Bryce Provance wore what appeared to be a Civil War era suit and overcoat when he presented himself at a law office in Albuquerque on March 3.
Provance, who is known by a few aliases, was there to give a deposition for a civil lawsuit against the New Mexico Civil Guard, an armed paramilitary group he founded. Also present was the defendants’ counsel, Paul Kennedy.
After taking his seat, Provance pulled out some papers and laid them on the table.
Among them was a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the cover of a book by Milton William Cooper titled “Behold a Pale Horse,” a 1991 work that is popular among adherents to the QAnon conspiracy theory and others harboring anti-government sentiments.
The papers also included a sexually explicit stick figure drawing depicting a devilish figure surrounded in flames controlling three marionettes while a fourth figure, labeled “Georgetown Law,” performs a sex act.
Nearby, a stick figure labeled “me” is shown engaging in a sex act with another stick figure. In a word balloon, the figure states, “Thank you, Bryce.”
When asked by the plaintiffs’ attorney to explain the drawing’s relevance, Provance said, “It’s to make me smile while I have to look at you.”
The deposition lasted just 10 minutes, during which Provance refused to answer most questions.
Six weeks after the deposition, a mobile phone previously used to contact Provance was no longer active, and Kennedy could not be reached for comment.
DA seeks injunction against New Mexico Civil Guard
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez, who is running for state Attorney General in the Democratic Party primary, filed a civil complaint against the New Mexico Civil Guard in the summer of 2020.
Vigils, protests and demonstrations had risen around the state supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and denouncing the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police as well as the Las Cruces death of Antonio Valenzuela after being put in a chokehold early that year.
The New Mexico Civil Guard was one of a few far-right groups that appeared bearing arms at demonstrations in Las Cruces, telling reporters they were there to help maintain peace. The Civil Guard assembled volunteers and organized training events around the state, speculated about running a slate of county sheriff candidates and appeared with rifles at demonstrations calling for the removal of monuments to Spanish conquistadors.
At one such protest in Albuquerque, the Civil Guard’s presence was conspicuous as a group of demonstrators attempted to pull down “La Jornada,” a famous statue at the Albuquerque Museum depicting Don Juan de Oñate leading a group of settlers.
A counterprotester unaffiliated with the NMCG shot and wounded a man after being recorded on video assaulting protesters and being chased away.
While the NMCG was not directly implicated in the shooting, Torrez argued in an interview that they were not helping to keep peace, either.
“Their presence in that space, armed and at least in political alignment clearly with his beliefs at that moment, emboldened him to do the things that he did, and emboldened him to take the steps that he took,” he said in an interview at the Las Cruces Sun-News office.
Steven Ray Baca, who said he fired his weapon in self-defense, is facing charges including aggravated battery, battery against other protesters and unlawful carrying of a weapon. Nearly two years later, the case is still pending trial.
Torrez’s office is seeking a court declaration that the NMCG is an unauthorized armed force and an injunction preventing the group from organizing and operating in New Mexico.
A trial date is set for December, but could be vacated if the court grants a default judgment.
‘I shredded and burned everything’
The New Mexico Civil Guard designated Provance to speak for the group at the deposition, but he was uncooperative from the very beginning, responding “No comment” when asked to state his name. Asked to explain, I answered, “Fifth Amendment right.”
Over the next several minutes he refused to answer most questions, declaring he would respond only to inquiries specifically referenced in the notice of deposition, only to answer “no comment” or invoke the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination to nearly every question.
He did, however, state that he had been “forced from the New Mexico Civil Guard based on my past,” likely in reference to news coverage of his past ties to white supremacist groups and organizations celebrating the confederacy.
Provance announced he had destroyed data sought by the DA’s office for discovery on the group’s membership and activities. “I shredded and burned everything regarding the structure of the New Mexico Civil Guard. I also poured bleach on the hard drive of my laptop and then burned it.”
He claimed to have done so while traveling from Florida to Tennessee in the fall of 2020, stating he was unaware of a pending lawsuit at that time. Torrez argued that can’t be true.
In an April 11, 2022 motion, the state pointed out that Provance gave several news interviews or comments about the lawsuit prior to when he claims to have destroyed his computer.
Provance answered text messages from a sun-news reporter about the lawsuit on July 17, 2020, days after the complaint had been filed.
Torrez is seeking sanctions for spoliation of evidence and contempt of court, including a default judgment against the New Mexico Civil Guard and individual defendants, including Provance. The motion also seeks attorney’s fees and costs of preparing for the deposition.
‘I’m not under your rules’
Minutes before abruptly ending the deposition, Provance introduced a new reason for refusing to answer.
“I don’t feel like commenting,” he said. “I’m a free man under the Constitution. I’m not under your rules, the Bar Association’s rules, and I have no knowledge of them.”
The refusal to cooperate with the court’s rules and procedures, Torrez said, demonstrated why policing should not be left to self-appointed paramilitary groups.
“Is this the kind of person I want in charge of a paramilitary group that’s armed with semi-automatic rifles?” Torrez asked rhetorically. “There’s a reason we have the governor in charge of the National Guard. It’s a very ordered and regimented and strictly organized effort.”
The original complaint is modeled on a strategy that has used civil lawsuits against extremist groups aiming for injunctions and, in some cases, financial damages. The strategy was used by the Southern Poverty Law Center decades ago against the militia wing of the Ku Klux Klan.
In November, for instance, a Virginia jury directed white supremacist figures behind the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville to pay $25 million in damages. It was during this rally that James Alex Fields drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and wounding others. Fields was later convicted of murdering her and sentenced to life in prison.
Mary McCord, a Georgetown University law professor and head of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, said her organization has used civil legislation to target extremist groups and draw some distinctions between their activities and constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly and the right to bear arms.
“The First Amendment doesn’t protect violence, it doesn’t protect incitement to imminent violence,” she said in an interview. “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms for self-defense, but not private armies or private paramilitaries.”
Wondering how to respond to the terror and violence in Charlottesville, McCord said she and colleagues thought state courts might be a venue “to get forward-looking injunctive relief to prohibit these groups, whether they were the white nationalists that were acting in concert with each other.” other and engaging in paramilitary techniques … or the actual self-professed militia who were usurping the role of law enforcement and purporting to do that themselves … making their own decisions about when and under what circumstances they would deploy lethal force.”
Attorneys from the institute are serving as co-counsel with Torrez’s office on the litigation against the New Mexico Civil Guard. That may explain the reference to “Georgetown law” in Provance’s stick figure drawing.
New Mexico Civil Guard keeps low profile since lawsuit
Torrez said an immediate outcome of the case is that the New Mexico Civil Guard has been more subdued since the complaint was filed.
The NMCG Facebook account, which had been used to muster volunteers, post political messages and publish photos of residents who attended Black Lives Matter demonstrations, was deleted by the platform in a widespread purge in 2020 against hundreds of accounts “tied to offline anarchist groups that support violent acts amidst protests, US-based militia organizations and QAnon.”
And the group’s appearances have been smaller and infrequent.
The last reported appearance of the New Mexico Civil Guard seems to have been on March 3, the same day Provance gave his deposition in Albuquerque.
Four members of the NMCG appeared at a rally near Mesquite in Doña Ana County, dressed in camouflage military garb, with sidearms but no rifles. The rally was a show of support for a convoy of truckers bound for Washington, DC to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other grievances.
The members told a sun-news reporter they were there strictly as participants in the rally, and were not there to keep order.
Algernon D’Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, email@example.com or @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.