This week the New York Times and Guardian reported that a group of armed, white nationalist vigilantes calling itself the “United Constitutional Patriots” were coordinating with the United States Border Patrol to detain and hold at gunpoint groups of allegedly undocumented immigrants in southern New Mexico.
Videos posted by members of the group showed them appearing to falsely identify themselves as border patrol agents and threatening groups of helpless, kneeling migrants (including children) with semi-automatic weapons, after which they are seen contacting the Border Patrol. According to the group’s spokesman, Border Patrol agents were well aware of and tolerated the activities of this group, which the ACLU has characterized as a ”fascist militia organization.”
Private groups of individuals have no authority under any federal or state law to “detain” people they “think” are undocumented immigrants. Reports of the group’s thuggish activities prompted a sharp outcry by the ACLU and others, who demanded action be taken against these vigilantes by New Mexico’s Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham.
On Saturday, the FBI arrested the UCP’s leader, a convicted felon named Larry Hopkins, charging him with firearms violations.
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 was previously convicted in 2006 for impersonating a police officer. UCP Group members likewise acknowledge that they wear phony badges to fool immigrants into believing they possess the authority of law enforcement:
Speaking to BuzzFeed News, group member Mark Cheney said that the group would be “fools” not to be armed when interacting with immigrants. He also acknowledged that some group members wear badges that are similar to those worn by border patrol agents.
“If [immigrants] can’t tell the difference, that’s their problem,” Cheney told BuzzFeed
In addition to illegally kidnapping groups of people under the threat of force, the UCP, which maintains a strong presence on Facebook, also engages in conspiracy-mongering in order to spread public fear and misinformation about undocumented immigrants.
The group also peddles conspiracy theories and produces a radio show where members spread information about QAnon, and accuse migrants of associating with ISIS. Hopkins has also claimed that president Trump has personally asked him about “Muslim immigration.”
The group’s spokesman, Jim Benvie, blamed Saturday’s arrest of Hopkins on political pressure from Governor Grisham, and reiterated that the United States Border Patrol has been a willing partner to the group’s actions.
“There’s no question about whether or not we work with Border Patrol,” said Jim, a UCP spokesperson who declined to give his last name. “That’s all documented, and not just once. It’s documented hundreds and hundreds of times over in the videos that I post.”
Benvie claims that the UCP has assisted the Border Patrol in detaining as many as 5000 undocumented immigrants. The United States Customs and Border Protection agency responded with a statement that it did “not support citizens taking law enforcement into their own hands.” However, an undercover investigation conducted by Mother Jones suggested that the government willingly cooperates and provides information to such groups.
New Mexico attorney general Hector Balderas praised the FBI’s arrest of Hopkins:
“This is a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families,” Balderas wrote in a statement. “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.”
Hopkins is scheduled to appear for a hearing in the United States District Court in Las Cruces, New Mexico, on Monday.
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