. No injuries or arrests were reported as of early Tuesday.
As the steady evening rain slowed to a sprinkle, protesters called it a night around 10:15 p.m., many walking with drenched clothing and signs back up Central Ave. toward the middle of campus, where the march had begun.
Minutes after organizers told protesters to head home, the Albuquerque Police Department radio dispatch indicated officers had seen men with long guns east of UNM.
Then, just west of campus, protesters came upon a group of about nine mostly white men on the side of the road, by a white cargo van, with body armor and assault style weapons. Several protesters were upset and verbally confronted them, asking why there were there; others urged their fellow demonstrators to ignore the provocation and keep moving.
"We have a peaceful protest!" one Black Lives Matter protester cried out repeatedly. "Go home! Don't ruin it!"
The armed men said they were from the New Mexico Civil Guard and that they were there to protect people. The militia group has been recruiting people throughout New Mexico online since March, and made a showing at an Albuquerque anti-shutdown protest in late April. A post on their Facebook page, which features pro-Trump posts and people posing with yellow "Don't Tread On Me" flags, said their members would "be protecting local businesses every night until Sunday" this week, amid what they called “violent protests.”
In the last week, Albuquerque has seen several peaceful protests calling for justice for George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, and an end to police killings of black people. Some vandalism and violence did break out late Sunday and into early Monday morning in downtown Albuquerque, but it was well after most protestors had left.
After Monday night's demonstration, there were tense interactions between the armed militiamen and unarmed protestors at the intersection of Central Avenue and Ash Street for about fifteen minutes, and then the departing protesters continued on. APD vehicles were stationed just blocks away along the perimeter of the rally route. No officers intervened.
Shortly after, what sounded like a gunshot rang out near Central Ave. and Yale Blvd.; it was unclear from where or who. Days later, an APD spokesperson said an undercover officer in the area confirmed that the noise came from fireworks.
A helicopter circled overhead as dispatchers on the APD radio continued to flag that groups of armed men were potentially in the area, until about 11:30 p.m. By that time, protesters had cleared the streets.
UPDATE 6/11, 7p: This story has been updated with information from an APD spokesperson who said the shot reported fired in the area on June 1 was fireworks, not a gunshot.