Hundreds gathered in the Plaza on Monday night in solidarity with protesters in Charlottesville who were brutalized and killed by white supremacists over the weekend.
The event in Virginia had been described by the anti-fascist research group Political Research Associates as the largest gathering of neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, and other racist groups in recent memory. One woman, Heather Heyer, was killed on Saturday when a car driven by 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. plowed into a group demonstrators.
Before political leaders and others associated with the Interfaith Leadership Alliance of Santa Fe took the stage, Derek Williams, who moved to Santa Fe five months ago from the Bay Area to work as a technical assistant, tells SFR he came to the Plaza to end "hateful spirits." Despite the town's progressive reputation, he says Santa Fe is the only place where he's been called the n-word and been harassed by law enforcement.
"Growing up African-American, you're always aware that racism is there, but to be born in the '90s and not have it be so blatant, especially coming from California, it's just really scary and heartbreaking," he says. Still, he says, people in Santa Fe "are generally nice."
Several attendees pointed to the group Santa Fe Power, which has put forward at least one candidate for City Council, as evidence of a blatant racism seeping into the town's power structure. One member of the group, Gloria Mendoza, recently shared a picture on Facebook comparing California Rep. Maxine Waters to an ape, while another named Nicole Castellano—the ex-wife of Jim Williamson, who is running for a council seat—posted an anti-Mexican image on the Facebook page of a reporter.
"We had some memes that were shared between people, it was uncalled for," says city councilor and mayoral candidate Ron Trujillo. "By far [Santa Fe Power] has done some things they shouldn't have done, but there's a lot of things that's happening in this community. I denounce any type of racism."
Trujillo sits on stage with several other councilors as well as state Rep. Carl Trujillo (D-Santa Fe) and state House Speaker Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe). Mayor Javier Gonzales, who convened the event, makes the opening remarks. He strongly denounces President Trump's initial reaction to the murder in Charlottesville.
"There are not two sides to blame on this issue, period," he tells the crowd to an uproar of applause. "There are racists, there are white supremacists and neo-Nazis carrying torches through our streets and attacking those that stand up to them. And then there are those who oppose them. Only one side has blood on their hands, Mr. President, and you are leading their ranks."
Most of the crowd passively watches speakers take the stage, holding anti-racist and pro-peace signs aloft. Noticeably absent was Gov. Susana Martinez, who several audience members loudly condemn.
"Fire Officer Troy Baker!" somebody screams at one point. SFR revealed in February that Santa Fe Police Sgt. Baker, who was president of the Santa Fe Police Officer Association at the time, had posted numerous racist and offensive memes on Facebook, including one advocating the deadly violence that occurred in Charlottesville.
Santa Fe Police Department spokesman Greg Gurule confirms to SFR via email that Baker's posts were still under internal investigation. City attorneys have also said that officer discipline records are not public information and won't be revealed absent a policy change. Baker currently leads the department's bomb squad unit.
Several attendees at Monday's event had experience at larger and more contentious protests since Trump's presidential campaign and election. A handful of younger people dressed in black with their faces covered encircl the crowd, claiming that they were monitoring for right-wing agitators. Chaz John, an EMT with a red cross on his backpack, says he worked as an emergency responder at Standing Rock during the anti-pipeline protests.
"I have medic friends who were at Charlottesville who responded out there," he says. While he acknowledges he didn't expect to use his services at the Santa Fe rally, he says he was prepared.
Near the end of the event, local Rabbi Neil Amswych encourages attendees from the stage to come together "as one human family." People in the audience begin to mingle and shake hands.
As the crowd thins, a small group of Native American activists take the stage and begin chanting, "The Entrada is racist," a reference to the Entrada de Don Diego de Vargas which celebrates Spanish colonists' reconquering of Santa Fe in 1692.
Minutes later, two young people with the group K'é Infoshop stand against the Santa Fe Plaza Obelisk holding an upside down, desecrated American flag. One of them tells SFR they felt compelled to demonstrate not just against creeping fascism across the country, but also what she saw as a lack of self-reflection among people at the event.
"I knew people were going to show up out of sympathy and out of guilt, but for the most part it's like, everybody is talking about love and unity, but realistically it comes down to accountability," the activist says. "When it comes to our struggles and issues of our existence, that doesn't matter, and it's not a platform to them, so it's just like we have to continue to hold them accountable."
Editor's note: Changes were made to protect our source.