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‘Flagrant, Willful, Bad Faith, Callous Disregard’: New Mexico Judge Bars Militia Group from Using ‘Organized Force’ at Protests, Gatherings

Left: Bryce Provance, who has red hair beard, wears what appears to be a Civil War-era coat while refusing to answer questions in a deposition from March. Right: members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, wearing military-style gear and carrying rifles.

Left: Bryce Provance, self-proclaimed founder of the New Mexico Civil Guard. Right: members of the New Mexico Civil Guard in 2020. Images via YouTube screengrab/KRQE.

A New Mexico judge has issued a default judgment and an injunction against a militia following a lawsuit by a county district attorney who described the group as “untrained and armed extremists attempting to unlawfully function as the police or the military.”

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez sued the New Mexico Civil Guard after members of the group appeared at a 2020 protest in Albuquerque to remove a statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate from a public area.

“Wearing camouflage attire and bearing assault-style rifles and other military gear, NMCG usurped law enforcement authority and threatened public safety,” Torrez’s office said in a press release Monday. “In an already tense environment, the NMCG made it worse with its heavily armed presence[.]”

At that protest, someone unaffiliated with the group shot and injured a protestor.

On Monday, Second Judicial District Court Judge Elaine Lujan issued default judgment against the NMCG, which Torrez calls an “extremist unlawful militia group, and granted the DA’s request for an injunction.

The order prohibits the NMCG, as well as its leaders and members, from “organizing and operating in public as part of a military unit independent of New Mexico’s civil authority and without having been activated by the Governor of New Mexico.”

It also bars the organization and its members from “assuming law-enforcement functions by using or projecting the ability to use organized force at protests, demonstrations, or public gatherings.”

The ruling comes after Bryce Provance, who claims to be the founder of the NMCG, refused to answer questions during a deposition. According to Torrez, Provance refused to identify himself or answer basic questions, such as confirm his name. He also brought hand-drawn images to the deposition that Torrez described as “threatening and indecent.”

“Provance also brought hand-drawn images to the deposition that were both threatening and indecent,” Torrez said. According to Albuquerque CBS affiliate KRQE, the drawing “included stick figures performing a sex act and a devil presiding over stick figures with the words ‘Georgetown Law.’

“The circumstances here clearly show a flagrant, willful, bad faith, callous disregard of the Court’s Order,” Lujan wrote. “As a result, the severe sanction of default judgment is warranted.”

The judge also said additional sanctions were warranted because Provance admitted to destroying evidence; according to Torrez, Provance said that he “destroyed all records for the NMCG,” including by pouring bleach on his computer and setting it on fire.

“Mr. Provance testified to willfully destroying records at a time when he had reason to know of pending or future litigation,” Lujan wrote, adding that Provance had testified that he was “the only person who had possession of the documents he destroyed, and the State therefore will not be able to obtain the documents from another source.”

In a press release, Torrez celebrated the judge’s ruling..

“This ruling is a victory for the rule of law and a signal to anyone in this state who believes that they can establish their own private paramilitary or police unit to advance their own political agenda,” Torrez said. “In this tense political environment we must always remember that this is a nation of laws and – regardless of our political views – there is no room for political violence or extremism. If we are going to remain a free and democratic society we must resist the impulse towards armed extremism that has been the ruin of so many countries around the world.”

According to the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) at Georgetown Law, which is working with Torrez’s office on the case, it’s the first lawsuit in the nation by a district attorney against militias and “paramilitary forces.” The organization represented the City of Charlottesville and local business in obtaining injunctions against white supremacist and unlawful paramilitary organizations that violated state laws during the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, when white nationalist groups protested the removal of a statue of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee from a downtown park.

Extremist militia groups have risen in public awareness in recent years, particularly following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, which sparked months of protests nationwide. Far-right militia groups, such as the Oath Keepers, have shown up at such protests, often armed and sometimes in military regalia, in the name of providing security.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol have highlighted the role that militia groups — such as the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters — allegedly played in the violent siege, and five members of the Oath Keepers, including founder Stewart Rhodes, are currently on trial defending themselves against seditious conspiracy charges. One of those defendants, Jessica Watkins, started her own militia, the Ohio State Regular Militia, in her home state.

Four people accused in the Jan. 6 riot, including three Oath Keepers members, have already pleaded guilty to that charge, arguably the most serious charged levied so far in the federal government’s expansive Jan. 6 prosecution effort.

Read Lujan’s ruling here.

[Image via YouTube screengrab/KRQE.]

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