The White House condemned the alleged actions of Solomon Peña, a former Republican New Mexico state legislative candidate accused of targeting Democratic officials, after a judge ruled he would remain in custody until a formal detention trial could be held.
Peña was arrested Monday on allegations that he organized and paid for drive-by shootings at residences of Democratic officials. According to court filings, Peña said he believed that his defeat by nearly 50 percentage points in the New Mexico House of Representatives’ 14th District in November was the result of election fraud. No evidence, however, suggested that his wide margin of defeat in a heavily Democratic constituency of Albuquerque was suspicious.
Asked about Peña at Wednesday’s White House briefing, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “The allegations here are horrifying and shocking, and it’s a miracle no one was hurt. [President Biden] has spoken out repeatedly and emphatically about how our nation rejects violence as a political tool.”
“This administration has also emphasized the dangerous ways in which conspiracy theories and disinformation can lead some individuals to violence. Again, we urge leaders in both parties to reject lies and conspiracies,” Jean-Pierre added, noting that firearms are often used in instances of political violence and that the White House has worked on gun safety legislation.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office announced Wednesday that “Metropolitan Court Judge Jill Martinez said Peña will remain behind bars until a formal detention hearing in this case” and that the date for the hearing had not yet been set.
Shortly after the election and just two weeks before the first shooting, Peña posted on Twitter expressing his support for former President Donald Trump
’s latest campaign for the presidency and saying he had not conceded his own election, writing that he was “now researching my options.” In a photo attached to the post, Peña is wearing a Trump sweatshirt, with Trump flags behind him on the wall. Peña attended Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C., before the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol intended to stop congressional certification of Biden’s victory.
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said at a Monday news conference that Peña had been taken into custody, calling him “the mastermind suspect” behind a conspiracy in which he paid four other men to shoot at the residences of two county commissioners and two state legislators — all Democrats.
“To me, it’s very concerning, what his actions were, and the impact they could have on our democracy,” Medina said. “He was trying to intimidate some of our elected officials.”
Peña is alleged to have accompanied the men to the house of state Sen. Linda Lopez on Jan. 3 and “attempted to shoot” into the residence himself, but the automatic rifle he was using malfunctioned. Another man then fired more than 12 rounds from a handgun, some of which flew into the bedroom of Lopez’s 10-year-old daughter.
Peña faces a number of charges, which include four counts of shooting into an occupied dwelling, four counts of shooting at or from a motor vehicle, four counts of conspiracy, possessing a firearm with a felony conviction, attempted aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, and criminal solicitation.
The shootings began on Dec. 4 when someone fired at the residence of Adriann Barboa, a Bernalillo County commissioner. On Dec. 8, shots were fired at the residence of state Rep. Javier Martinez, and on Dec. 11, shots were fired at the residence of another Bernalillo County commissioner, Debbie O’Malley. The most recent shooting allegedly linked to Peña occurred on Jan. 3 at Lopez’s residence. Peña had visited some of the homes prior to the shootings to make his case about voter fraud, believing the officials could help him.
“Peña came to my house right after the election. He was sort of erratic in the points he was trying to make about the election and about how many doors he knocked on and how the number of votes didn’t match,” Barboa told NBC News. “He was at my door, and he was aggressive. He was an election denier.”
The authorities had been investigating six different incidents of shots being fired at residences and offices of Democratic officials, but they said Monday they did not believe that the four shootings connected to Peña were related to reports of shots being fired near the former campaign office of Raúl Torrez, the newly elected attorney general of New Mexico, and at the office of state Sen. Antonio "Moe" Maestas.
According to reporting from the Albuquerque Journal, Peña served seven years in prison for the 2007 robbery of a Kmart, being released from prison in 2016 and subsequently serving five years of probation. The paper found a spotty employment record and could not verify claims on Peña’s campaign website that he served as a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman in the Third Marine Division in Okinawa, Japan.
Peña’s social media posts and campaign website show he was immersed in right-wing conspiracy theories, writing at one point, “Critical Race Theory, the entire Black Lives Matter movement, aborting the unborn, food stamps, affirmative action, etc. are all demonic.”
New Mexico Democrats were quick to condemn the attack, comparing it to the election denialism that spread in the wake of Trump’s 2020 defeat that led to the violence of Jan. 6, 2021. Speaking Monday evening, Albuquerque Mayor Timothy Keller said that at “the end of the day, this was about a right-wing radical, an election denier who was arrested today and someone who did the worst imaginable thing you can do when you have a political disagreement, which is: Turn that to violence.”
New Mexico's Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement, “There is no place in our society or our democracy for violence against any elected official or their families," adding, "I trust the justice system will hold those responsible for such attacks to full and fair account.” In her State of the State speech this week, Grisham called for new gun legislation, including a ban on assault weapons.
The Republican Party of New Mexico issued a statement saying, “These recent accusations against Solomon Peña are serious, and he should be held accountable if the charges are validated in court,” adding that the organization “condemns all forms of violence. We are thankful that nobody was injured by his actions. If Peña is found guilty, he must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Ryan Lane, the Republican minority leader in the state House of Representatives, issued a statement Monday saying that “New Mexico House Republicans condemn violence in any form,” calling this “yet another example of a convicted felon unlawfully gaining access to firearms, which they are barred from owning or possessing, and using the weapon in a manner that causes public harm.”
The Republican Party of Bernalillo County said it was “deeply troubled by the reports we’ve received concerning Peña,” and added that it does not “endorse or condone such acts of violence.” Gary Person, a county party official, told Yahoo News on Tuesday, “I don’t understand this, I don’t condone this, and that’s about as far as I’m going to go right now.”