Immigration protesters, including gubernatorial candidate and former congressman Frank Riggs, had gathered in Oracle, Ariz. to rally against the expected arrival of a busload of Central American migrant children. A group of armed militiamen were providing security for Riggs, Phoenix TV station KTVK reported.
Armed group calling itself the AZ State Militia in Oracle providing security for AZ guv candidate Frank Riggs pic.twitter.com/ozUOBe9R4g
— Dennis Welch (@dennis_welch) July 15, 2014
In a Wednesday phone interview with TPM, the gubernatorial candidate said had no idea who the armed men were. He said he neither brought them with him nor had he asked for their services. But he acknowledged the men were by his side during the rally and were guarding him.
"There were individuals there who were dressed, outfitted as militia types," Riggs told TPM. "To be honest with you they followed me around, I guess thinking that they might provide some kind of security to me."
The Associated Press' account of the demonstration described it as growing heated at some points, including when anti-immigration protesters shoved a group of mariachi musicians. The protesters also briefly blocked a bus of YMCA children that they mistakenly believed were the migrants.
Riggs, a former policeman and deputy sheriff, told TPM that in his opinion the rally was a "mostly polite and respectful exchange of views" between both immigration activists and protesters. Aside from a bit of "jawboning" on both sides, he said, the rally never approached any kind of physical confrontation.
Even if the rally had turned physical, Riggs cited his law enforcement experience as proof that he was capable of protecting himself.
"I didn't bring anybody along. You know, I'm a big boy and perfectly capable of protecting myself," Riggs told TPM.
"I neither requested them in any way, shape or form, I didn't arrange for them to be there nor did I ask for their help or services," Riggs told TPM.
While Riggs stressed that he did not ask for the militiamen's assistance, he didn't take issue with their presence at the protest. He argued that the armed men had "as much of a right to be there as anybody else" and said he respected their right to carry concealed firearms under Arizona law.
"From what I observed they conducted themselves in a very appropriate manner," he told TPM. "They were very discreet."
KTVK's executive news director, Cameryn Beck, did not respond Thursday to a request for comment from TPM.