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The FBI has arrested the head of a vigilante militia group that has repeatedly filmed itself holding migrant border crossers at gunpoint in New Mexico.  Larry Mitchell Hopkins, the leader of the far-right, pro-Trump group calling itself United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), allegedly rounded up and held asylum seekers at gun point while posing as US Border Patrol Agents.  Videos posted on social media showed members of Hopkins’s militia pursuing migrants in New Mexico’s desert west of El Paso, Texas, holding them at gunpoint and coordinating their arrests with U.S. Border Patrol agents.

UCP and Hopkins claim to work alongside Border Patrol, though the agency has denied working with UCP.  A Border Patrol official released a statement that “U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not endorse private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands.  Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.”

Mitchell, 69, of Flora Vista in northern New Mexico, was indicted on a charge of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.  The charge doesn’t specifically relate to Hopkins’ activities at the border but rather to a federal investigation from 2017.   According to court documents, in November 2017, FBI agents visited Hopkins Flora Vista home after learning he previously claimed the group was training to assassinate Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  They found Hopkins was in possession of nine firearms and ammunition.  He had three prior felony convictions dating back to 1996, including impersonating a policee officer in the state of Oregon in 2006.  If convicted on the charge in the indictment, Hopkins faces a maximum penalty of ten years of imprisonment, according to prosecutors.

Federal officials have not commented on the timing of the charges against Hopkins for offenses committed in Nov. 2017.  NPR reporter Mallory Falk said “It’s a group of armed civilians often dressed in military fatigues. They’ve been camped out in Sunland Park, N.M., which is a small community very close to the U.S.-Mexico border. And they’ve been stopping migrant families that they’re encountering crossing the border who are trying to come into the U.S. to claim asylum. They’ve been stopping those families, telling them to sit on the ground, and then calling Border Patrol, and Border Patrol then comes in and apprehends those families.”  Falk said that Mitchell’s attorney suggested that state officials want to stop the group’s border activities and are using charges that are a year-and-a-half old to put pressure on them.

Hopkins’ attorney, Kelly O’Connell, said that the militia group believes it is aiding an overstretched Border Patrol.  “They generally think that Border Patrol is spread too thin and that there are gaps in the system or there’s literal gaps in the fence,” said O’Connell. “They think they believe that they are helping to enforce the law of America.”  The group has had an encampment in the area since November 2018, and claims to have detained 3,000 migrants in all.

 

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