On a recent sunny but chilly Thursday, about a dozen protesters — all appearing to be over the age of 50 — gathered off Bishops Lodge Road at the entrance to a prosperous Santa Fe neighborhood.
They hoisted neon, hand-written signs proclaiming “Traitors attempt coups,” “Reject fascist tactics” and “Santa Fe rejects J Eastman” as passing cars honked cheerfully.
For the past seven months or so — weather permitting — the crew has been a common sight there for two hours a day.
They say they won’t rest until John Eastman is indicted for his role in what officials have described as a complex and unlawful plot to overturn the 2020 presidential election culminating in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
The thing is many of those protesting Eastman are also his neighbors.
The 62-year-old law professor and attorney for former President Donald Trump rocketed to national notoriety immediately after the deadly riot, but it wasn’t until his phone was seized by a cadre of FBI agents in the parking lot of a Santa Fe strip mall one evening in late June that many learned he lived in New Mexico.
In fact, both Eastman and his wife, Elizabeth C’de Baca Eastman, have familial ties to New Mexico — she grew up in Santa Fe, got a Master of Arts from St. John’s College and traces her roots in the state back generations — and the couple have owned their home in the city for about 20 years.
They made it their primary residence in 2018.
Over the years, the Eastmans have attended neighborhood parties, where they stood out for his stance against the COVID-19 vaccines, and her 40th high school reunion, where other attendees remembered him as “a prick.”
“He was a jerk, he was arrogant,” said Sam Martinez, who organized the event for the Santa Fe High School Class of 1977. “She was nice — like I said, she’s a classmate but I never knew her.”
Martinez, a self-described “staunch liberal Democrat,” said as Eastman’s name began cropping up in the news, Elizabeth C’de Baca Eastman’s friends confronted her on Facebook.
“Several of my classmates, they called her on it, like, ‘Really, your husband? Mr. Traitor,’ and immediately they were blocked and unfriended,” he said. “So a lot of us were all pretty shocked about it.”
Through their attorney the couple declined an interview request but they did answer a number of questions about their ties to New Mexico, their time in Santa Fe over the past couple of years and the allegations against Eastman.
Attorney Charles Burnham, based in Washington, D.C., maintained that Eastman’s actions have been misunderstood by those who do not understand the role of a lawyer.
Regarding the protesters, Burnham said Eastman has noted that they “have as much right under the First Amendment to protest as he had to raise questions about illegality and fraud in the election.”
“But it is clear that the protesters, along with many others, have not made any effort to understand the significant constitutional issues and evidence on which Eastman’s legal advice was based – such is the sorry state of discourse in American politics today,” Burnham wrote in a statement.
He said since Eastman’s role in advising Trump became public the couple has found out who their true friends are. They even received an anonymous letter from someone “questioning their commitment to Santa Fe values.”
“The Santa Fe in which Elizabeth grew up was not nearly as intolerant of different points of view than it has become,” Burhman wrote.
Life and careers
After spending her early life in Santa Fe, C’de Baca Eastman moved to Southern California — first to attend college and then to get a Ph.D. in political science at Claremont Graduate School, where she met her husband. According to her personal website, her “teaching career has spanned more than thirty years, while raising her children with her husband.”
The two lived in Chicago and Washington, D.C., before moving back to California for work, Burnham said. But they often vacationed in Santa Fe, he said, before moving there full time five years ago.
Eastman does not appear to be licensed to practice law in New Mexico. The State Bar of California has recently moved to disbar him there.
It was mid-2019, about a year after their move, that Eastman caught Trump’s eye when he appeared on Fox News to rail against the Russia investigation, according to The New York Times. From there, the article states, Eastman entered Trump’s inner circle and advised him on how to stay in power during the final throes of the administration.
Eastman’s actions surrounding Jan. 6 — including speaking at a rally preceding the riot — resulted in various universities cutting ties with him.
The president of Chapman University in California, where Eastman had taught for many years, put out a statement saying they came to an agreement for him to retire “effective immediately” and his departure “closes this challenging chapter for Chapman.”
The Benson Center at the University of Colorado, where Eastman was a “Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought,” condemned his claims surrounding the 2020 election as “radical” and “irresponsible.”
Although many have distanced themselves, Eastman remains a notable figure in some conservative circles.
In September, both he and his wife spoke at the “1st Annual U.S. Constitution Week” in Lake Havasu City, Ariz — an event its founder described as “nonpartisan” but also all about clearing up misinterpretations from the left about the constitution.
Eastman, the keynote speaker, spoke before about 100 attendees.
And, according to Politico, less than a month later in Albuquerque Eastman served as the keynote speaker for the “Election Integrity Network” urging prospective GOP poll workers and challengers to contest the legitimacy of individual votes.
Role in Jan. 6
The final report by Congress’s Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol mentions Eastman’s name more than 550 times.
The 845-page report released days before Christmas states that Eastman is the one who pushed the plan for Vice President Mike Pence to assert his authority as President of the Senate to prevent or delay the election of Joe Biden by refusing to count electoral votes in certain states — including New Mexico.
In New Mexico, five Republican “fake electors” are alleged to have submitted a false document intended deliver the states votes to Trump instead of Biden. Biden won New Mexico by 11 percentage points and 99,720 votes.
Last year, then-state Attorney General Hector Balderas reviewed the allegations and referred the matter to federal authorities.
A spokeswoman for his successor said the office is meeting with the U.S. Department of Justice to discuss the issue.
In a statement, Burnham disputed that Eastman attempted to “overturn” election results and said his efforts were “directed at assuring that the person certified as President was the legitimate winner.”
“As the Jan. 6 committee knew, Dr. Eastman is on record several times acknowledging that his efforts may have resulted in affirming the Biden/Harris victory,” Burnham said. “Unfortunately, the January 6 Committee Report is a highly partisan, but often factually and legally incorrect, document.”
The committee found there was enough evidence to send criminal referrals on Eastman and Trump to the Department of Justice’s Special Counsel for possibly breaking the law that prohibits corruptly obstructing, influencing or impeding an official proceeding or attempting to do so.
The committee said Eastman knew Pence could not legally refuse to count the votes, but he continued assisting Trump and spoke to the crowds at the Ellipse.
“And even as the violence was playing out at the Capitol, Eastman admitted in writing that his plan violated the law but pressed for Pence to do it anyway,” the report states.
In a statement, Burnham said the criminal referrals are not binding and “should carry a great deal less weight due to the absurdly partisan nature of the process that produced it.”
Joshua Kastenberg, a professor at the University of New Mexico Law School who teaches ethics and constitutional law, said he thinks it’s possible Eastman will be charged either federally or in Georgia, where prosecutors are investigating possible illegal election interference.
“I think there’s enough there to substantiate charging him and I caveat that by saying that doesn’t mean he’ll get convicted or there’s enough there to get convicted…,” Kastenberg said. “But yeah, certainly, to me it’s likely that in one of those two jurisdictions he’ll face charges.”
A redacted report by an Atlanta-based special grand jury was released on Thursday that said it believes one or more witnesses committed perjury, but it didn’t name anyone or say who those witnesses were testifying on behalf of.
Burham said Eastman “obviously committed no criminal acts and should not be prosecuted. But if he is charged, his legal counsel will engage in a vigorous defense that will raise factual as well as constitutional issues.”
Funding local races
Newly elected state Rep. John Block, R-Alamogordo, speaking with the Journal next to a life-sized cardboard cutout of Trump’s head on Rambo’s body in his office at the Roundhouse, saw Eastman speak on Jan. 6 at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C.
Block, who runs the conservative news site The Piñon Post, said at the time he was reporting on the event but he is also “a supporter of President Trump so of course I wore my MAGA hat and everything. It was kind of like a twofer — it was great.”
Then, more than a year later, Eastman contributed to Block’s campaign to represent District 51 in the legislature.
“I knew he was from Santa Fe because I sent him a thank you card after he gave a contribution,” Block said. “But I didn’t know that was the same John Eastman.”
Then he found out from news reports and “I was like, ‘OK, great, good I had no idea that President Trump’s attorney supports my campaign.’ Which was kind of a badge of honor in my opinion,” Block said
Block was one of a handful of politicians in New Mexico to whom Eastman has contributed, including Steve Pearce when he ran for governor in 2018 and Rebecca Dow when she ran in the Republican primaries to be governor in 2020, according to Open Secrets, a nonprofit research group. Both lost.
Eastman also contributed to Mark Ronchetti when he ran for the U.S. Senate against Ben Ray Luján in 2020 and when he ran for governor against Michelle Lujan Grisham in November. Ronchetti lost both times.
A registered Republican, Eastman has voted in eight primary, local and state elections in New Mexico since 2018.
A spokeswoman for the Republican Party of New Mexico said the party and chairman Pearce have no association or involvement with Eastman.
The precinct where the Eastmans reside voted overwhelmingly Democratic in the 2020 election — Biden garnered 78% of the vote compared with the 20% Trump tallied.
Their home is a little over a mile from the Governor’s Mansion with the two neighborhoods split by a main road.
A couple of residents had seen Eastman at a party in fall 2021 and recalled how he revealed he didn’t believe in getting vaccinated against COVID-19, prompting the embarrassed host to send an apology email to everyone the next day.
That’s when many began putting it together who their neighbor is.
Richard Folks, who has joined the protests, said he takes Eastman’s actions surrounding the election “somewhat personally” because they live on the same street.
“For a neighbor as infamous as him, it hurts my feelings,” said the 69-year-old, sporting a fedora and accompanied by a 13-year-old German Shepherd. “I mean, to put it lightly, he’s treasonous, he’s a traitor. He’s dangerous and he has no intention of stopping.”
Over the summer someone spray painted “EASTMAN TRAITOR FILCHER” on a nearby bridge over an arroyo along with the couple’s address. And their next-door neighbor told the Journal that the couple had recently erected fencing around their property.
As for the woman whose house they bought 20 years ago for around $435,000, she didn’t remember much about the sale — except that he was “an attorney out of California.”
When the Journal told the 82-year-old who Eastman is she replied:
“Oh, holy shit.”