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Solomon Peña plot to shoot up Democratic homes was motivated by false claims of stolen election, New Mexico authorities say

Solomon Peña plot to shoot up Democratic homes was motivated by false claims of stolen election, New Mexico authorities say

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The arrest of a defeated candidate for the New Mexico Legislature on charges that he masterminded a plot to shoot up the homes of four Democratic Party officials in Albuquerque drew widespread condemnation Tuesday, as well as accusations that the stolen…elections rhetoric among former President Donald Trump’s supporters continues to incite violence.

After Monday’s arrest, new details about the alleged plot emerged Tuesday, including how close the barrage 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, masterminded the plot. Police accused him of conspiring with four accomplices to drive past officers’ homes and shoot at them.

Peña “provided firearms and cash payments and personally participated in at least one shooting,” the documents said. They allege he intended to cause “serious injury or death” to people in their homes, the documents said. 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 series of violence that stemmed from Trump’s false claims of a stolen election and included 6th of January2021, attack on the US Capitol.

“You think it wouldn’t happen here, that someone would do this to local employees,” said former Bernalillo Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, whose home was shot at on Dec. 11. “There’s been this narrative for a long time: If you’re not getting your way, it’s okay to be aggressive. The message came from the top. It came from Trump.

According to charging documents, the latest incident occurred on Jan. 3, when at least a dozen rounds were fired at the Albuquerque home of state Sen. Linda Lopez.

Lopez told police she initially thought the loud bangs she heard shortly after midnight were fireworks. But in the middle of the night, her 10-year-old daughter woke up thinking a spider had crawled across her face and wondered why her bed looked like it was full of sand.

At dawn, Lopez noticed holes in the house that led her to suspect a shooting. After realizing that drywall dust from bullet holes had awakened her daughter, she called authorities, according to charging documents. The documents also allege that Peña personally took part in the shooting of Lopez because he was unhappy that previous shots were aimed “so high into the walls.”

Peña brought an assault rifle to Lopez’s home, but it jammed during the incident and did not fire, according to the documents.

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

Before running for office, Peña served nearly seven years in prison on convictions related to a burglary and robbery scheme that included burglary, theft and assisting a minor.

In an interview, Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said there was no question Peña was motivated by Trump’s false claims of election fraud following the former president’s defeat in 2020. Medina said Peña regularly expressed extreme views on social media and brags about attending Trump’s “Stop Theft” rally in Washington on January 6, 2021.

“The person we’re charging believed in this conspiracy,” Medina said. “He truly believed that his choices were unfair and he truly escalated and resorted to violence as a means of seeking justice.”

Medina said federal law enforcement is also investigating potential federal firearms violations related to the shootings, as well as whether Peña was involved in the Jan. 6 riots. An FBI spokesman said the agency was assisting local authorities in their investigation and declined to comment further.

Trump spokesman Stephen Cheng called it “appalling that some people are using this tragedy to try to score cheap political points. President Trump has nothing to do with this and any other claim is completely reprehensible.

Attorneys 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 before the attacks, trying to convince them that his election result was rigged. “What’s absolutely disturbing and appalling is that he went from that to literally hiring criminals who were on the loose to shoot up their houses,” Keller said. “That’s the leap he’s made in a matter of days.”

Keller said it was unclear why Peña did not target his opponent, Democratic Rep. Miguel Garcia. He said police had collected a large amount of evidence, including shell casings found at crime scenes and in recovered stolen vehicles, as well as text instructions, including the targets’ addresses, from Peña to his alleged co-conspirators.

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

She pointed to the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, as well as the more recent attack on Paul Pelosi, the ex-husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as other troubling recent examples of political violence.

“It’s terrifying,” Griswold said. “There are so many people who have to look over their shoulders, living in fear in an atmosphere of political violence. As a nation, we’re just lucky the bullets didn’t fall.”

Some Republicans joined the condemnations. Ryan Lane, New Mexico’s House Republican leader, praised law enforcement for the 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 did not mention Peña’s candidacy or his denial of the election results, but said the allegations against him “are serious and he must be held accountable if the allegations are confirmed in court”.

The incident also sparked a new push for gun control. In Santa Fe, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) called for a ban on assault weapons in an address to the state Legislature on the first day of its 2023 session. in heinous acts of political violence,” she said.

Peña allegedly conspired with four other men, according to charging documents, hatching a plan to steal cars to use during the attacks and then abandon them. Subsequent investigations into stolen vehicles found with matching shell casings appeared to confirm that plan, police said.

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

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

“Only the added incentive of the threat of civil war empowered the president to complete the reform project,” the text reads.

On Dec. 8, Peña sent the address to Martinez, whose home was raided that night, and O’Malley’s. Texts between Peña and Trujillo included plans to meet in parking lots, convenience stores and fast-food restaurants, according to the police report.

The charging documents also recounted the recollections of an unnamed confidential informant who said Peña was unhappy that the shootings would take place late at night, when they were less likely to injure anyone.

“Solomon wanted the shooting to be more aggressive” and “wanted them to aim lower and shoot around 8:00 p.m. because the occupants were more likely not to go to bed,” according to the documents.

According to the documents, Jose Trujillo was arrested less than an hour after the shooting of Lopez and just a few miles away after he was pulled over for an expired registration in 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. Police also discovered that Trujillo had a warrant out for his arrest.

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

O’Malley told the Washington Post that Peña visited her home on Nov. 10, days after he lost the election.

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

A week later, on Dec. 11, a loud bang — “like a fist just banging on our front door,” she said — woke her and her husband up. There were four more bangs. “Oh my god, shoot,” she recalled thinking.

No one was hurt, but 12 shots were fired at her house. O’Malley said that because her grandchildren often sleep over with them, she now worries about what might happen if they were there. She said she also worries about what the attacks mean for democracy.

“Someone threatened my home and thought it was okay to shoot at my home where my family is because they didn’t get their way,” she said. “I absolutely blame the election rejection and Trump. I couldn’t tell you what the solution was.

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

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