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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Ramon Antonio Vargas

Man in Maga hat charged over shooting of Indigenous activist at statue protest

The spot where officials had planned to reinstall the statue of Juan de Oñate.
The spot where officials had planned to reinstall the statue of Juan de Oñate. Photograph: Luis Sanchez Saturno/AP

An Indigenous justice activist is recovering after a man wearing a hat with the Donald Trump slogan “Make America great again” allegedly shot him during a protest against the reinstallation of a statue honoring a Spanish conquistador in New Mexico.

Jacob Johns was shot on Thursday morning in the northern New Mexico city of Española while demonstrating against plans to again erect a Juan de Oñate statue that previously had been taken down and put in storage. First responders flew Johns to a hospital in Albuquerque by helicopter after he was wounded.

By Friday, he was recovering from emergency surgery, said a message on an online GoFundMe campaign set up in his support.

Johns’s mother told the Santa Fe New Mexican that her son was in stable condition. Laverne McGrath said her son had been in northern New Mexico with the US climate action network and had tribal affiliations with the Hopi and Akimel O’odham.

The suspected shooter – 23-year-old Ryan Martinez – was arrested by Española and Pojoaque Pueblo police and faces charges of attempted murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. On Friday, a judge ordered Martinez held without bond through at least the weekend.

According to Martinez’s arrest affidavit, he was smiling and laughing during an interview with investigators.

“Ryan, with a smirk on his face, asked if someone who attempted a murder would be allowed to walk out” of custody, the state police agent Shane Faulkner wrote in the affidavit. “When I advised Ryan that it was his right and up to the judge, Ryan replied that was crazy and stupid.”

Johns was part of a crowd who had gathered at the Rio Arriba county annex building to celebrate officials’ postponement of plans to re-erect a statue of Oñate there. The conquistador and his Spanish compatriots carried out a 1599 massacre of hundreds of members of a pueblo tribe in what is now New Mexico.

Crews had torn down Oñate’s statue from a spot in the community of Alcalde and had taken it into storage in 2020 amid racial justice protests ignited by a Minneapolis police officer’s murder of George Floyd weeks earlier. But there were plans to stand the statue back up near the county annex, though protests forced officials to delay the monument’s reintroduction.

A cellphone video posted on social media showed that a fight broke out near where a crowd was celebrating the postponement. At one point, the video showed the man identified as Martinez jump over a waist-high barrier and try to grab another man.

Two more men then grappled with Martinez, who is seen leaping back over the barrier, grabbing a pistol from his waistband and aiming the weapon at those with whom he was tussling as voices yell, “Let him go!”

Martinez, clad in a turquoise hooded sweatshirt, appeared to fire once. A voice shouted in pain, and Martinez ran toward a parking lot, according to the video. The recording then showed the driver of a white car speed away, honking the horn.

In the moments before the shooting, the video in question captured a red hat getting knocked off Martinez’s head as he struggled with other men during the confrontation.

Still images of Martinez taken earlier in the day showed that hat bore the “Make America great again” slogan.

Additionally, according to the Daily Beast, a social media profile matching Martinez’s details featured the phrase “Fuck Joe Biden”. The profile also declared “Trump won”, echoing the false conspiracy theory that fraudsters robbed the former president of victory against Biden in the 2020 election.

Martinez’s arrest came after the second shooting surrounding a face-off of protesters and counter-protesters near the Oñate statue. In June 2020, during a rally calling for the statue’s removal, Steven Baca shot Scott Williams and was arrested on a count of aggravated battery with great bodily harm.

Baca pleaded guilty to unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon as well as aggravated battery for pulling a protester down by her hair. Prosecutors dismissed the charge pertaining to the shooting, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

The GoFundMe for Johns, the victim of Thursday’s shooting, described him as being a Hopi Native American.

A photo from the Albuquerque Journal showed Johns – of Spokane, Washington – holding up a sign that read “Do Not Resurrect Oñate” next to a speaker before the shooting that wounded him in the upper torso. In that photo, Johns and the speaker stood before another pair of signs that read: “Not today Oñate.”

Johns’s GoFundMe campaign described him as a climate activist, artist, musician and father to a teenage daughter. As of Saturday, the campaign had raised more than $120,000 that organizers said were meant to help cover his medical bills as well as other family needs during what would “likely be a very lengthy recovery period”.

Edward Helmore contributed to this report.

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