Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal
When Solomon Pena lost the election for House District 14 in November, he insisted that the election was rigged and that he should have been declared the winner. He also believed that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election, again claiming that the election was rigged.
Police say that appears to be why Pena, a 39-year-old failed Republican candidate who had shared photos implying he was in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, allegedly orchestrated shootings at the homes of four Democratic legislators.
University of New Mexico political science professor Gabriel Sanchez said there has been an increase in threats of violence against elected officials over the past two years and that false claims about the 2020 election being stolen they are “a big part of climbing.”
“The attack on the US Capitol building, to me, was an indicator that we were going to see more violence,” he said. “That’s the easiest point of connection because a lot of these people believe they were robbed of the 2020 election and that, I think, is fueling their hatred, their anger and, unfortunately, what we’re seeing.”
No one was injured in the incidents involving the homes of local lawmakers, but in one case bullets pierced the bedroom of a 10-year-old girl as she slept.
Pena was arrested on Monday.
The Republican Party and local elected officials have condemned Pena’s alleged actions, saying they do not represent the beliefs of the GOP.
Pena was unopposed in the primary for New Mexico’s 14th House District, which leans heavily Democratic. He lost in a landslide, trailing Garcia by 48 percentage points.
However, Pena’s behavior during the campaign had already raised eyebrows.
Some of those who Pena knocked on their doors while campaigning told his opponent — incumbent Democratic Rep. Miguel García — that Pena was aggressive and hostile and insisted that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and that “we must ‘send (those responsible) out. to Guantánamo for the rest of their lives, and let them rot in those prisons.’
Sanchez taught Pena, a political science major graduating from UNM in 2021, but said the university instructed her not to talk about him.
While Sanchez said it’s clear there has been an increase in threats of violence against elected officials over the past two years, instances of such threats are rare.
He said he thinks that’s why Pena’s case has gotten so much national attention.
“We actually have someone who carried out the threats and fired on elected officials,” Sanchez said. “A lot of places haven’t really seen threats of violence updated.”
In California, Paul Pelosi, the husband of Nancy Pelosi, was attacked and seriously injured at his home in October, allegedly by a man who was looking for the then-Speaker of the US House, saying he was tired of the lies that depart from Washington, DC. Paul, 82, was seriously injured and had to undergo surgery.
Here in New Mexico, several elected officials or candidates – Democrats and Republicans – have faced threats over the past three years.
A man drew the attention of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s security detail in March 2020, ahead of the 2020 presidential election, when he posted on Facebook: “Time to pick up your rifles and kill this governor so we can restore the constitution as the law of New Mexico. I am done with corrupt government. They will serve the people or die.”
Daniel Mock pleaded guilty to one count of interstate transmission of threatening communication and was sentenced to 14 months in federal prison in August 2020.
And after the 2020 election, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver received so many threats that she left her home for nearly six weeks. Toulouse Oliver said he was one of 40 people whose photo, home address and other personal information were posted on a website called “Enemies of the Village.”
Across the aisle, Mark Ronchetti and his wife received several threatening emails after his campaign for the US Senate. The messages threatened physical violence and included the use of ethnic slurs.
Stephen Yochim was arrested in January 2021, after the election was over and Ronchetti had lost. He pleaded guilty to harassment and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison in March 2022.
Last September, during Ronchetti’s gubernatorial race against Lujan Grisham, someone sprayed the garage door of his home with pellets, breaking a window.
High-profile figures aren’t the only ones who have faced hostility: The Doña Ana County Clerk said that in the run-up to the 2020 election, she received racist mail and that one of her employees was followed at night as he returned to absentee ballots. the office.
Pity as a candidate
State Rep. Garcia has represented the heavily Democratic South Valley and Barelas areas in the New Mexico Legislature for a quarter century. In recent years he had been unopposed in general elections.
This year was different.
After seeing that he had a Republican challenger, Garcia looked at Pena and saw that he had recently registered to vote. Pena’s right to vote was restored in April 2021 after he was released from parole.
Then, Garcia said, he began receiving anonymous tips from his constituents asking if he knew his opponent’s criminal record. He saw on social media that Pena “bragged about being in the insurrection.”
And, Garcia said, people began relaying troubling stories about Pena’s approach as he knocked on doors. He said some reported feeling threatened because he was “provoking a kind of fascist-style demagoguery, aggressive, assertive and hostile rhetoric”.
“In about five of those cases, two of them women, after they’ve been told four or five times to leave, that they don’t want to hear any more of what he’s saying and that they don’t want him on their property… Basically two steps back … and makes a hand gesture, you know, ‘he’s out.’ Say it to my face,'” Garcia said. “He’s actually yelling at them to do it. To undo it.”
Around the same time, Garcia filed a lawsuit to bar Pena from the ballot because of his past felony theft and robbery convictions. A judge ruled in favor of Pena staying at the polls.
When Garcia learned of the shootings, he contacted the Albuquerque Police Department to tell them everything he had gathered about Pena. An APD spokesman said Garcia’s information is now part of the case.
Two of the four lawmakers whose homes were raided, Bernalillo County Commissioners Adriann Barboa and Debbie O’Malley, were tasked with certifying the election. O’Malley’s tenure has since ended.
It is not clear why the other two – state senator Linda Lopez and state representative Javier Martínez – were attacked.
Both Barboa and O’Malley told the Journal that Pena visited their homes, uninvited, before the shootings to insist the election results were fraudulent. They said the documents he showed them mirrored those they had received from other voter denialists.
Police have said Pena also visited Lopez’s home. A spokeswoman for House Democrats said they have no indication he visited Martinez’s home before the shooting.
Although her home was not shot at, Bernalillo County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada said Pena paid her a visit the day after the election. Pena spoke briefly with Quezada’s wife and left papers with the commissioner, who was not home at the time.
Quezada, a Democrat, said she called Pena the next day out of duty to a constituent and also to express her displeasure that he had visited her home, something the second-term commissioner said she had never experienced as an elected official .
In an email after last June’s primary, a writer identifying himself as Solomon Pena demanded that then-Bernalillo County Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty not certify the primary election results until there was an audit forensics, a manual count and that Pena had personally received a “repartition vote record”. .”
“I am warning you. You will not certify the June 7, 2022 NM primary election that was held in Bernalillo County until these three listed acts have been completed,” begins the June 14 email that Pyskoty provided to the Journal.
Bernalillo Deputy County Clerk Jaime Diaz said the message is not unusual and he has seen many more in his role as elections administrator.
Diaz, who has worked in elections for 30 years, said there has been a “small group” of people questioning electronic voting machines since the mid-1990s, but conspiracy theories have grown after the former president Trump began insisting that he actually won the 2020 election.
As for the county commission’s only Republican member, Bernalillo County Commissioner Walt Benson said he had no interactions with Pena.
“Honestly, I didn’t even recognize the name when I first read it,” Benson said. “He never contacted me.”
Family, friends and records paint a complex picture of Solomon Pena
Shooting suspect filed multiple civil charges while serving time for property crimes…