Irony filled the last week. Santa Fe’s mayor was sued for his part in the destruction of a city monument honoring Civil War soldiers, while Juneteenth reaped more attention than ever.

Juneteenth, the newest federal holiday, and the shattered Plaza obelisk have much in common.

Each dates to the 1800s. Both marked the end of slavery.

The difference is Juneteenth is being extolled for shining light on an epic chapter in American history. The obelisk is in pieces, wrecked by a mob enabled by Mayor Alan Webber and his cowering police force.

Until now, only pockets of the country have celebrated Juneteenth. It’s a commemoration of June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to spread the word that Black people were free at last.

Juneteenth events were not an integral part of Santa Fe’s culture or history. The Plaza obelisk was, and it had parallels to Juneteenth.

Three panels on the 152-year-old obelisk paid tribute to Union soldiers in New Mexico who stopped the Confederacy’s westward advance. Their valor in combat helped win the war and free the slaves.

In discussing the obelisk one recent day, Webber ignored that it honored brave soldiers, most of them Hispanic, who helped preserve the union.

He spoke only of the fourth panel of the obelisk. It commemorated soldiers who fought against what the monument author called “savage” Indians.

“A horribly racist inscription,” Webber said.

Many of Webber’s supporters wanted the obelisk destroyed or removed on that basis.

They preferred covering up a shameful part of history rather than studying it to make sure nothing similar happens again.

Did the mayor himself want the obelisk wrecked to appease his political base?

Webber said he was angry when vandals tore down the obelisk. But his words don’t match his inaction and complicity in their lawlessness.

Santa Fe’s police department was well-staffed to keep the peace on the Plaza as a mob assembled in hopes of wrecking the obelisk. Instead, Webber’s police commanders withdrew all the officers, enabling criminals to rip down a monument layered in history.

Webber called the decision a wise one. Why, people might have been injured if police officers actually did their job by serving the public interest and protecting public property.

A Hispanic fraternal order, Union Protectíva de Santa Fé, sued Webber on grounds that the mayor broke laws to protect the obelisk. It stood in a city park that’s also a National Historic Landmark.

Virgil Vigil, president of Protectíva, said Webber dishonored Union soldiers by allowing criminals to maul the obelisk. Vigil told me Webber won’t listen to him or his board of directors, so they want a judge to order the restoration or rebuilding of the obelisk.

Webber called a news conference of his own to play defense. He denounced his critics and legal opponents as people who want to “promote anger” and divide the city, as if the mayor pulled everyone together by allowing mob rule on the Plaza.

In Webber’s world, dissent is disloyalty. People who don’t share his views can’t possibly have Santa Fe’s interests at heart.

Webber’s way is a lot like former President Donald Trump’s style of claiming any criticism of him was fake news.

Away from the cameras and microphones, Webber has to know the double standard by which his police selectively ignored the law caused a deep divide.

“This town seems to operate, in almost every decision, under the precepts of excuse and enable,” reader Jim Fisher wrote to me.

A similar assessment came from a man from South Carolina who says he and his family have visited Santa Fe for 20 years.

“We are very familiar with the Plaza and the obelisk. We were shocked to see how brazenly it was torn down,” the man wrote in an email to me. “Yes, an argument could be made for its relocation. But these so-called protesters weren’t interested in compromise or due process. Instead they exercised an extreme heckler’s veto.”

Another reader, Mark H. Cross, made another point: “The offending word ‘savage’ has not appeared on the obelisk since 1974,” when someone used a chisel to erase it.

Santa Fe resident Mel Takaki was the most concise.

“Turning history around will never work,” he said of the mob and its enablers.

Takaki was mayor of Pueblo, Colo., 50 years ago when Black residents asked him to sign a proclamation supporting a Juneteenth celebration in that city. Pueblo, my hometown and Takaki’s, too, had a population of about 100,000, only 1,000 of whom were Black people.

Few in the city had ever heard of Juneteenth until Takaki and Black ministers joined together to promote it.

Takaki was a mayor who knew his city, its prejudices and possibilities. He saw the end of slavery in America as a historic chapter to be remembered, not destroyed.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(32) comments

Ralph Arellanes

The crooked, thief, liar, conman, Mayor Alan Webber planed and plotted this entire attack from the start. He is using minions like New Mexico LULAC, the Three Sisters Collective, Red Nation and other con artists to destroy our history, heritage, culture and our faith. Then he uses lying newspaper reporters like Russell Contreras, who was soon no longer working for the Associated Press once he got caught for lying, to carry out his racism against the Hispano community. Mayor Alan Webber, the racist, needs to be sent packing back to Oregon, LULAC & the Liar Russell Contreras need to be sent back to Texas where they came from. Lets get rid of those who are selling our our Hispano community.

Santa Faith

You hit the nail on the head! But strangely I am of the Savage Indian decent and of the conquistador Hispanic decent *(many of whom who were Jews) which the new comers want to erase. Cancel all History until is agrees with them I guess?

I strongly resent that both of my cultures were canceled without anyone having a say! We are all 400 years past all of this and the only racial prejudice is coming from liberals and the woke crowd!

Mike Johnson

I believe the rules of this comment section require you use your real name.

Eli Bransford

https://youtu.be/DMeKVhK1B6Y

Andrew Lucero

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Thank You Eli.... Your videos for the Defense of Santa Fe are spot on! Keep up the excellent work.

Khal Spencer

The social justice warriors, aka hoodlums, who carried out the destruction of the obelisk exhibited just another case of the left claiming moral superiority over everyone else and unilaterally imposing its views by any means necessary. Not everyone in this town agreed with its removal, I suspect most do not agree with their extremist views and so a lot of people are now angry.

That an arrogant mob destroyed the obelisk rather than letting a civic process decide on its fate is what I find nauseating. The fact that the city administration sat on its hands and let the riot proceed was atrocious. Sure, statues have come down all over the nation. In fact some of the Social Justice Warriors tore down a statue of an abolitionist, Hans Christian Heg, who died in battle against the South, as he was apparently too white for them to handle. I'm not any more proud of the hoodlums who tore down statues as I am of the hoodlums who held a torchlight march at Charlottesville.

Whether it was the Mayor or the Chief or both who threw the statue, its history, the rule of law, and a national historic site under the bus is immaterial. Both failed miserably in upholding both the rule of law and the presumption that civil discourse should decide these things. You want mob rule? Beware of what you wish for as both sides can play that game. You might wind up with a lot more destruction if that is the model we use.

Yeah, let the lawsuit proceed. Why not? At least lawsuits are with words rather than bricks, bats, grappling hooks, or more lethal things.

"...as Communists and Fascists showed, the political world is round. If you go too far left or right, you meet in the anti-democratic land of intolerance and violence." -Gil Troy, Professor of History, McGill University

Lee Vigil

Thank you, Khal, for your comment. It resonates well with me and I agree wholeheartedly with the general sentiment and points that you make. However, I will push back on one characterization, and that is how you characterize the 'left'. I vehemently disagree with the taking down of the obelisk, as you know, but anyone who knows me, knows that my politics skew left of center. In these polarized times, I think we need to be careful about grouping folks into two buckets, because there are a lot of shades of gray on both sides of the political spectrum.

My thoughts? There should be and should've been a better, more respectful, more inclusive process regarding the fate of the obelisk. The offending language was etched away nearly five decades ago, and because Santa Fe is The City Different and because its citizens, Hispanic and otherwise, don't agree with those sentiments. We shrugged our collective shoulders and moved on after it was defaced.

Webber catastrophically failed as did his police chief. None of this would've happened if Webber hadn't gotten on that stage last June with The Three Sisters Collective and The Red Nation and called for the obelisk's removal, without first engaging the broader community. He had been and, as far as we know, may still be meeting with the same anarchist activists (3SC, RN, Northern NM Surj) who facilitated and participated in the takedown.

There's been absolutely none or very, very little disclosure about the content of those conversations. In fact, this paper reported that the Mayor received a cell call from one representative of the 3SC the day before the obelisk was taken down, warning him that the obelisk was going to be destroyed the following day, giving him time to move the obelisk, or at the very least increase police presence on the plaza. He did neither. On its face, that call appeared to be a courtesy call, but I tend to question this tactic, since another member of the 3SC was on the plaza during the takedown, verbally taunting and encouraging the crowd to take it down. I believe that call was little more than designed to cover their a$$es.

I'm happy that someone in The New Mexican is finally calling Webber out on his behavior, his gaslighting, his Trumpian tactics, his naivety, his incompetence, and his utter failure. I think that more should be done by this paper to get access to those conversations via a freedom of information request, but it looks like quite a bit of these conversations might've been on Webber's personal cell phone, which is probably an ethics violation.

After the takedown, I read a variety of sentiments regarding the obelisk from Native Americans on social media. Some of them had been simmering about the obelisk for decades, others hadn't given it much thought. Personally, I never agreed or liked the characterization of Native Americans as 'savages' and I don't know any native Santa Feans like myself who did, so we have that in common with the Native community.

For the record, I'm an 11th generation Santa Fean on the Spanish side, but as my DNA tests, census records, and research confirm, I have a substantial amount of Native American blood, arguably more Native than Spanish, because my Spanish ancestors married and mixed with Native Americans from the very first generation after arriving in 1598. Furthermore, one of my ancestors, my fifth great grandfather, fought in the Civil War and fought against slavery. His contributions and sacrifices were commemorated by the obelisk. Generations of my ancestors celebrated on the Plaza in the shadow of the obelisk for 152 years. For these reasons, this issue is very personal for me.

Following the takedown, I have been struck and surprised by comments on social media from some Native people, confirming that there has been long-simmering resentment regarding the obelisk. I don't think the Spanish community is aware of Native sentiment regarding the obelisk. This is why there should have been and should be more dialog regarding the obelisk and there should be more inclusion in this process, from ALL communities. I think it's disgraceful and disrespectful how Webber has treated the Union Protectiva, and by extension, the Hispanic community and so I'm glad that they have sued Webber and I support the Union's actions.

We are The City Different. This issue could've been addressed in our characteristically unique fashion, but Webber is a poor leader and the heart and soul of our city, our City of Holy Faith, sits in tatters.

Khal Spencer

Ok, I should have said the "radical left" perhaps. I concur that it was an over-generalization. On many issues I'm a tad left of center myself.

Lee Vigil

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Amber Espinosa-Trujillo

Wow Milan! I I'm impressed, you finally called out your previous Mayoral candidate for the racist he truly is: “ In discussing the obelisk one recent day, Webber ignored that it honored brave soldiers, most of them Hispanic, who helped preserve the union.”

Lee Vigil

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Jason Evans

I think one aspect of the issue will be the impact on tourism. I know many folks in Texas who wonder if, in the event their children are being abducted or wives are being raped, the spineless pathetic Santa Fe police will cower and wet their panties and refuse to respond for fear of what the bone-headed mayor thinks. Just one more reason to add Santa Fe to the list (along with crime-ridden Chicago and antifa/blm violence-ridden Portland and Seattle, and human-feces-in-the-street San Francisco) of cities not worth visiting any more.

But who needs tourism revenue when there's so much energy exploration and extraction revenue pouring in. Oh....wait....

Mike Johnson

Yes, of course this whole newly found fascination with a traditional Texas African American celebration is curious enough, and it is true those who are falling all over themselves to virtue signal with that have selective, short memories about what that monument in the plaza was really all about. Good to point that out Milan, thank you. I remember the writings of my great grandfather, the lone Socialist Party member at the 1910 NM Constitutional Convention in Santa Fe, pointing out his pride in that monument and its prominent position and respect all had for it in the plaza of that time. He was also the President of the Farmer's Union in Chaves Co., and an ardent supporter and close friend of his fellow Texas immigrants in Blackdom there, who celebrated Juneteenth every year, where he enjoyed his participation in the event. There are indications he tried to get that holiday put into the NM Constitution, but like many other of his initiatives, they were rejected as he was a mortal enemy of Albert Fall and Thomas Catron (a former Confederate Army vet), who got him quarantined in a SF hospital over a false, alleged small pox infection, and effectively sidelined him for the majority of the convention. Who knows what might have been....

Lupe Molina

You realize this article is totally bass awkwards when you consider that most slaves in New Mexico's history were indigenous, from the same groups referred to as "savages" on that obelisk. So saying it stands against slavery is a bit goofy.

Patricia Ortiz

"savage" had been removed from the Soldiers Monument close to half a century ago. Also known as the Obelisk, had nothing to do with slavery. It honors United States soldiers, both Anglo and of Spanish descent who served the Civil War and also battled raiding Indians as Apache and Navajo who were endangering lives of settlers. The Pueblo Indians in 1868 were land holders , by Spanish land grants and considered civilized United States citizens. The Indians raiding Spanish villages were not slaves. They did not live among the colonists, they lived way over a 100 if not 200 or 300 hundred miles away. Both the Spanish colonizer and raiding Indians took captives of the other. Generally, the captives taken to Spanish homes became part of the household, many times adopted and married to settlers, sometimes inheriting lands. The offspring totally Hispanicized, were genizaros, detribalised Indians.

Lee Vigil

Yes, that is true. However, those slaves (mostly Pueblo Natives) became slaves because they were kidnapped and sold by Native Americans - notably the Navajo and other raiding tribes - and sold to wealthy families. Nobody's hands are clean in this history. It's complicated and we shouldn't try and clean it up to meet our particular narratives.

Patricia Ortiz

No one's hands were clean but it was the 16th to 19th centuies; and the human psyche was of raids, slavery, killing etc for survival in what is today the United States. Attitudes changed during the 20th C, and we should be grateful we the descendants live in a much kinder world.

Lee Vigil

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Lee Vigil

Furthermore, I could be wrong, but my understanding is that the Indian Wars were focused on putting down the raiding tribes and not against the Pueblo Indians. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Patricia Ortiz

Indian Wars were against the raiding tribes, who not only raided the descendants of Spanish colonists but also the Pueblo Indians who by that time were US citizens. Pueblo Indians lands were protected because Spain legally awarded them land grants after DeVargas resettlement . The US recognized the Pueblo land grants. . Comanches raided Texan settlers; but not the Spanish colonizer of NM because of a 1770s Treaty between both peoples, due to Spains Gov. Anza's successfully defeating the Comanche. The Pueblo and Spanish allied since the Spanish Colonial era against the Apache, Navajo, Ute and other threatening tribes to NM. , except for the Revolt.

Lee Vigil

Thank you for clarifying. That is also how I understand it.

Lee Vigil

I had read that following 1848 when New Mexico became a territory following the Treaty of Guadalupe, that the raiding tribes became emboldened, because the Americans became lax in defending the territory against them, and as a result the raids had increased and New Mexico became a pretty dangerous place. Spaniards and Puebloans were indiscriminately murdered and Puebloans were sold into slavery. This is the reason that after the Confederacy was pushed back, that the troops were repurposed to defeat and relocate the offending tribes. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Mexicans were guaranteed protection by the Americans, and Lincoln recognized that they had been failing at this promise.

Lee Vigil

... and like the Spanish, Pueblo Natives were tired of being murdered and raided (robbed) of livestock and other belongings, and supported relocation of the raiding tribes.

Patricia Ortiz

About the Indian raids after the Mexican American War. During the brief SW Mexican Period, 1824-1846, Spanish, Indian and any American living in SW territory became Mexican citizens under Mexicos flag. Then became American citizens after 1848 signing of the Treaty.. From my understanding, about 1852 Apache and Ute were increasingly raiding which by this time was American territory . The US military launched an all out war, enlisted Pueblo Indians as scouts. Both the Pueblo and Spainish were now US citizens. Kit Carson was a federal Indian agent in campaigns against Apache and Navajo. About 1850 to1860. During this era, our own Spanish American Lorenzo Labadie was also a federal agent against the Apache. Also our own Manuel Chavez, also know as the little lion of the SW or el lioncito, who lived under the Spanish, Mexican and American flag led hundreds of men to to Navajo country to retrieve sheep and horses about 1860. From what I can tell, NM had US military presence until the raiding Indians surrendered.

Lee Vigil

Great! Thanks for the history lesson. I think that it would be beneficial to all of us to understand, study, and research our history. These days, social media and the internet make it too easy for folks to form a narrative from selective facts and twist them and market them to the masses. The Russians have learned to do it very effectively and I believe this issue has also been co-opted by local 'activists'. Our history is indeed complicated.

Donald Apodaca

Milan, my question to you is WHY does it appear that Stephen Fox is going to get a PASS on the charges that were filed against him. He has NOT had to even put out money for a lawyer. If, he does get a pass his EGO will become bigger than ever. I know the man personally. He has had run in's with powerful business men in Santa Fe and always seemed to come out on top.

Russell Scanlon

Just a couple of thoughts: Right or wrong, the destruction of the obelisk was part of a nationwide movement to take down monuments that were seen as perpetuating white supremacy. In many cities there were prolonged riots, destruction, and even death (including Albuquerque). It seems to me that Santa Fe, being an enlightened place where people have been coexisting for hundreds of years, escaped the worst. (Of course, you can’t run a campaign on stuff that didn’t happen.) And second, let’s not forget that all this happened during incredible tension, divisiveness, and hostility of the 2020 election. I’m pretty sure that blockading the streets around the Plaza after the destruction of the obelisk prevented potential “vigilante justice”. Everyone says they want to honor tradition and history, but history is not a static thing—it shape shifts with time and is always rewritten to flatter the conquerors and the victors in battle. Perhaps this is one painful step in the process of reevaluation and reconciliation. I agree that we do ourselves no favors by ignoring the unpleasantries and brutalities as well as the triumphs of the past. Here’s to a fair election, a big turnout, and may the best man (or woman) win!

Richard Reinders

The problem is these vandals are the minority by quite a bit, so when did we start with the tail waging the dog. We could have stopped the destruction with our hand tied behind our back and then hit these idiots with federal charges because it is a national monument. This is what happens when you have someone like Webber in charge. His involvement was criminal and out of his jurisdiction . Easy fix don’t let him buy your vote.

Richard Reinders

IMO you hit the nail on the head when you said Webber was complicit, he also should not have protection that his office provides because he operated outside of his elected duties by not consulting the city council when he made decisions to remove De Vargas and encourage the destruction of the Obelisk with a meeting the night before with the vandals and pulling the cops back who are paid to take chances of getting hurt in the performance of their duties. Webber is a divisive racist who can't wait to rid Santa Fe of the Hispanic culture. Just like the critical race theory promoting racist ideas against another race or color is wrong and is setting the country back 50 years, and going after the Hispanic culture and trying to pit the community against the people who founded Santa Fe is racist and wrong. This narrative that Webber brings to this community is dangerous, divisive and wrong. Come election day we have to make sure Webber does not do anymore damage to Santa Fe.

Carol Adams

Hooray for Protectiva. The very idea that anyone can destroy a public monument or building because THEY dont like something about it is abhorrent. That a public official encourages and allows it is worse

Lee Vigil

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Amber Espinosa-Trujillo

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Welcome to the discussion.

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