The FBI on Saturday announced the arrest of Larry Hopkins, the leader of an armed militia comprised mostly of military veterans which has been stopping groups of migrants who have illegally entered the country, holding them at gunpoint, and then handing them over to Border Patrol agents, according to Reuters.
Larry Hopkins, 69, was arrested in Sunland Park, New Mexico on a federal complaint charging him with being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, according to the FBI. The arrest of Hopkins, also known as Johnny Horton, comes two days after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) accused the militia of illegally detaining migrants. In response, New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) ordered an investigation.
"We’re not worried about it, he’s going to be cleared," said Jim Benvie, a spokesman for the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), which blamed the arrest on political pressure by the governor. Hopkins is known as the "national commander" of the group.
Around half a dozen UCP members were camping out on a rotating basis since Sunland Park on a rotating basis since late February.
Dressed in camouflage and carrying rifles, UCP says it's a "patriot group" that's helping the US Border Patrol handle a record influx of Central Americans crossing the US border illegally in the hopes of being granted 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. -Reuters
Last week, the group rounded up more than 350 people this week who had crossed the border in West El Paso, Texas - one town over from Sunland Park. In YouTube videos uploaded on Tuesday and Wednesday, groups of migrants - many of them coughing - can be seen sitting on the ground until Border Patrol officers arrive on scene.
Benvie said militia gave the migrants a "verbal order of arrest" to the border crossers - telling them to wait until Border Patrol agents could arrive. UCP offered migrants $20 to identify the smuggler who helped them cross the border, however nobody took them up on their offer.
A message posted on the United Constitutional Patriots' page after the migrants were detained Monday night stated: "This group was so huge we won't have an accurate count until the BP is finished processing them. This needs to stop!!!!! Build the wall."
The video shows Border Patrol agents as they apprehend members of the group of migrants that crossed into the U.S. Some of the migrants seen in the video are overheard coughing and asking for water. When asked why they entered the US, some of the migrants said they are seeking asylum. -KVIA
On Friday, PayPal and GoFundMe barred UCP, citing policies against promoting hate or violence, after the ACLU called them a "fascist militia."
"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," said New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas after Hopkins's arrest. Earlier in the week, Balderas warned "These individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement."
According to Reuters, citing the Southern Poverty Law Center, Hopkins was arrested in Oregon in 2006 on suspicion of impersonating a police officer and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
US Customs and Border Patrol, meanwhile, said in a statement that it does not support citizens who take the law into their own hands - instead encouraging citizens to be on watch.
UCP's Facebook following has more than doubled since Thursday's initial report on the detentions.
That said, when asked what UCP would do if told to leave the border by state police, Benvie said they would likely comply - and if they felt their rights were violated, sue the state of New Mexico.
"There’s not going to be any standoffs, this isn’t the Bundy Ranch," said Benvie.