Conspiracy Spiral: Alleged Shooting Mastermind Emerges As Central Figure In New ‘False Flag’ Theories

New Mexico’s election deniers are going deep down a new rabbit hole.
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Solomon Pena believed in David Clements but David Clements doesn’t believe in Solomon Pena. 

The allegations that Pena, a failed Republican candidate, masterminded shootings at the homes of four Democrats in his home state of New Mexico have been cited as evidence of the potential for election conspiracy theories to inspire violence. However, the people whose work helped fuel Pena’s belief that his loss was “rigged” reject that narrative. Indeed, they question all of the basic facts around Pena’s case. For some of the state’s most prominent election deniers, conspiracy theories about the vote have blossomed into new conspiracy theories about Pena.

It’s a dizzying blur of justifications and paranoia that defies any questioning — or logic. 

Clements could be considered the intellectual leader of New Mexico’s election conspiracy movement. He has over 25,000 followers on the video site Rumble, which is popular with right wing influencers. Through their group, “New Mexico Audit Force,” Clements and his wife, Erin, sought to dispute the results of the recent midterms and played a major role in efforts to challenge recent election results in Otero County. 

Pena was apparently convinced by Clements’ conspiracy theories. On his Twitter account, Pena referred to Clements’ work on at least seven occasions. He also shared a report crafted by Clements on his campaign website where he mingled far right politics with disturbing concerns about “demonic” forces. Pena cited Clements as proof that his loss in last year’s election for a seat in the state’s House of Representatives was illegitimate. After feeling “cheated” by the results of that race, Pena, according to police, hired two other men to shoot at the homes of Democratic Party officials. Pena allegedly rode along during one of those incidents. He did not respond to a request for comment and an attorney representing him could not be reached. 

Since Pena’s arrest on Monday, Clements has used his Telegram channel to make wild allegations about the case. In a series of four posts on Tuesday, Clements suggested Pena was being used by “corrupt law enforcement,” “corrupt politicians,” and the media to undermine former President Trump and “election integrity advocates.” Clements did not respond to a request for comment from TPM.

“The snake news press is wasting no time in trying to exploit the situation by ascribing Pena’s actions as a result of being a Trump supporter and ‘election denier,’” Clements wrote on Telegram, adding, “There appears to be a full-court press to create a false flag narrative to blame his actions on the millions of Americans that have lost faith in our elections.” 

So-called “false flag” attacks involve one political faction committing violence in the guise of their enemies in order to manipulate public sentiment. The convoluted strategy has become a major theme in the conspiracy world. Everything from 9/11, to the Sandy Hook shooting, and the Jan. 6 attack has been branded with the label at various points. Clements’ new “false flag” theory hinged on the fact that Pena previously served time in prison and that police in Albuquerque said some of their knowledge of the alleged shooting plot came from a confidential informant. 

“In the swamp infested political realm, it is no stretch to suggest corrupt law enforcement will find people with criminal records and mental health problems to exploit,” Clements wrote in one post.

According to the police, the evidence against Pena went well beyond testimony from the informant. The warrant for Pena’s arrest describes a heap of evidence law enforcement had against him, including ballistics, text messages, witness testimony, surveillance footage, and a vehicle registered in his name that was stopped near one of the shootings. 

In this case, the “false flag” narrative serves the clear purpose of distancing Clements and his movement from Pena’s alleged crimes. Clements’ Telegram posts included no evidence whatsoever. His theories about Pena seem solely based on fevered speculation and his own biases. 

Clements’ past work questioning election results has been criticized as shoddy, biased and wholly inaccurate. Officials at every level of government including members of Trump’s own administration have concluded there was no significant fraud in the 2020 elections. The “New Mexico Audit Force” report was investigated by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform last year. During that probe, the company who hired the Clementses to investigate the results in Otero County withdrew and reached a settlement agreement to return most of the money they were paid. In its report, which was released last August, the House committee called the Clementses “grifters” and blasted their audit as a “fraudulent” exercise that “generated a fog of lies and confusion without producing any evidence of election fraud.”

In New Mexico, elections are overseen by the secretary of state, Maggie Toulouse Oliver. In a statement on the House committee investigation, Alex Curtas, Toulouse Oliver’s director of communications, blasted Clements’ work as “misinformation.”

“Its assertions are wholly unconvincing and, like seemingly every other claim made by David Clements about New Mexico’s elections, can be traced back to his misunderstandings about well-established election administration procedures. Mr. Clements can use all the charts and graphs he wants to demonstrate that he’s reached a predetermined conclusion but, at the end of the day, it’s still the same smoke and mirrors we have seen since the Clements started peddling their election lies around New Mexico,” Curtas said, adding, “The safeguards we use in New Mexico to ensure accuracy and integrity – like mandatory post-election audits, paper-ballots, air-gapped vote counting systems, and continual voter list maintenance, to name only a few – are the reason we are recognized as having some of the nation’s best run elections.” 

Toulouse-Oliver, the secretary of state, was a target of Pena’s rage. On Twitter, the failed candidate blamed her for helping ensure the 2020 election was “rigged against Trump” and vowed to “personally volunteer my time to escort her handcuffed body to Guantanamo Bay Cuba.” In a statement to TPM, Toulouse-Oliver described Pena’s alleged crimes as the byproduct of election conspiracy theories. 

“The recent violence we’ve seen here in New Mexico against elected officials is the sad but predictable outcome of dangerous rhetoric and conspiracy theories, largely centered around false claims about our elections and election administrators,” Toulouse-Oliver said. “This drumbeat of lies and dangerous rhetoric aren’t just throwaway comments on social media. It can have real and frightening impacts on our daily lives as the recent shootings show. There simply is no place for it in our communities and democratic society.” 

For some, Pena’s case is proof of the danger of conspiracy culture. However, it is also proving to be fodder for new conspiracy theories. 

Clements isn’t the only prominent election denier in New Mexico who is crafting “false flag” narratives around Pena. 

Couy Griffin, who you might remember as the founder of “Cowboys For Trump” and a former commissioner in Otero County. Griffin. Griffin, who was removed from office due to his participation in the January 6, 2021 protests at the U.S. Capitol, worked with the Clementses as they audited the county’s election results. In a telephone conversation with TPM on Thursday, Griffin said he has “questions” about whether Pena “might have been compromised.” 

“I know the patriots of New Mexico. I know the people that are engaged in New Mexico politics,” Griffin said. “Solomon Pena was not one of them, partner.”  

Griffin said he wasn’t questioning the Albuquerque police. Rather, Griffin said he was questioning whether Pena is really the Republican Trump supporter he portrayed himself to be. 

“I don’t think he’s one of us. I do think it’s some kind of a — some kind of a deep whatever you want to call it — a false flag or psy op or whatever the label is,” Griffin explained. “I just don’t think this guy is a real — a real patriot, a real Trump supporter. I really don’t. I think he’s a thug. Who’s to say he’s not working with the cartel?”

Based on Griffin’s doubts about election results and police investigations, TPM asked him if there was ever a situation where he wouldn’t question a reality that challenged his own ideology. In reply, he seemed to question the very nature of reality itself. 

“If it is a reality,” Griffin said.  

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