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Mask gathering

A protest for freedom drew hundreds to Civic Plaza on Thursday. Many, like this man from Rio Rancho, were there to protest the governor’s mandate requiring face coverings. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Angel Rodriguez and Mario Rico were one of the few couples at a “Protest for Freedom” on Civic Plaza with masks.

Although, on closer inspection, their masks were just painted on.

“We feel our mask is as good as your mask,” Rodriguez said.

Hundreds of people crowded together in Downtown Albuquerque on Thursday evening to listen to speeches and to curse public health orders that have closed or restricted businesses and schools in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. The gathering itself was an apparent violation of those health orders, namely the ones that prohibit large gatherings and require people wear masks in public places.

Rodriguez, an artist and owner of The Head’s Creation, said her career has suffered during the pandemic. She does body paintings for events, which there are none. And struggling galleries have stopped buying her other pieces, she said.

“It’s about choices. It’s about freedom,” she said when asked why she was at the protest.

The demonstration appears to have been organized through a Facebook group calling itself “We the people of New Mexico.” Several organizers left shortly after the protest and others declined to comment.

The event’s Facebook page promised that parents, business owners and medical professionals would be among the speakers. No medical professionals spoke. But Louie Sanchez, owner of Caliber’s gun shop, donned a pair of scrubs and said he “plays a doctor on the radio” while delivering a speech that targeted Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for her public health orders.

“We have the right to bear arms. Our children have the right to go to school,” he said.

Other speakers included Steve Smothermon, pastor of Legacy Church, state Sen. Greg Baca and Couy Griffin, an Otero County commissioner and founder of Cowboys for Trump.

In the crowd, many people waved American flags, and held up pro-Trump signs and other messages decrying liberals.

Uniformed APD officers mingled around the perimeter of the demonstration in masks. It didn’t appear that they attempted to enforce public health orders. Gilbert Gallegos, a police spokesman, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The governor’s office also didn’t respond to a request for comment.

About a dozen counterprotesters also attended the protest for freedom. Pictured are two protest attendees arguing over the use of masks.

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