COLUMBUS, N.M. -They'd been keeping watch near the border for weeks, drawing little notice as they shared live videos from their desert outpost.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, with the assistance of the Sunland Park Police Department, arrested Larry Mitchell Hopkins on April 20 on a charge that he unlawfully had nine firearms and ammunition in his possession in his residence in San Juan County, New Mexico, in November 2019.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico wrote Lujan Grisham and state Attorney General Hector Balderas on Thursday, urging them to investigate the incidents, including what it said was the detention of almost 300 people on Tuesday near Sunland Park. And now a leader of the group is facing charges of illegal weapons and ammunition possession brought by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Court documents unsealed Monday provide new details about United Constitutional Patriots and its leadership.
Their leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins, has now been arrested in connection to a 2017 raid of his home.
"Information also was conveyed that the group had its "base" at Hopkins's residence, was supported by approximately 20 members, and was armed with AK-47 rifles and other firearms", the affidavit says.
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The FBI were apparently first made aware of the group United Constitutional Patriots in 2017.
"We are detaining people but not illegally".
However, some of the group's videos showed Border Patrol agents arriving to take away migrants who had been stopped by militia members.
"We're always armed. We don't point our weapons at people". He said the arrest "indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not vigilantes".
The ACLU accused them of kidnapping.
"We're not pointing guns at people, we're not putting anybody in jeopardy", he said, "including the illegal immigrants".
New Mexico's governor said state and local authorities were looking into the matter. "Menacing or threatening migrant families and asylum-seekers is absolutely unacceptable and must cease", she wrote on Twitter.
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Hopkins has faced weapons-related charges before, according to court documents.
In 2006, he was arrested in OR on charges of impersonating a police officer and being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to an incident report cited by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Hopkins is barred from possessing weapons because of three felony convictions.
Hopkins could face up to 10 years in prison if he is found guilty of the new charge.
Hopkins was booked into the Dona Ana County detention center in Las Cruces and it wasn't immediately known if he had an attorney who could comment on the allegations. Prosecutors stated that Hopkins remains in custody pending a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing.
As word spread about the group's activities, several websites used for crowdfunding banned United Constitutional Patriots from their platforms.
Last week, PayPal and GoFundMe suspended UCP's accounts.
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A spokesman for the United Patriots insisted Hopkins was not armed while at the camp and served as the camp's cook.