Election conspiracy theories drove a defeated Republican candidate in New Mexico with a criminal past to hire gunmen to attack homes of Democratic legislators, marking a dangerous new level of political violence, officials said on Wednesday.
Solomon Pena, 39, faced his first court hearing at 1:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) on charges he masterminded and took part in a string of drive-by shootings since Dec. 4 aimed at wounding or killing Democratic officials in Albuquerque, according to police.
Pena carried out the attacks, in which no one was hurt, after he lost a November state House of Representatives race and then visited the homes of county commissioners and state legislators to dispute his 47-percentage-point defeat.
Republican supporters said he returned to a life of crime after serving seven years in prison on a 2008 conviction for leading a burglary ring targeting Albuquerque businesses.
Adriann Barboa, a Bernalillo County commissioner who had bullets come through her front door in a Dec. 4 attack, said Pena was driven by political rhetoric from the top of government justifying violence in response to rigged elections.
“Pena is an election denier. He weaponized those dangerous thoughts to threaten me and others,” Barboa said in a statement.
Pena was not immediately available for comment.
The string of shootings follows other recent acts of politically motivated violence, including the attack in San Francisco on the husband of then-House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But sets a precedent with an aspiring politician named as the suspected mastermind.
The Republican National Hispanic Assembly said it had backed Pena, a political novice, in the belief the former U.S. Navy medic and political science graduate had left crime behind.
“We bet on the wrong horse,” the group said in a statement. “There is no place for violence in our politics.”
Pena, an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump, was allowed to run after a judge ruled that since he was qualified to vote he could hold office. Under New Mexico law, felons can have voting rights restored after serving sentences.