Groups of armed civilians have turned up at Albuquerque Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the last week, alarming peaceful protesters, and saying they intend to protect private property as well as people and their right to peacefully protest. A man from the New Mexico Patriots says his group has coordinated with police about patrolling these demonstrations. Several Albuquerque Police officers met with a group of armed local MMA fighters ahead of a protest on Monday, June 1.
In a video posted on Facebook, at least six APD officers stand with a group of men, some armed, outside the Jackson Wink Academy in Downtown Albuquerque as they prepared to attend the protest last Monday. MMA fighter Jon Jones says his group’s job is to stop as much “shenanigans” as possible with their size and their voice.
A police officer tells them to take care of each other and the people of Albuquerque. He warns about people who are “just dummies. They see crime of opportunity,” the officers says. “I’m sure you guys can de-escalate just by talking to them.”
There’s not much in terms of specific plans in the four-minute conversation caught on video. Jones says his guys “won’t be having their guns out.”
The next day in an emailed statement to Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Dani Prokop, APD spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos said the meeting with the group was not department-sanctioned, and that APD “opposes vigilante actions and attempts by civilians to intervene in planned, peaceful protests.” He said they “discourage the presence of armed civilians at protests, which has the potential to escalate violence, not prevent it.”
On Tuesday, hundreds more peaceful protestors marched through downtown Albuquerque. Voices on the APD dispatch radio mentioned “heavily armed friendlies” pointing guns down from a rooftop overlooking the march, raising more questions as to whether the department is coordinating with armed civilians.
Robert Whitmon is with a group called the New Mexico Patriots, whose mission he says is to defend the U.S. constitution. “We’ve worked with APD for many years now,” he said.
He said his group was out during last Monday’s protest, supporting police officers. “I see it as they’re devoting 99% of their time to the peaceful protest. And now with us being in communication with law enforcement, we can inform, we don’t necessarily have to get involved,” Whitmon said. “And that’s actually one of our first rules of engagement, is to not engage, unless there’s imminent threat.”
Whitmon says a few business owners contacted them after a small group of people broke windows and stole from businesses downtown last Sunday night. He blames antifa agitators for making chaos.
Though some Patriots carry weapons, Whitmon says they don’t like the term “militia” and don’t associate with hate groups. “And you don’t see us too often,” he said. “We’re usually behind the scenes, and we usually want to support law enforcement.”
APD spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos said in an email that APD administration has not authorized or condoned coordination with any civilian groups related to the protests. He did not respond to an emailed question specifically about the so-called “friendlies” downtown that KUNM heard about on the police scanner Tuesday.
KUNM knows of one other armed civilian group out last Monday in Albuquerque, a statewide militia group called the New Mexico Civil Guard. John Burks, who is referred to on their Facebook page as captain of the Bernalillo County company, said they usually give law enforcement a heads up that they’re coming. “But no,” he said, “we didn’t have any meetings with APD like the Wink guys did.”
Arthur Bell, who was was helping facilitate last Monday’s Black Lives Matter protest, said he didn’t understand why these armed groups were there or why they felt they needed to come protect anything. “It’s a peaceful demonstration,” said Bell, “and we feel like any showing of weaponry of any kind defeats the purpose in some ways.”
A group of Native American activists from the Red Nation say armed white men tracked them during Monday’s demonstration and afterward threatened them outside their own office space on Central. They say the men accused them of trying to break in, while one made a move to pull a handgun from his pants.
KUNM reporters have covered nightly protests since they began over a week ago. We’ve noted aggressive shows of militarized force by APD against unarmed people following protests on May 28 and May 31. Armed militia groups seem to move around unimpeded, even in a case on June 1 when a shot was reported fired in the area where groups of men with long guns were seen.
CLARIFICATION 6/9, 4:15p: The final sentence of this story has been changed to specify the cases when we know APD used military-grade force in the aftermath of protests, and to add context about armed civilian groups.