An Armed Militia Detaining Migrants At The Border Has Been Forced Out Of Its Campsite
"I think they are, at least for now, a thing of the past."
A right-wing "patriot" group that came under scrutiny last week after detaining hundreds of migrants at gunpoint near the southern border was removed from its campsite on Tuesday, authorities said, just days after its leader was arrested.
The United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), which had been patrolling a remote stretch of the New Mexico desert from a base camp on property owned by the Union Pacific Railroad company, was ordered to leave the area immediately, said Javier Guerra, police chief for the nearby city of Sunland Park.
The railroad company had originally given the group until Friday to vacate the premises, but on Tuesday decided to expedite the militia's removal, Guerra said. Officers from the Sunland Park Police Department, New Mexico State Police, and Border Patrol were present as the group was evicted from the property.
"It was a pretty good coordinated effort," Guerra told BuzzFeed News.
In videos posted online, members of the group were seen carrying weapons, wearing badges that resemble those by law enforcement, and detaining migrants. In at least one video, members of the group identify themselves as police in Spanish to migrants as they are ordered to halt.
One video posted last week showed the group detaining nearly 300 people, and one member of the group can be heard telling another not to aim their weapon at the migrants.
The militia, which had raised thousands of dollars online, appeared to be in disarray after the group's leader was arrested two days ago, Guerra said.
"They're pretty pissed off at Larry Hopkins," Guerra said referring to the militia leader. "They decided it was time for them to go back to their homes. I'll be surprised if they stay here in the area. I think they are, at least for now, a thing of the past."
Tim McMahan, a spokesperson for Union Pacific, said in a statement the company posted signs on site so visitors were aware exactly where the company's property begins and ends. The militia, McMahan said, was not given permission to camp on or access Union Pacific property, and disputed that the campsite was on the company's property.
"They have trespassed on our property to access this camp," McMahan said. "While we cannot make them move their camp, we have asked them to not trespass on our property."
The FBI arrested the group's leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins, 69, Saturday on a federal complaint charging him with being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. He made his first court appearance Monday.
Mark Cheney, who identified himself as a commander of the group and organized fundraising efforts for the operation, told BuzzFeed News there were about six members operating in the area as of last week, but that volunteers have come in and out of the effort in the past few months.
Video captured by an NBC reporter Tuesday showed members of law enforcement telling members of the group to vacate the area. As officers took down tents and packed up their belongings, one of the men, identified as “Viper,” said the militia would move the camp to another area near the border.
Jim Benvie, a spokesperson for the United Constitutional Patriots, did not respond to messages from BuzzFeed News, but said on Facebook that despite the order the group would not end its detention of migrants at the border.
"We’re going to be in the area," Benvie said. "We have not yet decided where the camp is going to be yet, but we’re still going to be out there."
He also addressed the arrest of Hopkins, also known as Johnny Horton Jr., referring to the charges as irrelevant to the group’s mission.
“Anything that they’re reporting on, that may have happened 20 years ago or two years ago or prior to us patrolling the border. None of the organization that is patrolling the border has anything to do with that,” he said in the video.
Benvie blamed the media, “lefties,” and Democrats for the setbacks that the group has recently faced, including being removed from their campsite, the arrest of the group's leader, and online payment companies cutting off their fundraising efforts.
“All armies that could be are attacking what we’re doing,” he said. “This is organized. This is funded. We started showing too much.”