Indianz.Com > News > Man in ‘Make America Great Again’ hat charged with attempted murder of Native activist
Ryan Martinez
Ryan Martinez, age 23, is seen in a “Make America Great Again” hat in an arrest photo released by the New Mexico State Police on September 29, 2023.
Man in ‘Make America Great Again’ hat charged with attempted murder of Native activist
Friday, September 29, 2023

Racist violence reared its ugly head again this week when a Native man was shot on Pueblo homelands during a peaceful protest against colonization in northern New Mexico.

Jacob Johns, who is from the Hopi Tribe and Akimel O’odham from the Gila River Indian Community, was the victim of the shocking attack around noon on Thursday. The incident took place in Española, a border town carved from the homelands of neighboring Pueblo tribes, where Native activists have been rallying against a monument to Juan de Oñate, a colonial figure reviled for his acts of violence in the 1500s and 1600s.

As Pueblo women spoke against the resurrection of the Oñate monument on their ancestral territory, a bystander who was wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat tried to rush toward them, a fast-moving video clip from the scene shows. Johns and other people can be seen trying to keep the man from reaching the speakers, which is when he lifted up his his turquoise hoodie, reached into the waistband of his pants and pulled out a gun.

One gunshot can be heard on the full video, which was taken by Pueblo chef Ray Naranjo and shared widely on social media following the violent assault.

Witnesses saw the shooter leave the scene and drive away in a white Tesla. Law enforcement soon caught up with the individual on a highway that runs through the nearby Pueblo of Pojoaque, where tribal police officers arrested a man later identified as 23-year-old Ryan Martinez. The police chief from Española assisted.

“Ryan Martinez (23) of Sandia Park, was at the sight [sic] of the statue and was attempting to disrupt the peaceful protest,” the New Mexico State Police said in a news release on Friday. “He jumped over a short wall and engaged a group of protesters. Martinez then brandished a firearm from his waistband and discharged one round, striking a 42-year-old male. Martinez fled on foot before getting in his car and driving away from the scene.”

According to the state police agency, which is leading the investigation into the shooting, Martinez has been charged with one count of attempted murder in the first degree and one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. His arrest photo shows him in the same “Make America Great Again” hat, whose slogan comes from Republican former U.S. president Donald Trump.

Martinez’s social media biography, in fact, repeats the same baseless claim for which the one-term president has since been indicted as a criminal in federal court. It reads: “TRUMP WON.”

And in the days leading to the incident, Martinez shared news stories about the revival of the Oñate statue in Rio Arriba County. From his home in Sandia Park — a small community near Albuquerque, the largest city in the state — he would have had to drive more than 90 minutes to get to the scene of the shooting in Española.

But just a few months prior, Martinez had posted photos of the white Tesla he apparently used to get to the site of the violent attack. He even boasted of the price of the easily identifiable vehicle, which he said was a “custom” 2023 model that cost him “about $60,000.”

The display of purported wealth stands in contrast to that of Johns, 42, a Native rights activist, artist and father currently based in Washington state. He suffered a gunshot to the chest, according to a friend who started a fundraiser in support of someone described as an “inspirational man.”

“Jacob has just come out of his first surgery, we will keep everyone updated as we move forward,” organizer Carlos Martinez wrote in an update to the fundraiser, which said Johns’ daughter and other family members were traveling from Washington to New Mexico to support their loved one.

The Pueblo and Native activists who have been protesting the Oñate monument for the last several days condemned the racist attack on Johns. They pointed out that it was the second violent incident of its kind — in 2020, a shooting occurred at another rally against colonial figures in New Mexico.

“It is not lost on us that this moment further underscores the legacy of violence that Indigenous people continue to face on our own lands,” NDN Collective said in a statement in support of The Red Nation, one of the Native groups leading the fight against the Oñate monument.

“Juan de Oñate was a brutal Spanish conquistador responsible for the mass murder, rape, and enslavement of Pueblo women, children, and men,” The Kiva Club, the Native student group at the University of New Mexico, added. “He was a war criminal.”

Non-Native groups also condemned the shooting — as well as the resurrection of the controversial monument to Oñate.

“The Center for Biological Diversity stands by the brave actions of Johns and with the Indigenous Peoples of New Mexico and North America resisting the resurrection of a monument to violent conquistador Juan de Oñate,” said Kierán Suckling, the executive director of the non-profit organization.

“The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico condemns this act of racist and hateful violence, as well as the cruel effort by the Rio Arriba County Commission to engage in cultural erasure and violence by honoring a colonizer — whose violence was too extreme even for the Spanish king — against the clear wishes of the Indigenous community that has called this area home millennia before New Mexico was a state,” the local ACLU noted.

The Oñate monument in Rio Arriba County was originally located in Alcade, a small community that borders Ohkay Owingeh, one of the 19 Pueblo tribes in New Mexico. It was taken down in the summer of 2020 amid protests by Pueblo and Native activists, who celebrated the decision as a marker of the nationwide racial reckoning spurred by the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minnesota. A second statue was removed in Albuquerque, the site of the prior shooting.

Juan de Oñate Monument
The Juan de Oñate statue is seen with feet intact. The original right foot was removed in 1997 and replaced with a recast on the bronze monument. Photo: SLV Native

Three years later, county officials announced that the statue would be returning to public view — just not at the Oñate Monument Resource and Visitors Center. While Rio Arriba is home to sizable Pueblo, Apache and Navajo populations, the site in Alcade purposely ignores their history, presence, legacy and contributions in favor of the Spanish conquistador.

“The Oñate Center promotes the Hispanic heritage of the Española Valley and Rio Arriba County,” the facility’s website reads.

On behalf of the Spain, Oñate asserted dominion over the region, establishing a capital at Ohkay Owingeh in 1598 — a first in the present-day United States. But it was an event a year later that confirmed his brutality.

In 1599, Oñate ordered a massacre at the Pueblo of Acoma, leading to the deaths of 800 women, children and men. He then forced most adult male survivors into enslavement — a punishment resulting in the amputation of their right foot.

Nearly 400 years later, following the installation of the monument in Rio Arriba, the right foot of the statue was cut off in 1997. Its whereabouts remain largely unknown, as do the perpetrators, although Native television and film director Chris Eyre told The New York Times several years ago that he was shown the legendary appendage.

The county replaced the missing foot with a bronze recast, long before the monument went into hiding on June 15, 2020. In planning its return, local officials disclosed that they would be spending $100,000 to move it to an annex building in Española — the site of the shooting on Thursday.

But after bracing for protests at the rededication on September 28, the county postponed the ceremony. The announcement didn’t stop Martinez from driving all the way to Española with a firearm, however.

“With $100,000, we could give people adequate housing instead of displacing them; provide treatment for addiction instead of letting the fentanyl epidemic rip through our communities; and provide services to prevent Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives (MMIWR) instead of dealing with the uptick in human trafficking that disproportionately affects women, children and lgbtq relatives,” the NDN Collective group said ahead of the canceled ceremony. “Rio Arriba County officials are simply exacerbating bordertown violence and present day colonization.”

Despite the violence, county officials have not changed course when it come to reinstalling the Oñate monument. In a news release on Thursday, they took no responsibility for the shooting.

“The County of Rio Arriba is truly disappointed, saddened, and concerned with the tragic event that took place today at the Rio Arriba County Annex Building,” the release read.