United Constitutional Patriots
United Constitutional Patriots is a right-wing unofficial militia group based in Flora Vista in northern New Mexico, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), operating primarily in the southern part of the state detaining alleged illegal immigrants. It came to national attention in the United States by April 2019. The governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham, released a statement indicating the vigilantes have no legal right to detain people entering the US. The head of UCP is Larry Mitchell Hopkins who uses the nom de plume Johnny Horton, Jr.
The group and its actions
Jim Benvie, a spokesman for the group, said in April 2019 they were present in New Mexico "to support the Border Patrol and show the public the reality of the border." The group intends to remain in the area until the border wall known as the Trump wall has been built, or Congress passes stronger immigration laws to make seeking asylum more difficult. The UCP does not consider itself to be a militia, but has a number of militia-like characteristics.
It runs an online radio show on which its members offer support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, the claim the supposed "deep state" is acting against President Donald Trump. The SPLC has documented other rumours and conspiracy theories the group espouses, such as the migrant caravans being an invading army, a means of Muslim militants gaining entry into the US or that the caravans are funded by George Soros. UCP has a rivalry with other armed groups on the border. Horton has said his group is armed for their own self-defense.
In mid-April 2019, a video was released online of the group detaining 200 migrants at gunpoint on the US-Mexico border near Sunland Park, New Mexico. This was not the first video the group posted online concerning its activities; it was part of a series extending over several months. The group's patrols, which began the previous February, hold migrants until law enforcement arrives. The group has had an encampment in the area since November 2018, and claims to have detained 3,000 migrants in all. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes the UCP is a product of the "vile racism" of the Trump administration that "has emboldened white nationalists and fascists to flagrantly violate the law."
The group's claim that it is performing "citizen's arrests" has been dismissed by Peter Simonson, the executive director of ACLU in New Mexico, because they are allowable only for a felony. Illegal entry to the country, according to Simonson, is legally classed only as a misdemeanor. Hector Balderas, the attorney general of New Mexico, has said: "These individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement." Its PayPal and GoFundMe accounts, used for donations, were cut around this time because those online outlets have a policy of not allowing their financial services to be used by organizations which promote hate or violence.
The people living at the campsite, on or accessing land owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, were removed by the authorities on April 23. Benvie indicated that the group would not end its detention of migrants following Hopkins arrest two days earlier.
Larry Mitchell Hopkins
Hopkins has many criminal convictions. In Klamath County, Oregon, in 2006, Hopkins was found guilty of felony firearms offences. He pleaded no contest to the charge of impersonating a police officer. He was sentenced to 60 days' imprisonment and three years' probation, but disappeared after his release from prison. At the time of his arrest, he claimed to be working directly under President George W. Bush. His uniform, similar to a police officer's, had a "Special Agent" emblem on it, but the precise nature of his claimed investigations were never consistent. An earlier felony involving Hopkins occurred in Michigan in 1996
The FBI visited his New Mexico home in 2017 after they received reports his group was training in the state's northwest to assassinate Hillary Clinton, President Obama and George Soros "because of these individuals support" of the Antifa movement, he is said to have claimed. These details were later stated in an affidavit from a FBI special agent, but Hopkins lawyer Kelly O’Connell said her client had indicated these details were untrue. The FBI agents saw about ten firearms which Hopkins said belonged to his common-law wife Fay Sanders Murphy. They seized at least nine firearms for use as evidence, including a 12-gauge shotgun. At this time, Hopkins’ home was the base for about 20 members of UCP. The FBI has not said why it did not bring charges against Hopkins in 2017.
On April 20, 2019, Hopkins was arrested by the FBI in Sunland Park on the grounds that, as a felon, he was in illegal possession of firearms. "This is a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families," Attorney General Balderas said in a statement.
Hopkins appeared in Federal District Court on April 22 charged with being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. He was indicted by a grand jury on these charges on April, the office of the U.S Attorney General said on April 26. Preliminary and detention hearing were scheduled for April 29 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but a bomb threat resulted in the court having to be cleared moments before the hearing. Hopkins pled guilty to "being a felon in possession of a firearm" on January 2, 2020. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison.
- Romero, Simon (April 18, 2019). "Militia in New Mexico Detains Asylum Seekers at Gunpoint". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
- Hernandez, Salvador; Flores, Adolfo (April 19, 2019). "A Militia Group Detained Hundreds Of Migrants At The Border At Gunpoint". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
- "Militia detains migrants at gunpoint along the US-Mexico border". BBC News. April 19, 2019. Retrieved April 21, 2019.
- Epstein, Kayla (April 21, 2019). "An armed militia was 'detaining' migrants at the border. The FBI arrested its leader". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
- "SPLC answers questions about antigovernment extremists who detain migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border". Southern Poverty Law Center. April 23, 2019. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
- Weill, Kelly (April 18, 2019). "QAnon-Loving Border Militia Is Run by Ex-Con Who Says He Talks to Trump". The Daily Beast. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
- Martin, Nick R. (November 15, 2018). "Caravan paranoia is tearing the border militia movement apart". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
- Hay, Andrew (April 19, 2019). "ACLU Condemns 'Vigilantes' Who Are Allegedly Detaining Migrants On The Border". HuffPost. Reuters. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
- Barnes, Tom (April 20, 2019). "Armed vigilantes illegally detaining migrants on US border after being emboldened by Trump, human rights group says". The Independent. London. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
- Hernandez, Salvador; Flores, Adolfo (April 19, 2019). "'They Killed Us': Crowdfunding Sites Have Cut Off An Armed Militia Detaining Migrants At The Border". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
- On the same theme see Devega, Chauncey (April 24, 2019). "Right-wing border militias are the shock troops of Donald Trump's authoritarian movement". Salon. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
- Flores, Adolfo; Hernandez, Salvador (April 23, 2019). "An Armed Militia Detaining Migrants At The Border Has Been Forced Out Of Its Campsite". Buzzfeed News. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
- Martin, Nick R. (February 15, 2019). "Here's New Mexico Militia Leader Johnny Horton Jr.'s Bizarre Arrest Record". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
- Attanasio, Cedar (April 23, 2019). "Leader of Border Militia Claimed to Be Training to Assassinate Clinton, Obama and Soros, FBI Says". Time. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
- Romero, Simon (April 22, 2019). "F.B.I. Was Told That Militia in New Mexico Planned to Kill Obama and Clinton". The New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
- Arciga, Julia (April 22, 2019). "New Mexico Border Militia Leader Allegedly Said Group Planned to Assassinate Obama, Clinton". The Daily Beast. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
- Romero, Simon (April 20, 2019). "F.B.I. Arrests Leader of Right-Wing Militia That Detained Migrants in New Mexico". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 21, 2019.
- McNamara, Audrey (April 20, 2019). "FBI Arrests New Mexico Border Militia Leader Larry Mitchell Hopkins". The Daily Beast. Retrieved April 21, 2019.
- Lee, Morgan (April 26, 2019). "Federal grand jury indicts leader of armed border group". ABC News. Associated Press. Retrieved April 27, 2019.
- Silva, Daniella (April 22, 2019). "Leader of militia detaining migrants allegedly said group trained to assassinate Soros, Clinton, Obama, complaint says". NBC News. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
- Hudetz, Mary (April 29, 2019). "No bail for border militia group leader on weapons charge". Associated Press. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
- "Leader of armed border group pleads guilty to gun charge". Associated Press. January 2, 2020. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
- Phil Helsel (April 17, 2020). "'Commander' of New Mexico group that detained migrants near border is sentenced". NBC News. Retrieved April 17, 2020.