The Times attends an event starring the GOP’s latest heart-throb
To a spectator unaccustomed to modern Republican populism, the crowd that jammed the stands and wandered the infield at Rudy’s Country Store and B-B-Q Stadium in Amarillo, Texas, home of the Armadillos minor league baseball team, may have sounded restive, even hostile, with the usual excited murmurs and laughter of a political rally punctuated by angry, urgent exchanges full of expletives that seemed destined to escalate to violence and — stranger still, even in these post-Trump times — cries of “ka-boom!” and “at-at-at-at-at!” apparently meant to emulate gunfire.
Some of the spectators did express resentment that stadium management insisted no guns be allowed into the park. There was booing from the stands when security nabbed some teenagers climbing the outfield bullpen fence with rifles slung over their shoulders. “What the fuck,” cried Charlie Bobo, a local Uber driver/roofing technician, shirtless in a jean vest with PENA IN YOUR FACE written in Elmer’s Glue on the back, his lanky arms spread imploringly. “We wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for guns!”
One gets the impression Bobo speaks for many here. In the year since the Republican Solomon Peña was arrested for arranging to have the homes of several Democrats he blamed for his failed New Mexico House of Representatives campaign shot up by thugs, and the six months since he emerged from the house arrest to which he was sentenced for it, Peña’s star has risen meteorically in the national Republican Party.
For example, Peña is constantly name-checked by Republicans in Congress, with Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene famously offering to “take a bite of his churro,” followed by a Twitter discussion of whether this was meant as a sexual advance or a physical threat that raged for days and was lampooned on Saturday Night Live. Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz has referred to him as “mi hermano mano.”
Polls show Peña, who lost his 2022 New Mexico House race by 48 points, is now drawing double-digit support in Republican presidential polls, and both Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis have hinted that they will consider him for a running mate if they’re nominated.
“Solomon Peña shows the kind of refusal to knuckle under that we admire in patriots like Kari Lake and Michael Peroutka,” DeSantis said in a recent press conference. “That he’s willing to go to such great lengths to make his point shows that, like all of us, he is not afraid to fight, and I mean physically fight, for the sacred causes of liberty and heterosexuality.”
“What Sol did — I call him Sol — is just beautiful,” Trump said at a recent campaign appearance at a Minot, North Dakota Department of Motor Vehicles parking lot, “No seriously, it’s a beautiful thing because when these people try this on you, you just look ‘em in the eye and take out two great big guns and go bing bang, ching chang chung… that was the gun shooting the Democrats, by the way, nothing against the Chinese who are very dear friends of mine, don’t kid yourself.”
Suddenly the music — a mix of Kid Rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Norteño — faded and, accompanied by uniformed guards and enthusiastic applause, Peña sauntered from the Armadillos’ bullpen to a small makeshift stage set over the pitcher’s mound. As often in his appearances in states near his native New Mexico, Peña wore an embroidered Western shirt, an oversized cream-colored ten-gallon hat, black jeans, a loaded double holster belt, and cowboy boots, and brandished two Smith & Wesson 327 TRR8 revolvers that had been engineered to shoot thirty-foot streams of red, white, and blue sparks, which he showed off to wild applause.
“Don’t you folks get the wrong idea,” Peña told the crowd. “I got two peacemakers on me that can shoot more than sparks and —” here he strained to raise his voice over the rising cheers of the crowd “— if anyone here wants to try me he can step up and –"
“FILL YOUR HAND!” the crowd roared in response. Fireworks shot out from behind the scoreboard, Kid Rock’s “We The People” blasted from the sound system, and a few dozen security guards dashed into the crowd to remove spectators who had been inspired by the spectacle to attack bystanders or one another.
After the ruckus died down, Peña launched into his stump speech — a catalogue of ordinary Republican talking points into which, whenever the crowd began to display restlessness, Peña inserted a reference to guns and their positive effect on American politics that got spectators cheering again.
For example: “We just can’t keep on sending out big, fat Social Security checks like we have been — and if the Democrats say we have to, I got two big reasons on my hips that say why we don’t!”
The evening wrapped quickly; near the end the scoreboard displayed a well-received video testimonial by Kyle Rittenhouse, who called Peña his “comrade in arms,” after which Peña ran along the front of the stands and shook hands under the watchful eyes of security as Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” played over the sound system. When he disappeared down one of the stadium corridors, the crowd dispersed into the outfield, where food trucks sold beer and Mexican food.
“I respect Kyle [Rittenhouse] because he believed in something and was willing to kill for it,” said Jervis Danno, a 35-year-old car salesman who drove in from Oklahoma City for the show and was now double-fisting Shiner Bocks as sweat stains gathered at the armpits of his pink dress shirt.
“Solomon didn’t get the results, but in a way he went farther because he tried to shoot a bunch of Democrats,” Danno continued. “And he didn’t have the ‘fog of war’ as an excuse like Kyle did. No, he just wanted to shoot fucking Democrats — and, come on, we all want to shoot them, right, but he actually went for it, and he even hired professionals to do it, which, let’s face it, I wouldn’t even know who to call to do that, and that’s hardcore.”
Danno excused himself to ask a few nearby women if they wanted Shiner Bocks; when they declined, he wandered off, and came back 20 minutes later with one less Shiner Bock and one more shiner — that is, a large, dark bruise around his left eye, which he said was due to his tripping over a tent peg and falling into a car fender.
“All of us have someone we want to, you know, we want to, well, we want to kill,” Danno said, holding a fresh, cold Shiner Bock against his injured eye. “I own a lot of guns but I only ever get to shoot them at the range or in season, and animals, you can shoot them but it’s just not the same. I used to respect the military, my dad was in, but now they’re gay and have pronouns, and they fight on the wrong side, like for that Zinsky. Putin’s the man, a real man.”
Danno stared after a man who walked passed, then pointed at him. “I think that’s the sumbitch who hit me,” he said. Then he sighed, shrugged, and drank the beer that he did not have held against his eye: “I’d like to see him try that on Sol Peña.”
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