Man shot during statue clash between protesters and far-right militia group

A man has been shot during a clash between far-right armed militia and protesters calling for the removal of a statue of a Spanish conquistador in New Mexico.

The confrontation broke out on Monday night between protesters and right-wing group, the New Mexico Civil Guard, who were trying to protect the bronze monument of colonialist Juan de Oñate outside Albuquerque Museum.

The victim, who has not been named, is in a critical but stable condition, said Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos. It is understood members of the armed civil guard were arrested, according to journalists and witnesses at the scene, but police have not yet revealed information about the shooter.

Following the incident, the city has announced that the statue would be removed until officials determine the next steps.

During the demonstration, protesters wrapped a chain around the statue and began tugging on it, chanting: ‘Tear it down.’ One protester repeatedly swung a pick-axe at the base of the statue.

In video footage shared by protesters, gunshots can be heard down the street before people start screaming. The man filming yells ‘shots fired, shots fired’ as he runs from the scene.

Another clip shows armed police standing above numerous members of the right-wing group who are cuffed on the ground in the middle of the road.

A woman filming says: ‘It was the New Mexico civil guard who shot. I have it on video’.

Mr Gallegos said police used tear gas and flash bangs to protect the officers who intervened and detained those involved in the shooting. He said they were disarmed and taken into custody for questioning as police worked to secure the scene.

The police spokesman said detectives are investigating with the help of the FBI.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement: ‘The shooting tonight was a tragic, outrageous and unacceptable act of violence and it has no place in our city.

‘Our diverse community will not be deterred by acts meant to divide or silence us. Our hearts go out the victim, his family and witnesses whose lives were needlessly threatened tonight. This sculpture has now become an urgent matter of public safety.’

Democrat governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a statement in which she took aim at the armed individuals, saying they were there to menace protesters.

She said no matter who strikes first, there would be no room in New Mexico for any sort of escalation of what she called ‘reckless, violent rhetoric’.

The governor said: ‘The instigators this evening will be rooted out, they will be investigated, and they will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.’

The violence came just hours after activists in northern New Mexico celebrated the removal of another monument of Oñate on public display at a cultural centre in the community of Alcalde.

Rio Arriba County officials removed it to safeguard it from possible damage and to avoid civil unrest ahead of a scheduled protest.

The statues of Oñate, who arrived in present-day New Mexico in 1598, have been a source of criticism for decades. He is celebrated as a cultural father figure in communities along the Upper Rio Grande that trace their ancestry to Spanish settlers. 

But he is also known for his brutality. In particular, when he ordered his men to cut off the feet of 24 Native Americans following the killing of the conquistador’s nephew.

In 1998, someone sawed the right foot off the statue – an incident that weighed in the decision to stash away the statue.

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