New Mexico militia leader boasted of assassination training: FBI

FBI says it was told that militia leader Larry Hopkins said his group trained to kill Obama, Clinton and Soros.

    Larry Mitchell Hopkins appears in a police booking photo taken at the Dona Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico, US, April 20, 2019 [Handout/Dona Ana County Detention Center]
    Larry Mitchell Hopkins appears in a police booking photo taken at the Dona Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico, US, April 20, 2019 [Handout/Dona Ana County Detention Center]

    Larry Hopkins's arrest on Saturday came amid an uproar over videos his New Mexico-based militia group posted online, some of which showed camouflaged militiamen surrounding and detaining hundreds of migrants who had crossed the US-Mexico border.

    The FBI arrested Hopkins on charges of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, an infraction that could carry a 10-year sentence. 

    When Hopkins appeared in court on Monday, a court affidavit revealed that witnesses told the FBI in 2017 that the militia leader said his group, the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), trained to assassinate former US President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and Hungarian-American philanthropist and billionaire George Soros.

    Hopkins pleaded not guilty to the charges on Monday. His attorney, Kelly O'Connell, said the charges were unrelated to UCP's actions at the border.

    "This is not even dealing with what's going on right here," O'Connell said.

    'Fascist militia'

    The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other critics accuse the UCP of being a "fascist militia" whose members illegally detain and kidnap migrants by impersonating law enforcement. 

    The UCP has claimed that it has assisted US Border Patrol by detaining 5,600 migrants in New Mexico in the last two months, Reuters reported.

    181117040756675

    UCP members, many of whom have served in the US military, take turns living in a camping trailer close to the border near Sunland Park, New Mexico and patrolling a eight-kilometre section of the border, much of it without a fence. 

    Armed with rifles and wearing camouflage uniforms with the group's eagle insignia, the group has posted dozens of videos showing the volunteers instructing migrant families to sit and wait until Border Patrol agents arrive. 

    The group has been accused of detaining women and children at gunpoint, a claim it denies.

    FBI Special Agent David Gabriel said in a criminal complaint that in October 2017 the agency received reports a militia was being run out of Hopkins's home in Flora Vista, New Mexico.

    When agents entered the home they collected nine firearms, ranging from pistols to rifles, Hopkins was illegally in possession of owing to at least one prior felony conviction, according to the complaint.

    On Tuesday, UCP said it would comply with a request to move its base camp in New Mexico, but the group said it plans to relocate its operation to a nearby site. 

    "We have to move our camp," Jim Benvie, UCP spokesman, told Reuters by phone. "We have options in the same area to go to." 

    The decision came after Union Pacific Corp, which owns the railway track next to wear the group camped, said UCP did not have permission to be on its property and that the group's members had trespassed on the company's lands to get to their camp. 

    'Conspiracy theories'

    Hopkins's arrest comes at a time when militia groups across the country have been caught up in high-profile legal cases, including several stemming from alleged plots to kill Muslims. 

    181210211443443

    On January 22, four people - three men and a high school student - were arrested while allegedly travelling to Islamberg, New York, to carry out an attack on the Muslim community.

    On January 24, two members of an Illinois-based militia pleaded guilty after firebombing a Minnesota mosque, attempting to bomb a reproductive healthcare clinic and armed robberies, among other charges.

    The Alabama-based hate monitor Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) classifies militia groups as a subset of "anti-government extremists".

    In 2018, the SPLC identified 216 active militia groups nationwide.

    Hopkins's UCP is one of many militia groups concentrated on the US-Mexico border, where such groups have detained migrants and used violence in the past.

    "The [UCP] group vilifies immigrants and regularly espouses rhetoric and conspiracy theories about a supposed migrant 'invasion' of the United States," the SPLC said in a recent statement. 

    190104163142319

    During the 2018 midterm election campaign period, US President Donald Trump deployed similar rhetoric, referring to a US-bound caravan of migrants and refugees as an "invasion".

    "The UCP and similar groups have mobilised in response to Trump's rhetoric about the border, and they often mirror his rhetoric to their supporters," the SPLC statement said.

    "Most of the more established militias are taking little or no part in border-related activities at this time." 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies