Seventy-year-old William Strong fell in love with New Mexico the first time he visited the state as a college student.
A second trip with his now-deceased wife about 12 years ago was just as memorable.
But his third trip last month was so disenchanting that he penned a letter to the state’s two largest newspapers that, unbeknownst to him, went viral on the internet, villainizing the retired Pennsylvania attorney as a narrow-minded, Donald Trump-loving bigot.
In his letter to the editor, sent to The New Mexican and the Albuquerque Journal, Strong called New Mexico “a land filled with radical feminists, angry Indians and illegal Mexicans.”
“We returned to Albuquerque to fly home the night after the Trump rally,” Strong wrote in the letter. “The so-called ‘political protesters’ showed their true color by rioting, burning autos, stoning police, and threatening physical harm to Trump supporters. We didn’t attend the rally but were scared. What a disgrace to such a beautiful state!”
Response on social media was swift.
“Oh my stars! Clutching their pearl necklaces all the way from PA. How brave of them to dare to visit NM,” tweeted a Twitter user who goes by the handle @aldog87.
“Don’t effing come back, and make sure to spread your story far and wide among others of your ilk,” Ray Legans wrote in the comment section of abqjournal.com. “We don’t want you polluting our magical state.”
“This makes me wicked proud to be New Mexican. #middlefingersup,” commented Noah Boswell.
Despite the inflammatory tone, Strong was unaware his letter had ignited a flurry of attention or generated such a strong response. He said he didn’t intend for the letter to be political.
“All I was trying to do was speak to the good people of New Mexico, saying, ‘Hey, this radical fringe here, you need to crack down on them because they’re [scaring] your tourists and not making your wonderful, beautiful state what it should be,’ ” he said.
“I want the good, right-minded-thinking people of New Mexico to take care of this problem so they don’t lose their tourists because the state is a beautiful place,” he added.
Strong said he visited Southern New Mexico while he was in college. After hearing about the beauty of Northern New Mexico, he made the trip with his first wife.
“We had a wonderful trip without incident,” he said. “The people were wonderful.”
Last month, he and his second wife, whom he met in church, traveled to Texas to visit an old college buddy. From there, he said, they flew into Albuquerque.
“I told my wife, ‘You’re going to fall in love with this place.’ And she did,” he said.
But the trip took a turn for the worse in Santa Fe, he said. While his wife went shopping in one of the stores on the Plaza, Strong sat down next to what he described as three radical feminists.
“They were just railing about people from Texas coming up” to Santa Fe, he said. “I think the only statement I made to them is, ‘Well, I guess you’re the center of attention here in Santa Fe because Bernie Sanders was visiting.’ That led into a tirade by these three women.”
The women described Trump as a “hated son of a gun,” he said. They also said they hated the tea party before they asked him about his own political views, he said.
“I said to them, ‘Well, I’m a tea party member.’ I said I’ve been a guest speaker at numerous tea party rallies, and I said, ‘We back Donald Trump.’ And they just went spastic. It was like I was the most hated, vicious person that ever walked the face of the Earth.”
After that encounter, Strong said, he and his wife walked over to the Plaza to buy a hot dog from a vendor.
“The guy went nuts because she asked for cheese on the hot dog,” Strong said. “Then he turned to me and said, ‘I’ll have you know that there were three revolutions fought in this square.’ I didn’t know what to say.”
Strong joked with the vendor, “Youse ought to be done fighting, shouldn’t you, by now?”
“The guy looked at me and said, ‘I’ll have you know that’s our land and we’re going to get it back.’ I didn’t say one word to the man, not one single word. I just looked at him. Since I didn’t respond, he looked me right in the eyes, and he says, ‘I suppose you think Donald Trump is going to straighten this country up.’ I didn’t know what to say, so I just looked at the guy and I said, ‘Maybe.’ That man went absolutely ballistic,” he said.
Strong described the vendor as a “tall Indian.”
“They call themselves Native Americans, but anybody that’s right-minded knows that America was an uninhabited country and some of the Indians moved in there and now that they want their land, they’re calling themselves native, meaning first in time [and] first in right and that therefore they’re entitled to it. They’re still Indians to me,” he said.
Strong said he and his wife traveled to Taos, where he mentioned their experiences in Santa Fe to a massage therapist, who warned him to keep his views to himself while visiting New Mexico.
“Her exact words to me was, ‘Bill, I’m telling you, keep your mouth shut or these people will attack you,’ ” he said. “That woman knew what she was saying.”
When asked if he had encountered many “illegal Mexicans,” Strong said he “met quite a few Mexicans,” but he didn’t experience any bad treatment from them. When asked how he knew they were illegal, Strong said, “I didn’t check their ID, but there’s a lot of them, I know, in New Mexico.”
Strong said he wrote the letter to the editor as a warning to tourism officials.
“Tourism is a big part of your state,” he said. “You don’t want that kind of activity to destroy your tourism.”
Unlike New Mexico, Strong said, the people of Texas were “just absolutely super friendly.”
“I don’t want to cause anybody problems, but I know as a tourist going in there, you want your state to have people come there,” he said. “You’re going to have people from every walk of life, with different political points of view.”
Strong said he hasn’t ruled out coming back to New Mexico again. But he said the state needs to rein in “the radicals” first.
“If it quiets down and they don’t act like that, the answer would be yes,” he said, “because my wife and I are just enchanted with the place.”
Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 505-986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.