FBI arrests leader of armed group
stopping migrants in New Mexico
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[April 22, 2019]
By Andrew Hay
TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) - The FBI on Saturday
said it had arrested Larry Hopkins, the leader of an armed group that is
stopping undocumented migrants after they cross the U.S.-Mexico border
into New Mexico.
The arrest came two days after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
accused the group of illegally detaining migrants and New Mexico's
Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered an investigation.
Hopkins, 69, also known as Johnny Horton, was arrested in Sunland Park,
New Mexico, on a federal complaint charging him with being a felon in
possession of firearms and ammunition, the Federal Bureau of
Investigation said in a statement.
"We're not worried about it, he's going to be cleared," said Jim Benvie,
a spokesman for the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), blaming his
arrest on political pressure from Lujan Grisham.
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.
PATRIOTS OR FASCISTS?
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.
Crowdfunding sites PayPal and GoFundMe on Friday barred the group,
citing policies not to promote hate or violence, after the ACLU called
the UCP 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," New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a
statement of Hopkins's arrest.
Hopkins was previously arrested in Oregon in 2006 on suspicion of
impersonating a police officer and being a felon in possession of a
firearm, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
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Larry Mitchell Hopkins appears in a police booking photo taken at
the Dona Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico,
U.S., April 20, 2019. Dona Ana County Detention Center/Handout via
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a statement it did
not support citizens taking law enforcement into their own hands and
instead encouraged the public to be its eyes and ears on the border.
Benvie said the UCP was doing just that and had the support of local
Border Patrol and police.
Mostly military veterans, UCP members carry weapons for self defense
and at no time pointed guns at migrants, as they have been accused
of, Benvie said.
Despite having funding sources cut off, Benvie said the group's
online support had swelled since it came under attack this week. Its
Facebook followers have more than doubled since Thursday.
Asked what the group would do if told to leave by state police,
Benvie said they would probably go and, if they felt the order
violated their constitutional rights, sue the state of New Mexico.
"There's not going to be any standoffs, this isn't the Bundy Ranch,"
Benvie said, in reference to a 2014 armed confrontation in Nevada.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Chizu
Nomiyama and Christopher Cushing)
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