Not satisfied with just detaining hundreds of immigrants at the border, a member of a heavily armed militia cited Adolf Hitler and suggested "lining them up and shooting them," according to a police report of the incident and a member of the group.
The jarring comment was made while members of the militia group known as the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP) observed several migrants crossing the US–Mexico border in New Mexico, prompting the man, who was already armed with a handgun, to run to his car and grab an AR-15 rifle.
"Why are we just apprehending them and not lining them up and shooting them?" Armando Delgado Gonzalez, 52, allegedly told a militia member known as "Viper." "We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber."
The following day, "Viper" — identified by police in the report as Steven Brant — reached out to Sunland Police to report the incident. Members of the UCP, he told police, asked Gonzalez to leave the group immediately.
The exchange was first reported by the Young Turks, which obtained the police report of the incident. The incident was verified to BuzzFeed News by a member of the group, who said the comments raised alarms within the militia and prompted them to contact police.
In a phone interview with BuzzFeed News, Gonzalez denied making the comments and said he left the New Mexico camp two days after the alleged incident.
"I never said that," he said. "That conversation never took place."
Gonzalez said he left feeling "frustrated" and "betrayed" by what he described as limits placed on the group and Border Patrol agents to stop immigrants from entering the US.
"I fought a war to fight for our rights, and this is what they do with it?" Gonzalez said. "If I was to haul an illegal in my vehicle I would get all sorts of charges dropped on me. Border Patrol ain't allowed to touch them. They're just letting them through."
Another member of the group, Jim Benvie, told BuzzFeed News the group decided to contact police because Gonzalez's comments "were a red flag."
"So we immediately asked him to leave," Benvie said. "None of us knew him. He just showed up at the border. When he started talking crazy, we made a decision that he had to go."
Gonzalez said he was aware that police were looking into the incident after being contacted by a law enforcement official, but he hasn't returned their calls and texts.
Known as the United Constitutional Patriots, the group is not the only paramilitary group to descend on the US–Mexico border to detain undocumented immigrants. Prompted by news reports of migrant caravans headed to the border and the Trump administration's push to send military personnel to the border, dozens of unregulated militias have called on members to help in the effort.
Militia groups, who often refer to themselves as part of the “Patriot” movement, have drawn a variety of supporters into their ranks over the years, including anti-government extremists, gun rights advocates, conspiracy supporters, and anti-immigration advocates.
Groups monitoring extremist organizations saw a resurgence in militia membership in 2008 after the election of Barack Obama as president, with many groups expressing anti-government views and goals. Some of those groups have remained active and, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, many have refocused their attention on “perceived adversaries” such as Muslims and immigrants.
According to documents obtained by Newsweek, the Defense Department estimated there were about 200 armed militia groups operating at the border at the end of 2018.
After months in New Mexico, however, United Constitutional Patriots caught national attention after video of their operations posted online suggested they were detaining hundreds of people crossing the border at gunpoint without authority.
Pictures and videos of the incidents showed members of the group in full camouflage gear and carrying rifles and handguns.
Reports of the incident raised concerns about the militia and prompted the New Mexico attorney general to rebuke the armed group.
Shortly afterward, the group issued an order to all members that they would no longer be carrying long guns during their operations at the border, only handguns, a "political" decision Benvie said was made to ease concerns of local officials.
Yet the group has continued to raise alarms. Its leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins — who went by the name Johnny Horton Jr. and was referred to as "commander" by members of the group — was recently arrested by the FBI for being a felon in possession of a gun.
According to court documents, Hopkins had come to the attention of federal officials in 2017 when they received information that the New Mexico resident had allegedly been training his group to assassinate President Obama, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and billionaire George Soros.
Last month, the United Constitutional Patriots were evicted from their campsite near the southern border that they had been using sporadically for months to detain migrants.
Now, Benvie said those who were at the border with the group are trying to distance themselves from UCP and forming their own organization. The new group has set up camp on a new site that he declined to identify for security reasons, he said.
Though he defended militia groups and their actions at the border, he said the new group would not be a militia, but a group of volunteers named the Guardian Patriots.
"Our mission is going to be really simple," Benvie said. "It's going to be citizen journalism. It's going to be assistance."
State officials however have publicly condemned the groups operating at the border.
"These individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement," New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement last month.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also expressed concern, and called on New Mexico's governor and attorney general to investigate the militia.
"Their actions undermine the legitimate efforts of our state’s law enforcement officials to keep New Mexico families safe and they erode community trust," attorneys for the civil rights organization said in a letter. "We cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum."