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FBI arrests leader of ‘armed vigilantes’ that detained migrant families in New Mexico

FBI arrests leader of ‘armed vigilantes’ that detained migrant families in New Mexico
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—The FBI on Saturday arrested the leader of a right-wing militia that was detaining migrant families at gunpoint near the border in southern New Mexico, as the group faced a torrent of criticism for its tactics.

Hector Balderas, New Mexico’s attorney general, said federal agents had arrested the leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins, who had been operating under the alias Johnny Horton Jr. Balderas said in a statement that Hopkins was arrested on charges of firearms possession by a felon.

Jim Benvie, a spokesman for the militia, is seen near the US-Mexico border wall in Anapra, New Mexico on March 20, 2019. Benvie did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the arrest of leader Larry Mitchell Hopkins.  (PAUL RATJE / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

“This is a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families,” Balderas said. “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.”

The firearms charge against Hopkins is relatively minor. But it is likely the start of a deeper investigation into his activities and those of the militia, and opens the way for the authorities to bring more serious charges like kidnapping and impersonating a police officer or an employee of the United States.

Hopkins’ arrest comes as tensions rise over ultraconservative paramilitary groups operating along the southwestern border. Professed militias have a long history of targeting immigrants from Latin America, tracing back to the Ku Klux Klan’s creation of its own border patrol in the 1970s.

Record numbers of Central American migrants apprehended by federal authorities in recent months have been accompanied by a new surge in militia activity on the border.

This former taxi driver fled Honduras after gangs tried to take his life. Now in Canada, he says the ‘migrant caravan’ is misunderstood

The organization led by Hopkins, the United Constitutional Patriots, recently uploaded videos of armed members detaining children and their parents in a stretch of the New Mexico desert near El Paso, Texas, before handing the migrants over to the Border Patrol.

Political leaders in New Mexico, a state largely controlled by Democrats, responded with fury. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said that any mistreatment of asylum-seekers on the border was “unacceptable.” The state’s two Democratic senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, said in a statement that the actions of vigilante groups “cannot be tolerated.”

The American Civil Liberties Union denounced the militia’s actions in a letter Thursday, saying the actions amounted to kidnapping by “racist and armed vigilantes.”
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