The FBI arrested the leader of an armed group that has allegedly been detaining migrants at gunpoint along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Larry Mitchell Hopkins, a member of the so-called border militia group United Constitutional Patriots, was arrested Saturday and charged with being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, according to a statement by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fox News reported.
The 69-year-old Hopkins “is a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families. Today’s arrest by the FBI indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not armed vigilantes,” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in another statement.
The arrest came days after the American Civil Liberties Union accused the group of illegally detaining migrants and an investigation was ordered by New Mexico’s Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Reuters reported. The militia group posted videos last week allegedly showing groups of Central American families in New Mexico being detained by armed civilians.
Jim Benvie, a spokesman for the United Constitutional Patriots, told The New York Times last week that the group’s goal is to monitor the border until Congress enacts stronger immigration legislation or President Trump can get his proposed border wall built.
UCP members were assisting a “stressed and overstrained Border Patrol,” Benvi said in the video, noting that members of the group who are mostly military veterans, never point their weapons at the migrants and only carry them for self-defense purposes, Fox News reported. The men in the posted video were never seen with drawn firearms.
According to Reuters:
Hopkins is the “national commander” of the UCP, which has had around half a dozen members camped out on a rotating basis near Sunland Park since late February.
The UCP describes itself as a “patriot group” helping U.S. Border Patrol cope with record numbers of Central American families crossing the border to seek asylum.
Dressed in camouflage and carrying rifles, UCP members have helped U.S. Border Patrol detain over 5,600 migrants in the last two months, Benvie said. Videos posted online by the group show members telling migrants to stop, sit down, and wait for agents to arrive. Critics accuse the UCP of impersonating law enforcement.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection warned against “interference by civilians in law enforcement matters” in a statement clarifying that the CBP did not “endorse or condone” citizens taking these matters into their own hands.
#CBP does not endorse or condone private groups or organizations that take enforcement matters into their own hands. Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.
— CBP (@CBP) April 19, 2019
According to Fox News:
Little information has been released on Hopkins’ background. The FBI said he is from Flora Vista, a rural community in northern New Mexico and approximately 353 miles north of Sunland Park, which is a suburb of El Paso, Texas. The Times and other media outlets have named Hopkins as the group’s leader.
FBI spokesman Frank Fisher told The Associated Press that no additional information would be released until after Hopkins’ appearance in federal court on Monday.
“We’re not worried about it, he’s going to be cleared,” Benvie said of Hopkins’ arrest, which he blamed on political pressure from Grisham.
He also claimed that online support for the group had more than doubled since last week when the allegations were made, according to Reuters. Benvie indicated that if state police asked the group to leave, they would comply but would follow up with legal action against New Mexico if they found their constitutional rights were violated by the order.
“There’s not going to be any standoffs, this isn’t the Bundy Ranch,” Benvie said.