Solomon Peña’s conspiracy to shoot up Democrats’ homes was motivated by false claims of a stolen election, New Mexico officials say

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The arrest of a defeated candidate for the New Mexico legislature on charges of orchestrating a plot to shoot up the homes of four Democratic officials in Albuquerque drew widespread condemnation on Tuesday, as well as accusations that stolen election rhetoric among supporters of the Former President Donald Trump continues to incite violence.

After Monday’s arrest, new details emerged Tuesday about the alleged conspiracy, including how close a hail of bullets came to the sleeping 10-year-old daughter of a state senator. Albuquerque police said in charging documents released Tuesday that Solomon Peña, 39, who lost a House seat in November by a nearly 2-1 margin but complained his defeat was rigged, set up the plot. Police accused him of conspiring with four accomplices to drive past the officers’ homes and shoot them.

Peña “provided firearms and cash payments and personally participated in at least one shootout,” the documents say. They claimed he intended to cause “serious injury or death” to people inside their homes, according to the documents. The group allegedly stole at least two cars used in the incidents, police said.

One of the targets of the attack said the shootings were part of a lineage of violence that stems from Trump’s false claims of a stolen election and that includes the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.

“You think this wouldn’t happen here, that someone would do this to the local authorities,” said former Bernalillo commissioner Debbie O’Malley, whose home was shot at Dec. 11. “There’s been this narrative for a long time: if you don’t have your way, it’s okay to be violent. The message came from above. It came from Trump.”

According to the prosecution documents, the most recent incident occurred on January 3, when at least a dozen shots were fired at the Albuquerque home of State Senator Linda Lopez (D).

Lopez told police he initially thought the booms he heard just after midnight were fireworks. But in the middle of the night, her 10-year-old daughter woke up thinking a spider had crawled on her face and wondering why her bed felt like it was full of sand.

At dawn, Lopez noticed holes in the house that made her suspect gunfire. After realizing it was drywall dust from bullet holes that had woken her daughter, she called authorities, according to the indictment documents. The documents also allege that Peña personally participated in the shooting of Lopez because she was unhappy that previous shootings had aimed “so high on the walls”.

Peña brought an automatic rifle to Lopez’s home, but it jammed during the incident and failed to fire, according to the documents.

Police accused Peña of orchestrating similar attacks in December at the Albuquerque homes of New Mexico State Representative Javier Martinez, Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa and O’Malley, who was also a county commissioner at the time. They did not say whether the shots in those houses came close to hitting anyone. Lopez, Martinez and Barboa could not be reached for comment.

Prior to running for office, Peña served nearly seven years in prison for convictions related to a burglary and burglary scheme that included burglary, larceny and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

In an interview, Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said he had no doubt Peña was motivated by Trump’s false allegations of voter fraud following the former president’s defeat in 2020. Medina said Peña regularly expressed extreme opinions on social media. and bragged about attending Trump’s Stop the Steal rally in Washington on January 6, 2021.

“The individual we are accusing believed in this conspiracy,” Medina said. “He believed his election was unfair and he escalated and resorted to violence as a means of finding justice.”

Medina said federal police are also investigating possible federal firearms violations related to the shootings, as well as whether Peña participated in the Jan. 6 riots. An FBI spokesman said the agency is assisting local authorities with their investigation and declined to comment further.

Trump spokesman Steven Cheung called it “terrible that some people are using this tragedy to try to gain cheap political points. President Trump had nothing to do with it and any claim to the contrary is utterly reprehensible.”

Lawyers for Peña and two of his alleged co-conspirators, Demitrio Trujillo and Jose Trujillo, could not be reached for comment.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller (D) said Peña visited the homes of the four targets in the days leading up to the attacks, trying to convince them that their election results had been rigged. “What is absolutely disturbing and terrifying is that he went from that to literally hiring criminals who were under warrant to shoot up their homes,” Keller said. “That’s the leap he made in a matter of days.”

Keller said it’s unclear why Peña didn’t target his opponent, Democratic state representative Miguel Garcia. He said police had collected an enormous amount of evidence, including cartridges found at crime scenes and recovered stolen vehicles, as well as text instructions, including addresses of targets, from Peña to his alleged co-conspirators.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, an outspoken critic of the threatening rhetoric of election deniers and the target of frequent online attacks, urged Republicans to condemn the violence in Albuquerque and urged voters to reject candidates who do not.

She cited the conspiracy to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, as well as the most recent attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, as other recent and troubling examples of political violence.

“It’s horrible,” Griswold said. “There are so many people who have to look over their shoulder living in fear in an atmosphere of political violence. As a nation, we are lucky the bullets missed.”

Some Republicans joined the condemnations. Ryan Lane, the Republican leader of the New Mexico House, praised law enforcement for its swift investigation. “New Mexico House Republicans condemn violence in any form and are grateful that no one was hurt,” Lane said.

The New Mexico Republican Party issued a statement late Tuesday that made no mention of Peña’s candidacy or his denial of the election results, but said the allegations against him “are serious and he should be held accountable if the allegations are true.” validated in court”.

The incident also led to new momentum for gun control. In Santa Fe, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) called for a ban on assault weapons in a speech to the state legislature on the first day of its 2023 session. in despicable acts of political violence,” she said.

Peña allegedly conspired with four other men, according to the indictment documents, hatching a plan to steal cars to use during attacks and then abandon them. Subsequent investigations of stolen vehicles found with matching shells appear to confirm that plan, police said.

Police said they examined the cell phone of one of the alleged co-conspirators, Demitrio Trujillo, and found that Peña had sent him the targets’ addresses and that Trujillo had looked up the addresses on his phone.

Peña began organizing the shootings shortly after the election, according to the police report. On November 12, he texted Barboa’s address to Trujillo. A week and a half later, Peña texted Trujillo a passage from an unknown book.

“It was only the added incentive of a threat of civil war that empowered a president to complete the reformist project,” the text read.

On December 8, Peña sent the address of Martinez, whose home was attacked that night, and that of O’Malley. The messages between Peña and Trujillo contained plans for meetings in parking lots, stores and cafeterias, according to the police report.

The prosecution documents also related the recollections of an unnamed confidential informant who said that Peña was not happy with the shootings taking place late at night, when they were less likely to injure someone.

“Salomon wanted the firefights to be more aggressive” and “wanted them to aim lower and fire around 8 pm because it is more likely that the occupants would not be lying down,” according to the documents.

According to the documents, José Trujillo was arrested less than an hour after López’s shooting and just a few kilometers away, after being pulled over for an expired license plate on a Nissan Maxima registered to Peña. In addition to two guns found in the trunk, police found 800 pills believed to be counterfeit Oxycodone, as well as cash. The police also discovered that Trujillo had a warrant out for his arrest.

Police said Peña paid his co-conspirators at least $500 for their papers.

O’Malley told The Washington Post that Peña visited his home on Nov. 10, days after losing the election.

“He was agitated, aggressive and upset that he didn’t win,” O’Malley said. Peña told O’Malley that he had knocked on tons of doors in his district, which should have led him to win more votes. She rejected his request to sign a document claiming the election was fraudulent, so he left.

A week later, on Dec. 11, a loud bang — “like a fist banging on the front door,” she said — woke her and her husband up. There were four more bangs. “Oh my God, gunshots,” she remembers thinking.

No one was hurt, but 12 shots were fired at her home. O’Malley said that because her grandchildren often sleep over, she now worries about what might have happened if they had been there. She said she was also concerned about what the attacks mean for democracy.

“Someone has threatened my house and they think it’s okay to shoot at my house, where my family is, because they didn’t get what they wanted,” she said. “I absolutely blame election denialism and Trump. I couldn’t tell you what the solution is.”

Devlin Barrett, Isaac Arnsdorf, and Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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