Larry Hopkins, 69, also known as Johnny Horton, was arrested in Sunland Park, New Mexico, on a federal complaint charging him with being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, according to a statement by the FBI.
“We’re not worried about it, he’s going to be cleared,” said Jim Benvie, a spokesman for the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), an armed civilian group that has detained more than 5,600 illegal aliens in past two months.
Benvie blamed the arrest on political pressure from New Mexico’s Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who ordered an investigation into the group after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) accused the UCP of illegally detaining the illegal aliens.
The ACLU advocates for a range of far-left causes, including the defunding of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Hopkins is the “national commander” of the UCP, which has had about a half-dozen members camped out on a rotating basis near Sunland Park since late February.
The UCP describes itself as a “patriot group,” helping the U.S. Border Patrol cope with record numbers of Central American families crossing the border seeking asylum.
“We are here to uphold the Constitution of The United States of America. We uphold this cause against all enemies both foreign and domestic, which shall infringe upon the rights of the citizens given by the Constitution,” states the group’s description on Facebook.
UCP members dress in camouflage and carry rifles for self-defense.
Videos posted online by the group show members telling migrants to stop, sit down, and wait for agents to arrive.
Crowdfunding sites PayPal and GoFundMe on April 19 barred the group from collecting donations, citing policies not to promote hate or violence. The ACLU, without evidence, called the UCP a “fascist militia.”
“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,” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement about Hopkins’s arrest. On April 18, Balderas advised the group to not take the authority reserved for law enforcement into their own hands.
Hopkins was previously arrested in Oregon in 2006 on suspicion of impersonating a police officer and being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a far-left group best known for its controversial hate-watch list.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement it doesn’t support citizens taking law enforcement into their own hands and instead, encourages the public to be its eyes and ears on the border.
Benvie said the UCP was doing just that and has the support of local Border Patrol and police. Mostly military veterans, UCP members carry weapons for self-defense and at no time pointed guns at migrants, as they have been accused of, Benvie said.
Despite having funding sources cut off, Benvie said the group’s online support had swelled since it came under attack this week. Its Facebook followers have more than doubled since April 17 to almost 5,000 people.
Benvie said the group would probably leave if told to by state police; however, if the order violated the group’s constitutional rights, the UCP would sue the state of New Mexico.
“There’s not going to be any standoffs, this isn’t the Bundy Ranch,” Benvie said, in reference to a 2014 armed confrontation in Nevada.
The United States is facing a surge of migrants from Mexico and Central America unseen in years. The number of illegal crossings is on pace to reach 1 million this year. Most of the migrants are traveling with family members to exploit a legal loophole in the asylum system that forces immigration authorities to release the migrants into the United States in 20 days or less.
The White House and Republicans in Congress are pursuing efforts to fix the asylum loophole and the immigration system more broadly.
Reuters contributed to this report.