New Mexico Democratic congressional candidate Gabe Vasquez was the target of a negative article published online by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative outlet, on Monday accusing him of giving a false name for a 2020 television interview during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Las Cruces.
The candidate was also accused of deleting past social media posts that would identify him as the person appearing in the news story.
The accusations attack the candidate's honesty and integrity on the issues of policing, criminal justice and racism — issues on which Vasquez has been outspoken throughout his career in politics.
The National Republican Congressional Committee jumped on the story, issuing a statement calling the candidate "a liar who supports defunding the police" to distinguish him from the Republican incumbent, U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, who is facing Vasquez in the Nov. 8 election where she seeks a second term representing New Mexico's 2nd congressional district.
Yet even after KVIA-TV said Vasquez had not given a fake name, the Free Beacon did not correct its reporting.
An updated version of its article includes comments from the Vasquez campaign and an explanation from KVIA that confusion over Vasquez's identity emerged from a technical error, but still claimed that Vasquez "gave a fake name during an anti-police rant to a journalist" and "identified himself as 'James Hall.'"
The NRCC continues to claim, falsely, on its website that Vasquez admitted to using a pseudonym.
The Free Beacon did not respond to queries from the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Will the real James Hall please stand up?
The Free Beacon story continues to claim that Vasquez falsely identified himself as "James Hall" for KVIA-TV's report on the June 6, 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Las Cruces.
Vasquez is the first of three people interviewed for the story, and is never identified. As archived video of the broadcast shows, a chyron identifying him as "James Hall" appears while Vasquez is speaking. In fact, James Hall is the second person interviewed in the story. Hall is a Las Cruces resident who works for New Mexico State University's athletics department and confirmed his identity for the Las Cruces Sun-News.
It is apparent from watching the video that chyrons identifying interviewees for the story are out of synch. The "James Hall" chyron remains up as the real Hall begins speaking at 1:16 in the video. The chyron then changes while Hall speaks, prematurely identifying the third interview source, Brother Caleb of the Holy Family American National Church, who appears later in the video.
Was that Gabe Vasquez?
The Vasquez campaign admitted that he is the first person interviewed in the story and said he did not identify himself, but did not elaborate on why.
The campaign was silent on claims that he had deleted posts from Twitter and Facebook that could connect him with the 2020 protest and the KVIA story. These include a selfie showing Vasquez wearing a neck gaiter matching the one shown in the interview and photographs he tweeted from the protest.
Vasquez appears at the 0:59 mark in the story, archived on YouTube, where he tells a reporter, "We need serious police reform in this country. It's not just about defunding the police, it's about defunding a system that privileges white people over everybody else."
Vasquez is seen in a baseball cap and sunglasses with the neck gaiter covering his nose and mouth, which was a frequent precaution taken during protests that summer over the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. The protests took place in the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vasquez was a city council member at the time, participating in a demonstration that temporarily closed traffic on Lohman Avenue and Telshor Boulevard. City police blocked traffic at intersections as the protesters moved along Lohman, calling on them to leave roadways open.
While opinions likely vary about how city officials participate in political protests and whether they should engage in civil disobedience, the code of conduct for Las Cruces city council members does not appear to bar them from participating in such protests. It includes an injunction to "never seek to knowingly mislead the public," but no evidence has been presented that Vasquez intentionally misrepresented his identity.
Vasquez repeatedly voted to increase police budgets
Vasquez pushed back forcefully against claims by Republicans that he has ever been "anti-police."
"I oppose defunding the police," he said in a statement. "After George Floyd's murder, I like many New Mexicans and Americans across the country was devastated by a clear and violent act of injustice; but defunding the police is not the path to a fair criminal justice system."
In the face of ads accusing him of being anti-police, the Vasquez campaign has pointed to his record: In a single four-year term as a city councilor, Vasquez consistently voted in favor of budget resolutions that included increases for the police department. The largest of these, for fiscal year 2022, included a $1.3 million increase for police over the previous year.
In 2019, Vasquez was part of a council vote rejecting a grant from the Department of Homeland Security's controversial Operation Stonegarden program; but even at that meeting, as the Sun-News reported at the time, he supported increased funding for overtime and mileage in law enforcement operations through city funds rather than a federal grant.
'Defund the police' political weapon against Democrats
In the summer of 2020, protesters outraged about police violence frequently repeated slogans about defunding police agencies in banners and speeches. Since then, Democrats have frequently faced accusations of supporting such calls in campaign attack ads, regardless of their stated positions. Such claims appeared during New Mexico legislative contests in 2020, and in 2022 crime and support for police have remained prominent themes in attack ads.
Herrell, for her part, touts endorsements from several New Mexico sheriffs and the state chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police while accusing her opponent of seeking to "defund and deconstruct the police."
Black lives matter. Until we deconstruct and rebuild the systems of oppression that keep black people in perpetual harm, justice will not be served. That includes law enforcement, the economy, and the disgusting wealth inequality that keeps white rich men in power.
— Gabe Vasquez (@Gabe_NM) June 1, 2020
Vasquez is on record supporting police reforms, particularly with respect to how communities of color are treated as well as how public funds are allocated and accounted. He has expressed himself in tweets using the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and has also been present at events where calls to defund the police were on display.
Yet all available evidence, including quotes presented in the Free Beacon's article, show he has distanced himself from calls to stop funding police altogether.
This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Fact check: False claim that Vasquez gave fake identity for interview