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Officers detain demonstrators during protest on UNM campus against conspiracy theorist Charlie Kirk

Local student group chapter holds an event for Turning Point USA founder

This story was originally published by Source New Mexico

State Police in riot gear showed up at the Student Union Building at the University of New Mexico during a peaceful protest and detained three protesters of color on Wednesday, Nov. 30.

The protest was held in response to Turning Point USA’s UNM chapter hosting a speaking event on campus with Charlie Kirk, the founder and president of the national conservative group.

Kirk, in a now deleted tweet, said the organization was “honored” to send  “busloads of patriots to DC to fight for the president” on Jan. 6 and is known for spreading false claims of 2020 election fraud and misinformation about COVID, among other far-right, extremist views. He’s also known for stoking racism, and for homophobic and transphobic hate speech.

At UNM, a crowd started gathering outside the Student Union Building around 5 p.m. intending to drown Kirk out with sound — blasting music, banging pots and pans, drumming on buckets and chanting. UNM Police and hired security looked on. Two hours later, when Kirk was scheduled to speak, fewer than 100 protesters remained with some on the ramp near the building.

That’s when State Police officers ran up in riot gear, formed a line and began physically pushing demonstrators back.

“I really thought that if we were just standing there, that maybe they’d stop. I didn’t have any weapons. None of us did,” community activist Lisa Christopherson said. “And none of us were hitting, punching them or anything. Really just standing there.”

UNM Law student Diego Guerrerortiz saw Christopherson being tackled and pointed at her, he said. They also kicked him while he was on the ground.

“As soon as I raised my hand and pointed at her, I got hit in the gut from behind and then tackled, and then threw me in some cuffs,” Guerrerotiz said.

The riot police detained Christopherson, Guerrerortiz and UNM dental hygiene adviser Georgia Moos, accusing them of disorderly conduct.

Guerrerortiz said he was also informed by two UNMPD detectives that he would face administrative action from the University.

“I don’t feel safe with how UNM uses police, let alone who they let on campus to talk,” Guerrerortiz said. “But for me, I’m more concerned about the police presence and how they use that as a weapon. That’s just crazy coming from the University.”

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Christopherson fears her ribs were broken by the officers who detained her, she said, and has symptoms of a concussion. She was taken to the emergency room by paramedics after being detained by police. Because the hospitals were full and the wait was so long, she was not able to be seen by doctors and said she would head to a waiting room during the day on Thursday, Dec. 1 instead.

The Kirk event follows two other events held by Turning Point on campus this semester. Both were similarly met with protesters and a police presence. The first event, featuring Tomi Lahren, also denied students of color entry.

The UNMPD officers were sent to the event as security, according to university spokesperson Cinnamon Blair. Blair said UNM does not fund State Police presence on campus, but the agency is a part of event management planning and the Emergency Response Team.

“ERT is deployed to ensure the safety and security of the university community and the campus, and engaged yesterday evening in response to the actions of multiple individuals failing to disperse from the event entrance ramp when requested,” Blair said in a statement.

Christopherson said she was never given any direct instructions to clear the ramp before being detained.

The protest was organized by students and local activists from the Southwest Solidarity Network, including Julie Bettencourt and Zach Smith. Their goal for the evening was to drown out Kirk’s speech outside the building, and have a continued presence against the organization and speakers to “let them know that we won’t allow that.”

“We’re going to be against it. And we’re going to come out every time. And we’re going to make some noise,” Smith said. “We’re not going to be silent.”

During the protest, students in Turning Point observed the crowd from inside the SUB filming with their smartphones. Kirk himself made an appearance outside, waving down at protesters from the balcony on the top floor. One Turning Point member, Kalen D’Almeida, filmed protesters while standing alongside police until being asked by them to leave several minutes later.

Turning Point’s UNM group did not respond to a request for comment before this article was published. We will update this story if we hear back. 

Jay Littles, a protester there that night, said it’s hypocritical for the police to only detain those protesting.

“We are here. We got the right to peacefully protest. Yet, we are here being arrested on our own campus, which is by definition an open campus where we are allowed to speak our minds,” Littles said.

That policy is why the Turning Point chapter was allowed to invite the speaker in the first place, he added.

Littles pointed out that the University advertises itself as a diverse campus but still allows events like this, which make him feel more unsafe on campus.

“That’s one of their talking points of getting us to come here. But they only use that in name,” Littles said. “They don’t really care about the population of the school.”

Maddie Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at managingeditor@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @maddogpukite

Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Marisa Demarco for questions: info@sourcenm.com. Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.

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