September 15, 2021
Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Lawsuit Against Extremist Militia for June 2020 Onate Statue Wins Significant Procedural Victory
Yesterday District Court Judge Elaine Lujan denied the New Mexico Civil Guard’s (NMCG) attempt to end the litigation brought by Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez, ruling that the lawsuit may proceed.
The lawsuit argues that the NMCG were acting as an unlawful, paramilitary group, impersonating peace officers, and creating a public nuisance for their actions at the June 2020 Onate statue protest in Old Town. The NMCG, whose members include individuals associated with white supremacist and neo-Confederate organizations, attended the protest as private vigilantes, armed with assault rifles and dressed in military-style camouflage and gear, to “protect” the statue. The lawsuit seeks a declaration and permanent injunction to stop the NMCG from acting as a private police and military force and threatening public safety.
Earlier this year, the NMCG filed a motion with the district court asking the Court to “rule on the pleadings” and dismiss the lawsuit against NMCG. Judge Lujan denied their motion, ruling that the allegations that the NMCG were acting as an unlawful, paramilitary group, impersonating peace officers, and creating a public nuisance are legally and factually sufficient for the lawsuit to proceed. The judge did dismiss charges related to impersonating a police officer for members of the militia who were not present at the event, but otherwise found all other NMCG arguments unpersuasive, specifically finding that the lawsuit would not violate the NMCG’s First or Second Amendment rights.
In her order, the District Court wrote: “[The State] does not merely seek to enjoin Defendants from ‘organizing’ and ‘operating’ together or from simply bearing arms but rather seeks to enjoin the Defendants from ‘organizing and operating in public as a military unit independent of New Mexico’s civil authority and without having been activated by the Governor…’ and from ‘assuming law-enforcement functions.’”
“Whatever our differences are, there is simply no place in our society for private paramilitary groups to impose their will on other citizens or threaten public safety. Regardless of our diverse political views we must remain committed to the rule of law,” said Bernalillo County District Attorney, Raul Torrez. “This ruling is a big victory for New Mexico. This decision not only confirms the strength of our case against the New Mexico Civil guard but it also puts other groups on notice that we have a powerful new tool in the fight against political extremism.”
“The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office partnered with the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) at Georgetown University Law Center to bring this case to enforce New Mexico’s anti-paramilitary laws,” said Mary B. McCord, Executive Director, Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection & Visiting Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center. “After the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, ICAP used similar theories to bring successful litigation against a number of self-styled private militia organizations involved in the unrest under Virginia laws that prohibit private paramilitary activity. That case resulted in court orders against 23 individuals and organizations barring them from returning to Charlottesville in groups of two or more acting in concert while armed with anything that could be used as a weapon during any rally, protest, demonstration, or march.”