Community Terrorism

New Mexico Civil Guard Draws On Unarmed Protestors

Dan Pennington
5 min read
Community Terrorism
Filling Philly’s, where the NMCG bunkered down and prepared for violence (Dan Pennington)
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Sunday evening a crowd gathered in Downtown for the purpose of speaking out against violence toward BIPOC from police. The organizing group, Black New Mexico Movement, was well-managed and coordinated, ensuring everyone was on the same page throughout the entire protest. The message was to be heard and to maintain peace. You can look at our photo essay of the event itself in the center of the paper this week. This story is about what happened after everyone called it and went home.

As organizers were walking people back to their cars, being sure to travel in groups for safety, one pair of people encountered a problem on Third and Central. From Filling Philly’s a light shone out, pointed directly at a protestor’s chest. When they looked up to see what it was, they saw the New Mexico Civil Guard stationed within the store. An unidentified person inside the sandwich shop allegedly had a gun aimed at the protestor. From multiple videos taken at the scene before, during and after this event, one thing is abundantly clear: There was no rioting taking place. There was no risk of damage to property. In a story all too familiar, unarmed BIPOC were standing together across the street and were being threatened by armed individuals.

APD was called, but the callers were told they wouldn’t engage in an escalating situation, so they would need to disperse their crowd before anything could be done. That was when two loud bangs went off. It is unclear if they were gunshots or fireworks—and if they were gunshots, if they had been directed or were an accidental discharge. As of publication no injuries were reported from the scene. After the reported gunshots, the crowd rapidly dispersed from the scene.

NMCG said on the group’s Facebook page that they were “monitoring the situation” in downtown Albuquerque and had simply stopped by Filling Philly’s to “visit a friend.” Yet there was no sign of any problems at all when they chose to engage innocent individuals walking to their cars. Filling Philly’s general manager Marcie Sanner told local news media on Tuesday that, “a man named Jim Benvie asked militia members to protect the restaurant over the weekend, but he had no authority to make that request.” The restaurant tried to further distance itself from Benvie in a Twitter post describing Benvie as “one of our employees [who] acted on his own accord inviting individuals that have acted in a threatening manner to peaceful protesters during this weekend’s Black Lives Matter Protest.” Benvie was previously identified as the restaurant’s general manager in articles from KOAT and the
Albuquerque Journal from March and June, respectively.

This is not the first time the NMCG has taken residence within Filling Philly’s, though this time has been the most overtly direct confrontation. According to a statement on NMCG’s Facebook page, “The building was surrounded and people were pounding on windows, pointing weapons at us. We got behind cover and stayed down.” Despite a lack of video evidence backing up NMCG’s exciting tale, it reads like a scene strait out of a movie Western. By their own description, it seems clear that the group’s actions were more about pretending to be useful and having fun than about supporting local businesses.

The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office issued a statement on the incident, saying, “We have opened an investigation into the conduct of the New Mexico Civil Guard during this weekend’s protest to determine whether a criminal violation occurred or seek a temporary restraining order if necessary.”

As things stand now, there is absolutely no evidence that justifies a gun to have been pulled, pointed and potentially discharged. Yet NMCG is still out there, uninhibited by anything or anyone. Racism is still alive and well, no matter who tries to deny it. This self-styled militia brought weapons to the Oñate statue protest in Tiguex Park, and an innocent man nearly lost his life over it. There was the risk of it happening again last Sunday, and nothing was done.

Be alert, Albuquerque. Be vigilant. This hate isn’t us. This gun-toting, military dress up group doesn’t speak for us, doesn’t represent us. We’re better than all that anger and hate and will continue to prove that. Stand with your community, Albuquerque. Things may seem hard and scary now, but I promise, there is light coming soon. Through the powerful voices calling for justice. Through the kindness we all show each other in our day-to-day lives. In the small compassions we create in interactions throughout our community. We are making the city a place worth loving and growing.
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