Ronchetti fails to denounce violent extremist groups

New Mexico’s Republican candidate for governor shifts blame a week before far-right groups take center stage in Jan. 6 hearings

By: - June 14, 2022 4:30 am

Around 20 members of the Proud Boys and other groups held a demonstration in Albuquerque in Sept. 14, 2019, two days before President Trump went to neighboring Rio Rancho to speak. They were met with hundreds of protesters who held a dance party across the street. (Photo by Marisa Demarco / Source NM)

During an unprecedented moment in American history Thursday night, television viewers witnessed prime-time congressional hearings probing the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. A key focus of the presentation was involvement of members of alt-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.

One week before the prime-time hearing, Mark Ronchetti, the Republican candidate for New Mexico governor, was interviewed on a southern New Mexico talk show. When asked about these groups, he did not denounce them, and instead, he seemed to agree with the host’s opinion that these groups are unfairly criticized.

The comments were made on the weekday morning show Bee and the Breakfast Club on KWMW, an FM country music station that operates near Lovington, N.M., under the name W105. The station broadcasts across southeast New Mexico and parts of western Texas. The interview was also streamed live on Facebook.

Ronchetti appeared on the show while campaigning in the region ahead of the June 7 primary. Using a question submitted by a listener, Ronchetti was asked for his stance on the Three Percenters and Oath Keepers.

“I — I have no idea what that is,” Ronchetti said.

“They’re groups that get bad raps, kind of like the Proud Boys and some of these others,” one host replied. “They get treated, and bunched in, as extreme right-wing extremists, and that’s not the case. Just like any group, there are good and bad in anybody.”

Ronchetti then weighed in.

“Look, what we have right now in New Mexico — and we say this when we talk to groups all the time — we have a far-left in this country who seeks to demonize whoever they can,” Ronchetti said. “And this turns into one of these fights where we need to make sure that we get everybody pulling in the same direction.”

Last week, viewers of the House select committee’s first hearing saw several minutes of video footage that illustrated the brutality carried out on Jan. 6 by members of far-right extremist groups.

But footage of militia-style insurrectionists storming the Capitol and violently assaulting police officers was prevalent on TV since the day of the attack, long before the hearing.

A pro-Trump mob breaks into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Congress held a joint session to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over incumbent Donald Trump. (Photo by Win McNamee / Getty Images)

The images remained in the minds of voters, and because it’s something voters are aware of, it’s something candidates should be aware of, said Jessica Feezell, an associate professor with the University of New Mexico’s political science department.

“Any political candidate, in the United States or in New Mexico, who says that they do not know who the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and the Three Percenters are is either out of touch with public affairs and the news, or they’re not telling the truth,” Feezell said. “Either of those conditions are concerning in a gubernatorial candidate, regardless of party.”

No comment

Ronchetti’s campaign was contacted before the publication of this article. Following an email request for an interview, a spokesperson for Ronchetti’s campaign responded, seeking more information on what would be included. The scope of the article was detailed to Ronchetti’s campaign, but subsequent requests for an interview were ignored.

We will update this story if we hear back.

Kendall Witmer, a spokesperson for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s campaign, stated in an email that the governor previously spoke out against the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and that she denounces any groups that promote hate or violence.

“Let me be clear: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham denounces these hate groups who seek to violate law and order, and spread dangerous conspiracy theories that threaten our democracy,” Witmer wrote. “There is no room in New Mexico for these groups nor for leaders who fail to condemn them and their hateful ideology fully.”

Feezell said that a candidate’s refusal to rebuke violent militia-style groups is morally concerning, but she also doesn’t see much of a political advantage in avoiding the subject, since most voters don’t share views espoused by these groups.

Defining extremism

The Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters are considered extremist groups by both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Canadian government has declared the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters terrorist entities.

Over the course of inquiries held by the congressional committee investigating the violent Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, six members and associates of the Three Percenters were indicted on conspiracy charges in the attack. Eleven members and associates of the Oath Keepers and five members of the Proud Boys were charged with seditious conspiracy.

During Thursday’s prime-time hearing, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the committee’s chairman, detailed how members of the Proud Boys “instigated the first breach of the Capitol” on Jan. 6 in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory.

Report finds at least 12 NM legislators joined extremist Facebook groups

Thompson said the Proud Boys “promote white supremacist beliefs and have engaged in violence with people they view as their political enemies.” He called the Oath Keepers “a group of armed, anti-government extremists.”

In March 2020, Daniel Logan Mock, 33 at the time, was criminally charged for threatening Gov. Lujan Grisham’s life on Facebook. According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque in 2020, FBI agents had been monitoring Mock since 2019 after he posted “threatening comments” and anti-government ideologies on the Oath Keepers’ Facebook page.

Mock pleaded guilty to two counts of interstate transmission of threatening communication. He was sentenced to 14 months in prison.

A history of threats and convictions

The Oath Keepers gained national attention in 2014 after armed members of the group traveled to rural Clark County, Nevada, to support cattle rancher Cliven Bundy in a standoff with agents from the Bureau of Land Management over grazing rights. In 2016, the group stated on its website that if Hillary Clinton were to win the presidential election, the result would cause “outright civil war.” The group later called on members to visit polling locations to look for signs of voter fraud during the 2016 election.

The Three Percenters gained national attention after four members of a separate militia group in Georgia were indicted for plotting to attack several cities with the deadly ricin toxin in 2011. The attack was inspired by a self-published novel written by Three Percenters’ co-founder Michael Vanderboegh. The book chronicles a war between an Alabama militia and the federal government over gun control.

Members of the Three Percenters also attended the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. Additionally, the FBI determined that two of the six men indicted in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 were members of the Three Percenters.

The violent minority

Feezell said she hasn’t seen polling specific to New Mexico on the number of people who belong to an anti-government, militia-style group, but she said membership in these groups is the minority of any population. And while a violent minority greatly tested the limits of this nation’s governing foundation, most Americans view the actions of these groups as antithetical to the democratic principles the country was built on.

“Everyone would be really well-served to recognize what would happen if we lost rule of law and regard for the Constitution, and a lot of our very trusted and established institutions,” Feezell said. “I don’t think anybody would be more comfortable or happier without those things.”


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Ryan Lowery
Ryan Lowery

Ryan Lowery is an award-winning independent journalist based in Albuquerque. He covers politics and criminal justice and has reported on New Mexico for the Las Vegas Optic, Santa Fe Reporter, Los Angeles Times and others. Lowery was awarded the 2020 William S. Dixon First Amendment Freedom Award from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, and the 2021 Sunshine Award from the New Mexico Press Association for his reporting that highlighted lack of transparency from multiple government agencies.