On Monday night in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Trump held a campaign rally. Originally, local organizations and community members had planned to mobilize in opposition, but according to activists who spoke with IGD over email, due to a combination of death threats, visits from the Secret Service, and also the presence of far-Right militia members who were volunteering as Trump security, many counter-protesters opted to stage a rally away from the official Trump event, drawing over 1,000 people.
What follows is an interview with one participant who was part of a group of six people that briefly disrupted Trump’s speech before being assaulted by Trump supporters and then leaving the arena. While at the rally, protesters also documented that members of the far-Right militia, the Oath Keepers, were acting as volunteer security while clearly wearing shirts promoting the militia group. The Oath Keepers have appeared alongside neo-Nazis and white nationalists at far-Right rallies, called on their members to prepare for “civil war” numerous times, and have promoted racist conspiracy theories against immigrants and Muslims. The Oath Keepers have also appeared numerous times at Trump rallies, even seated behind Trump himself.
On their website, Oath Keeper leader Steward Rhodes called on supporters and members of other far-Right organizations to volunteer at the rally, writing:
Oath Keepers, veterans, bikers, three percenters, and other capable patriots, we need your help.
Leftists are looking to “shut down” the upcoming Sept 16, 2019 Trump Rally in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Oath Keepers and our allies will be there to help provide volunteer security escorts for rally attendees to protect them from potential leftist violence (see below examples of violence at 2016 Trump rallies).
We have full confidence that the venue itself will be safe, but our concern is for the safety of rally attendees as they walk from their vehicles to the venue, and then as they exit the venue and return to their vehicles afterward. There have been numerous examples of Trump supporters being attacked under those circumstances, especially as they leave a rally (see below). Leftists have a right to protest, but they don’t have a right to shut down the free speech and assembly of other Americans. Nor do they have a right to assault people because they don’t like their politics. We have a duty to protect our fellow Americans against such terrorism, and we will.
On their website, the Oath Keepers also stated that they would be working closely with Bikers for Trump and members of the Three Percenters, another far-Right militia who’s members attended the neo-Nazi Unite the Right rally and have been tied to a string of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim bombings.
We will be working closely with other awesome patriot groups in New Mexico, such as APIII%NM, Sons of Liberty Riders (SOLR), and Bikers for Trump of New Mexico, among others. If you are the leader of a motorcycle club, riding club, association, or group that is interested in helping with security, please email us at the same email@example.com email, but please add “Security Leader” in the subject line and tell us who you are with (we will trust you to vet your own men).
This shows the degree in which the Trump campaign is willing to openly work with members of far-Right organizations, much as GOP insiders have referred to their alliance with the Proud Boys as, a “coalition they can’t talk about.” What follows is a short interview about what all went down.
IGD: Tell us about the Trump rally. What was the crowd, like, how big was it?
The arena was filled to capacity, with about seven thousand people in attendance inside. The area outside the arena was filled with overflow Trump supporters who were watching the rally on a big screen. We arrived on site at 8AM and waited in line eight hours to get into the building. Once inside, we waited for another three hours before Trump arrived. Guest speakers made several intermittent speeches during this waiting period.
IGD: You said 6 protesters went to the rally and two were assaulted. What all happened leading up to the assault? Did people unfurl a banner? How did people and security react?
Trump walked to the podium and the crowd cheered for approximately five minutes. We waited until the crowd quieted down, then we took off our outer shirts–revealing undershirts that were printed with “Dump Trump” on the front and “NMResist” on the back. One male member of our group held up a small banner that read “Dump Trump” and we started chanting “Dump Trump.”
A male Trump supporter in the row directly beneath ours punched one of the women in our group in the stomach, then grabbed her with both hands and started pulling her toward him.
It took the crowd one or two repetitions of our chant to realize what we were saying. The Trump supporters sitting behind us and in front of us immediately started hitting us with their signs and screaming. A male Trump supporter in the row directly beneath ours punched one of the women in our group in the stomach, then grabbed her with both hands and started pulling her toward him. She managed to free herself, but he grabbed her leg and attempted to drag her over the chairs and into his row. A member of the protest group shoved the attacker away. Another female member of the group was punched in the leg by a man in the row below, resulting in a large bruise on her leg. Another Trump supporter was shoving and hitting us from behind, causing our camera man to fall forward onto the protester standing beside him.
We had one extra member (the 7th person in our group) who sat separately from us. He was dressed in clothes that could be easily mistaken as security. At this point, he interceded and began telling the Trump supporters to back off. He then “escorted” us toward the exit while we continued to chant “Dump Trump!” Many of the Trump supporters continued trying to grab us, shove us, and scream at us. We walked down the stairs together towards the entrance/exit area to leave the arena. Only at that point did we encounter security.
Our choice to include someone who could play the role of security is the only thing that prevented us from being seriously injured.
When we got to the front doors which were locked for security while Trump was inside, a woman who appeared to work for the Trump team told us that we were not allowed to exit. We told them we would continue protesting, and they decided to let us leave. The man in our group dressed similarly to security told them to give us an escort past the Trump supporters waiting outside. One uniformed police officer yelled,”Hell no, they aren’t getting an escort.” A Latinx police officer replied, “Yes, we are escorting them out and seeing they get to their cars safely.” One of our members voiced her concern over walking by members of the Oath Keepers, and the police reassured us that they would get us by them without being harmed. After the police officers escorted us past all the Trump supporters and “voluntary security,” we walked to our cars and left the property.
IGD: You said you noticed members of the Oath Keepers doing security. How do you know they were members of the Oath Keepers?
Most of the Oath Keepers were wearing black t-shirts with “Oath Keepers” printed on them and carrying two-way radios for communication. They also wore badges hanging from lanyards that identified them as “Trump/Pence Volunteer Security.” We have pictures of these badges.
IGD: Anything else you’d like to say?
Leading up to this event, thousands of people in the Albuquerque area committed to protesting Trump’s presence in New Mexico. However, organizers immediately began receiving death threats. Those who persisted were then targeted by Secret Service and received unannounced home visits. A local organizer and activist, Javier Benavidez, live-streamed his conversation with Secret Service to Facebook. Many brave protesters hung banners from overpasses on the interstate and assembled outside the rally. They had to make their way through patrolling groups of Oath Keepers to do so and experienced harassment from Trump supporters throughout the day. The Oath Keepers were patrolling the street leading to the event, had a pop-up tent in the parking lot, and had access to all the areas that only security and police were allowed to enter. They engaged with police officers and private security throughout the day. The Trump administration is actively and knowingly using the Oath Keepers as security for these events.
Security inside the event was not able or interested in maintaining the safety of potential protesters. Our choice to include someone who could play the role of security is the only thing that prevented us from being seriously injured. We chose an older, white male who felt comfortable acting as an authority. He was wearing a jacket with an American eagle insignia that could be mistaken for an official seal. At no point did he claim to be security or secret service. However, in the heat of the moment, all Trump supporters assumed he was one of Trump’s security officers and backed away when instructed.
The Oath Keepers were patrolling the street leading to the event, had a pop-up tent in the parking lot, and had access to all the areas that only security and police were allowed to enter.
The media made no attempt to film the protest whatsoever, despite the fact that we interrupted Trump’s speech for close to a full minute. Furthermore, Trump knew the media would not film the protest and therefore claimed there was only one protester in order to minimize our presence. There were six of us who were clearly protesting, one of whom was carrying a banner. We strongly believe that the media has to agree not to film protesters in order to gain access to these events. The only footage of our protest was collected by other audience members and the member of our group who agreed to film. Multiple Trump supporters attempted to take away his phone, which you can see here.
Below is the press release we put together to explain our actions and motivation for disrupting Trump’s speech:
On September 16th 2019, we were involved in a statewide grassroots effort to disrupt Donald Trump’s rally in Rio Rancho, NM. Unfortunately, aggressive efforts from the right to intimidate and terrorize Trump detractors were successful, and the vast majority of the planned protest actions were relocated to Tiguex Park in Albuquerque, where the peaceful protests then took place uneventfully.
Even after fellow-resisters experienced threats of violence and death, and despite the presence of white supremacist militia groups serving as “volunteer security” at Trump’s rally, we decided to forge ahead. Seven of us entered the rally and interrupted Donald Trump’s speech. We suffered an unprovoked violent attack by the Trump supporters surrounding us after we stood and chanted “Dump Trump.” Two of the women in our group were punched. One woman was hit in the torso and in the back, and we had to stop a male Trump supporter from dragging her into the row of seats beneath us.
We took this risk because Trump is a danger to our community and our democracy. His hatemongering is a daily threat to the lives of our friends and families. His policies have resulted in the deaths of innocent children and refugees. His racism, his sexism, and his hatred of the LGBTQ community have resulted in the harassment and brutalization of people we love. He is the antithesis of everything that makes New Mexico our home.
We reject Donald Trump, and we will continue to defend our community from hate.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that there was a large counter-protest organized in Albuquerque against Trump, but was held at a different location.