The alleged leader of an armed militia group that has intercepted and detained migrant families along the southern border in New Mexico was charged with federal firearms offenses on Monday.
Larry Mitchell Hopkins, 69, of Flora Vista, N.M., appeared in federal court in Las Cruces after his arrest on Saturday on charges of illegally possessing firearms as a felon.
A criminal complaint filed by the FBI states that Hopkins, also known as Johnny Horton Jr., was in possession of nine firearms and ammunition in his northern New Mexico home in Nov. 2017. He had three prior felony convictions dating back to 1996, including impersonating a peace officer in the state of Oregon in 2006, according to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney's office.
Hopkins' arrest is not tied to his involvement with the border militia.
Reporter Mallory Falk of NPR member station KRWG told All Things Considered that Hopkins leads a group called United Constitutional Patriots:
"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."
Hopkins' attorney, Kelly O'Connell, told Falk 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."
A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, in an emailed statement, said "U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not endorse or condone 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."
Falk reported that federal officials are not commenting on the timing of the charges against Hopkins for offenses committed in Nov. 2017. But she said that his 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.
The FBI began investigating Hopkins after receiving reports that the United Constitutional Patriots were targeting Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton and George Soros for assassination.
Hopkins is no stranger to investigators who track right-wing activities. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Hopkins, using his pseudonym Horton, claims to have advised President Trump on border security.
Hopkins is expected to enter a plea of not guilty at a bond hearing next week in Albuquerque.
Hopkins faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in imprison if convicted.
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