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Shooting erupts after vigilante group tries to 'protect' conquistador statue in New Mexico

The shooting occurred at what started as a peaceful protest in Albuquerque Monday.

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A 31-year-old man was arrested in a shooting that left another man critically injured at a protest in Albuquerque Monday.

Police tell sister station KOAT that Stephen Ray Baca was taken into custody and charged with aggravated battery.

The shooting occurred at what started as a peaceful protest in Tiguex Park Monday night where a group of around 300 had gathered to call for the removal of the La Jornada sculpture in front of the Albuquerque Museum.

Officials say a vigilante group that calls themselves the New Mexico Civil Guard were also in attendance, trying to “protect” the monument and tensions arose after protesters took a pickaxe to the statue.

There is no word if Baca was a member of that group.

Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Grier said in a statement, “receiving reports about vigilante groups possibly instigating this violence.”

“If this is true, (we) will be holding them accountable to the fullest extent of the law, including federal hate group designation and prosecution,” he added.

Several other government officials spoke out in the wake of the shooting and Mayor Tim Keller said the “city would remove the statue until appropriate civic institutions could determine the next steps.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called out the group saying, “There is absolutely no space in New Mexico for any violent would-be ‘militia’ seeking to terrorize New Mexicans; and there is no space for violence of any kind on our streets and in our communities or for any sort of escalation of reckless, violent rhetoric, no matter who strikes first. 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.”

Sen. Martin Heinrich has called for the Department of Justice to investigate the shooting. He also tweeted out that “these extremists cannot be allowed to silence peaceful protesters or inflict violence.

"La Jornado" features the Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Oñate. Scholars have documented how Oñate oversaw atrocities including the killings of hundreds of Pueblo Indians. Researchers say in an act of cruelty, he would order his men to cut a foot off at least 24 male captives.

But while his legacy is to many one of a murdering ruler, others hail him as a hero for leading the development of the state in 1598.

Earlier the same day of the shooting, officials in Rio Arriba County removed a statue of Oñate in Alcalde, New Mexico.