Federal authorities have arrested Larry Mitchell Hopkins, aka Johnny Horton Jr., the leader of the United Constitutional Patriots, an armed militia that detained migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border last week before turning the group over to Border Patrol agents.
Hopkins, a felon, was arrested for the illegal possession of firearms, though the New York Times pointed out that federal authorities will now be able to pursue more serious charges, such as impersonating a police officer and kidnapping. (Over a decade ago, Hopkins pleaded guilty to impersonating a police officer and unlawful possession of a firearm.) Saturday’s arrest also presents an opportunity for the FBI to investigate the activities of the UCP. “The arrest by the F.B.I. indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not armed vigilantes,” said Hector Balderas, New Mexico Attorney General, at a press conference.
Balderas last week was made aware of the UCP’s activities at the border, which ensnared hundreds of migrants in the southeastern corner of the state, not far from El Paso, Texas. The militia came attired in military fatigues and face masks. Many members of the UCP were armed with handguns. To a migrant unfamiliar with what Border Patrol officers look like, it would be nearly impossible to distinguish between who was actually an employee of the United States and who was merely posturing to be one. Video footage of militia detaining immigrants even recorded one of the UCP members identifying himself as Border Patrol.
While immigration authorities have issued statements denouncing militia efforts to enforce the southern U.S. border, The Daily Beast cited reports that suggest that the Border Patrol has been known to coordinate with private citizens who are acting as border militia. A spokesman from the UCP brushed off official statements from Border Patrol as formalities. In practice, he insisted that they worked well together. “We have great support within the Border Patrol. You can watch the videos if you disagree.” The spokesman denied that their members constituted a militia and instead described his group as a team of war veterans and former law enforcement agents who were simply helping to uphold Constitution, adding, “If Border Patrol didn’t want us here, if we were breaking laws, it’s plain and simple: we would not be here.”