One of six people charged in the Oct. 12 destruction of the Plaza obelisk sent an email to a local judge, the mayor of Santa Fe and the city police chief saying he hopes the city will find a “reasonable and amicable” resolution to the legal saga.
“I am hoping we can resolve all of this amicably and move on as a city,” Stephen Fox said in the email. “To single out six people for the non-criminal actions of 40 or so is a priori and peremptorily unjust.”
A copy of the message — intended for Magistrate George Anaya, Mayor Alan Webber, Chief Andrew Padilla and a few local journalists — was filed in Santa Fe County Magistrate Court on Wednesday.
Fox, 72, who owns the Millennium Fine Art Gallery downtown, was the most recent person accused of helping to topple the Civil War-era monument that had stood in the center of the Plaza for over 150 years. He faces charges of criminal damage to property over $1,000, conspiracy and unlawful assembly — counts tied to an incident that erupted during an Indigenous Peoples Day rally. About 50 protesters pulled down the top three sections of the 33-foot structure using a rope and chain. All that remains on the Plaza is the monument’s base.
Local tattoo artist Dawn Furlong; Melissa Rose and her daughter Lauren Straily, both of Santa Fe; Lily Sage Schweitzer of Pennsylvania; and Ryan Witt of Maryland face similar charges. All five have appeared at recent arraignment hearings in Magistrate Court.
Fox’s first court appearance is scheduled Dec. 8.
He said in an interview Thursday he doesn’t believe he needs legal representation.
According Fox’s email, he contacted Webber on Oct. 11, the second day of what protesters called a Plaza “occupation” in observation of Indigenous Peoples Day. Fox “lamented the excessive display of police force on the plaza. Which seemed like something out of Iraq or Afghanistan, not Santa Fe and not the USA,” he wrote the in the email.
He compared the scene to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, where 10,000 demonstrators were met by 23,000 police and National Guardsmen in an encounter that led to rioting in Chicago.
The obelisk long had created controversy. For decades, some Native American activists and their allies decried the monument as racist due to an inscription on one side of its base dedicating it to “heroes who died in battles with savage Indians.”
The call for its removal intensified amid a nationwide movement this summer against statues and monuments deemed racist, and Webber announced in June, a day ahead of a planned protest, the obelisk should be removed from the city-owned park.
But the mayor never followed through on the action.
The city, with help from a crew contracted by the Governor’s Office, attempted to remove the monument overnight before the June protest but halted the effort when it began to damage the structure.
The mayor also promised to form what he then called a “truth and reconciliation commission,” but he didn’t move forward with the plan until after the monument was toppled.
Prior to the obelisk’s destruction Oct. 12, what began as a peaceful rally on the Plaza became more raucous.
A commander ordered police to leave the park as interactions between protesters and officers grew chaotic. Two men, Sean Sunderland and Dylan Wrobel, were arrested during the skirmish.
Fox said Thursday he doesn’t believe the conspiracy charge against him is warranted.
“I didn’t conspire at all,” Fox said. “I think I prevented bloodshed by calling the mayor the night before.”
In his email, Fox also said he doesn’t believe the gathering should be characterized as illegal because police decided to vacate the Plaza.
“When the police chose not to be there, how could it be an illegal gathering?” Fox wrote. “Mayor Webber could clarify a lot of these matters further. As to why and how I was charged, there are a number of other factors that deserve exploration and further discernment.”
In the email and during an earlier interview with The New Mexican, Fox admitted he helped pull on the rope that brought the obelisk crashing to the ground.
“When they pulled, I pulled, and that was that,” Fox wrote in the email. “When one of the 40 or so activists handed me the rope, I gladly accepted, having been a Native American art dealer for the past 40 years.”
In the previous interview with The New Mexican, Fox said he wouldn’t have accepted the rope if he didn’t think the mayor wanted the obelisk brought down.
“I stand by that,” Fox said Thursday. “I would never had done that. It was perfectly clear that this was a solution that was waiting to take place.
“He’s a good guy, a good mayor, and he made it clear that he wanted this obelisk removed,” Fox added. “The mayor has said, as has others, that it should have waited, but what a better day than Indigenous Peoples Day?”
According to emails obtained by The New Mexican, Fox wasn’t the only person who contacted Webber before the monument’s destruction.
Carrie Wood, a member of the Santa Fe-based Indigenous advocacy group Three Sisters Collective, wrote in an Oct. 11 email, “All of the scenarios I can imagine happening will end in the obelisk being taken down by the city or ‘the people.’ ”
“In truth, I think the obelisk as it looks now is actually really nice,” Fox said during Thursday’s interview. “It’s gray, it’s a cube. It actually looks a lot better.”