“Pena Case Sheds Light on Dangers of Political Violence”

Pena case highlights threats of violence in the world of politics

When Solomon Pena lost his election for House District 14 in November, he insisted the election was rigged and he should have been declared the winner. He also believed Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election, again claiming the election was rigged. Police say that appears to be the reason Pena – a 39-year-old failed Republican candidate who had shared photographs implying he was in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021 – allegedly orchestrated shootings at four Democratic lawmakers’ homes. University of New Mexico political science professor Gabriel Sanchez said there has been a rise in threats of violence toward elected officials over the past couple of years, and that false claims of the 2020 election being stolen is “a big part of the escalation.” “The attack on the U.S. Capitol building, for me, that was an indicator that we were going to see more violence,” he said. “That’s the easiest connection point because a lot of these folks believe that the 2020 election was stolen from them and that, I think, is fueling their hatred, their anger, and, unfortunately, what we’re seeing.” No one was hurt in the incidents involving the local lawmakers’ homes, but in one case bullets pierced the bedroom of a 10-year-old girl while she was sleeping. Pena was arrested Monday. Local Republican Party and elected officials have condemned Pena’s alleged acts, saying they do not represent the beliefs of the GOP. Pena was unopposed in the primary for New Mexico House District 14, which leans heavily Democratic. He lost in a landslide, coming in 48 percentage points behind Garcia. However, Pena’s behavior during the campaign had already raised eyebrows. Some of those whose doors Pena knocked on while campaigning told his opponent – longtime incumbent Democratic state Rep. Miguel Garcia – that Pena was aggressive and hostile and insisted that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and “we need to ship (those responsible) off to Guantanamo for the rest of their lives, and let them rot in those jails.” Sanchez taught Pena, a political science major who graduated from UNM in 2021, but said he was instructed by the university not to talk about him. Threats, actions While Sanchez said it’s clear that there has been an increase in threats of violence toward elected officials over the past couple of years, instances of those threats being carried out are rare. He said he thinks that’s why Pena’s case has gained so much national attention. “We actually have somebody that carried out the threats and actually fired on elected officials,” Sanchez said. “Many places have not actually seen the threats of violence actualized.” In California, Paul Pelosi – the husband of Nancy Pelosi – was attacked and seriously injured in his home in October, allegedly by a man looking for the then-U.S. House Speaker, saying he was tired of the lies coming out of Washington, D.C. The 82-year-old Paul was seriously injured and had to undergo surgery. Here in New Mexico a number of elected officials or candidates – Democrats and Republicans – have faced threats over the past three years. Visits to homes Two of the four lawmakers whose homes were targeted – Bernalillo County Commissioners Adriann Barboa and Debbie O’Malley – were tasked with certifying the election. O’Malley’s term has since ended. It’s unclear why the other two – state Sen. Linda Lopez and state Rep. Javier Martínez – were targeted. Both Barboa and O’Malley told the Journal that Pena visited their homes, uninvited, before the shootings to insist that the election results were fraudulent. They said the documents he showed them mirrored those they had received from other election deniers. Police have said that Pena visited Lopez’s home as well. A spokeswoman for the House Democrats said they don’t have any indication he visited Martínez’s home before the shooting. Although his house was not shot, Bernalillo County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada said Pena did pay him a visit the day after the election. Pena spoke briefly to Quezada’s wife and left papers for the commissioner, who wasn’t home at the time. Quezada, a Democrat, said he called Pena the next day out of duty to a constituent and also to express displeasure that he had visited his home, something the second-term commissioner said he has never experienced as an elected official. In an email following 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 had been a forensic audit, hand recount and Pena personally had received a “cast vote record.” Deputy Bernalillo County Clerk Jaime Diaz said the message is not unusual and that he’s seen many more like it from others in his role as an elections administrator. Diaz, who has spent 30 years working in elections, said there has been a “small group” of people questioning electronic voting machines going back to the mid-1990s but conspiracy theories have grown after former President Trump began insisting that he actually won the…