You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

An armed militia was ‘detaining’ migrants at the border. The FBI arrested its leader.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 4/21/2019 Kayla Epstein
a man sitting in a room: Larry Mitchell Hopkins, left, who said he goes by "Striker" to protect his identity, speaks with another militia member in March 2019. The FBI has arrested Hopkins, officials said on Saturday. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas described Hopkins as a "dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families." © Paul Ratje /AFP/Getty Images Larry Mitchell Hopkins, left, who said he goes by "Striker" to protect his identity, speaks with another militia member in March 2019. The FBI has arrested Hopkins, officials said on Saturday. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas described Hopkins as a "dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families."

The leader of an armed militia that scours the southern border for undocumented migrants was arrested by the FBI on Saturday. A video of the group holding migrants against their will had sparked outrage and rebukes by civil rights groups and New Mexico officials.

Larry Mitchell Hopkins, 69, also known as Johnny Horton Jr., was arrested in Sunland Park, N.M., on charges of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, the FBI Albuquerque office said. He is expected to appear in U.S. District Court on Monday.

Hopkins leads the United Constitutional Patriots, or UCP, whose objective is to “uphold the Constitution of The United States of America” and to protect citizens’ rights “against all enemies both foreign and domestic,” according to its Facebook page.

The UCP is one of several militias that have taken to patrolling the border, prompted by the recent surge in Central American migrants and emboldened by President Trump’s assertion that they constitute an “invasion.”

Subscribe to the Post Most newsletter: Today’s most popular stories on The Washington Post

In an April 16 video, posted by a woman who goes by Debbie Collins Farnsworth on Facebook, a large group of migrants, including several children, can be seen sitting on the ground and huddled together in the darkness, some of their faces illuminated by flashlights.

“This is crazy, everybody, totally crazy,” a female voice that appears to be Farnsworth narrates as she walks the perimeter of the group, claiming there are “hundreds” of people there. “I don’t know what to say about this, other than the fact it’s got to stop,” she says.

A few minutes into the 45-minute live video, Border Patrol officers arrive and order the migrants to sit down before telling them to begin walking. The migrants are shepherded through the night by Border Patrol officials while Farnsworth follows.

At one point, watching adults walk past holding the hands of children, she remarks, “see the way they hold their kids? I don’t think those are their kids, honestly. They’ve got grips on their wrists, it’s crazy.”

Farnsworth’s video had garnered over 100,000 views and 2,700 shares by Sunday afternoon.

The militia maintains that its actions are legal, though Sunland Park Police Chief Javier Guerra told BuzzFeed News he had explicitly informed the group that they are not.

a man smiling for the camera: Larry Mitchell Hopkins at the Dona Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces, N.M. (Dona Ana County Detention Center/Reuters) Larry Mitchell Hopkins at the Dona Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces, N.M. (Dona Ana County Detention Center/Reuters) On Thursday, the New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the state’s governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), and attorney general, Hector Balderas (D), demanding they investigate the UCP and the actions portrayed in the April 16 video.

“We cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum,” the letter said. “We urge you to immediately investigate this atrocious and unlawful conduct.”

“Law enforcement belongs strictly in the hands of trained professionals,” Peter Simonson, director of the ACLU in New Mexico, told The Washington Post. He said his group alerted officials because of fears that the armed militia members would harm the migrants.

On Friday, Grisham called the militia’s actions “absolutely unacceptable.”

“This is a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families,” Balderas said in a statement after Hopkins’s arrest. “Today’s arrest by the FBI indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not vigilantes."

One of the militia’s members, Jim Benvie, responded to Hopkins’s arrest in a Facebook Live video early Sunday. Benvie said the UCP was not breaking any laws and Hopkins would be exonerated.

He speaks as the camera remains pointed forward and asserts that Hopkins was “set up” by Grisham and Balderas based on the ACLU’s “false, baseless allegations against the group.”

“This was their first attack,” Benvie said. “They want to create a narrative that there’s a bunch of reckless criminals out on the border.”

The UCP did not respond to a Facebook message from The Post requesting comment and did not respond to a phone inquiry.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman distanced the agency from the militias in a statement to The Post, saying the agency “does not endorse private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands” and warning that “interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.”

However, some of the UCP’s videos show Border Patrol agents arriving to take away migrants who have been stopped by militia members. One of its members, Mark Cheney, told BuzzFeed News that Border Patrol officers are “happy we’re here. … We have a direct line to the local outpost.”

Read more:

Report: U.S. Navy investigates after finding hidden camera in women’s restroom on ship

Tiger attacks a keeper at the Topeka Zoo

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From The Washington Post

The Washington Post
The Washington Post
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon