Reies Lopez Tijerina: Preacher and Chicano activist who led an infamous and fatal raid on a New Mexico courthouse

Admired by some students, his activism was steeped in violence and his legacy remained controversial

Reies Lopez Tijerina was a Pentecostal preacher who became a Chicano activist and led a violent raid on a New Mexico courthouse nearly 50 years ago. Though he was admired by some students, his activism was steeped in violence and his legacy remained controversial. He also drew criticism for his treatment of women and comments viewed as anti-Semitic.

In 1963 Tijerina founded La Alianza Federal de Mercedes, an organisation that sought to reclaim Spanish and Mexican land grants held by Mexicans and American Indians before the US-Mexican War. Four years later, he and a group of his followers raided the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla to attempt a citizen's arrest of the district attorney after eight members of Tijerina's group had been arrested.

During the raid, the group shot and wounded a state police officer and jailer, beat up a deputy and took the sheriff and a reporter hostage before escaping. Tijerina was arrested but ultimately acquitted of charges related to the raid. He eventually spent two years in prison for destruction of federal property. The raid outraged some but sparked excitement among Mexican-American college students about the Chicano movement. After the Tierra Amarilla raid, the land-grant movement became more widely accepted.

Michael Olivas, a law professor, alleged, however, that his cousin, Eulogio Salazar, the courthouse jailer shot during the raid, was later beaten to death. Salazar testified in a court hearing that he was shot by Tijerina, but the case never made it to trial. "He is not a hero," Olivas said.

Reies Lopez Tijerina, preacher and activist: born Fall City, Texas 21 September 1926; married (several children); died El Paso, Texas 19 January 2015.

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