The FBI arrested the leader of the militia group, Larry Mitchell Hopkins, on Saturday, for “illegal possession of firearms”, a few days after a video was published in which members of his organization detained Central American migrants to hand them over to the Border Patrol, something that the law reserves to federal authorities. Days ago Univision Noticias spent a day with these self-defined “patriots” who describe themselves as sympathizers of President Donald Trump. It is not clear yet if the arrest is related to the aforementioned video. This is the history of the group:
SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico.– The time for patrols has arrived and there are three “patriots” who go out to watch that no undocumented immigrant crosses the border at that point. They all wear military clothing and have their faces covered. But one of them wears one more layer: that of a camouflage tactical suit that makes him look like a kind of Chewbacca taking care of the rear of his companions from a hill.
They communicate by radio. The man with his rifle with a telescopic sight lies face down on the ground, further back. “Clean,” he says to his companions and the other two continue walking stealthily with their AR-15s firmly in their hands.
The group calls itself the ‘United Constitutional Patriots’. They are stationed at a point on the border between New Mexico and Mexico, right where the metal wall ends and gives way to a natural border wall, a large desert mountain. More than a month ago they set up camp, with tents in which they sleep and a motor home where the organization’s national commander, Johnny Horton Jr., a 69-year-old paunchy man whose real name is Larry Mitchell Hopkins, is most comfortable, unkempt, portly and claims to be three-quarters of Cherokee blood.
“We want to protect the Americans from this invasion, because this is an invasion. And everyone who thinks not, come and see what we see and the hell that the Border Patrol is going through, ”he explained minutes before the Horton patrol, squeezed between the chair and the small table of the mobile home crammed with things, from a ziploc with spaghetti in tomato sauce, up to two packs of cigarettes, a pot of garlic powder, a watch without a battery, a gas lamp. Further on a bed are a few rifles and to one side, a stove in the small kitchen is on for no reason.
“Our mission is to stop what is happening (at the border), it is totally our mission: to stop these people who are crossing, many are coming illegally (…) This is not a game, friends, we have an invasion on the way ”, He added, claiming that they do it for free and because they support President Donald Trump – and they say they are supported by him – the Constitution and their fellow Americans. They claim that they had detained more than 2,000 people in just one week, including entire families with children.
Horton explains from his mobile home that those who come in the caravans are people who rape and steal children, who are not drug cartels but “an armed force that is on the way”, of about 670 people “that we know of.” He believes that if they managed to enter “this could end in a war.” That’s why they stop anyone who crosses the border without documents, radio the Border Patrol and turn them into custody.
Out of that motor home the action begins for the militiamen. A couple of people walk across from Mexico, but stop short when they see the men with their AR-15s. Without much thought, they run back to the Mexican side.
The patrols take cover behind rocks. “I’ll make sure it’s safe and then we’ll keep walking,” says Viper, as one of them identified himself, a 53-year-old veteran whom the tour reminds him of his days as a soldier in Afghanistan. She has been supporting this group for less than a week, 38 hours without sleep, and she says she does it because she wants to take care of her five daughters of “armed immigrants who are on their way.” Viper then charges his AR, walks and asks his partner to watch: “I see them running, warn,” he says and asks one of the reporters:
“You speak Spanish, right?”
“Yes,” I replied, wondering as to what they would need me for in that setting.
“Okay, good,” the militiaman assured and kept walking.
“I see someone over there,” I whispered to myself.
“Yes, it’s a woman washing clothes,” replied the militiaman, who could see everything through the metal wall.
It had been half an hour of patrolling and for now, just for now, there was nothing more to report.
What if I have seen who?
The United Constitutional Patriots camp is in the middle of the arid, cobbled desert of Sunland Park. Every so often during the day, a deafening freight train passes behind and carts of supporters arrive and bring them a box of Dunkin Donuts for breakfast, or food for lunch and dinner. One of them wears a cap with the slogan: “Trump makes America great.”
But outside of that perimeter, in the closest communities about three minutes by car, nobody knows them, They have not seen them or even know that they are deployed there to protect them from an alleged invasion. In fact, the Sunland Park police found them by chance on one of their patrols, but they have not asked them to leave because, at least as of this interview in March, the neighbors had not made any complaints.
The United Constitutional Patriots did not enter the map of hate groups detected in 2018 by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that monitors the action of these hate groups and extremists in the United States. However, their speech and the way they act resemble what the SPLC classifies as anti-government movements, which years ago did not have an ally in the US presidency, but now have someone “to believe in in Trump. ”, Which defends rights that they consider basic, such as the possession of firearms, and that is why the speeches – by the militiamen and the president – sound so similar.
The SPLC claims that these anti-government groups spent much of the past year preparing for an alleged invasion across the southern border. They justified it in the different caravans of migrants that arrived from Guatemala and Honduras to the United States.
“The fantasies of the militias cling to cataloging the caravans as an invading army and not as a group of a few thousand desperate people fleeing poverty and violence”, parses the SPLC on a article published on its website in February.
For 2018, the SPLC identified 1,020 hate groups in the country: 612 belonged to this anti-government current and 216 were militias, according to its recently published report. Intelligence Report. The organization assures that since the 2016 election, the president’s speech has excited the movement and fueled its fears and paranoias in two main adversaries: Muslims and immigrants.
Johnny Horton talks mostly about the seconds.
From singer to militia commander
Johnny Horton Jr. was not named by his parents. They called him Larry Mitchell Hopkins, and that’s what he was called until he began performing old country music songs, including hits by the real Johnny Horton, a renowned country musician whose parents worked in migrant fields picking fruit and cotton, several of his colleagues show. biographies.
But Horton, the real one, died in 1960 in a traffic accident. And Horton, the militiaman, since 2007 – approximately – took hold of that name and uses it in life and in your Youtube channel, where he sings songs by others under the artistic alias of Johnny Horton Jr.
Like Larry M. Hopkins, this 60-year-old had some trouble with the law in November 2006. He was arrested in Klamath County, Oregon, for impersonating a police officer and carrying firearms and showing them to a group of young people, as read in the police report. That day, he wore a black uniform with rank stars on either side of his shirt collar. He also wore two alleged badges, one on his chest that read “agent” and another inside a leather lining – as in police films – that read “fugitive recovery agent.” He also showed that to the police officers who responded to the incident, to whom he told that he worked for the federal government “directly under George Bush’s orders,” that he was on his way to find a group of colleagues to dismantle a methamphetamine laboratory and that it had operations in Afghanistan.
But when checking Hopkins’ criminal history, cops discovered he had “numerous criminal charges.” Hopkins had already commented to them that “he was not allowed to possess firearms.” He was handcuffed and arrested.
“It was nothing serious,” he replied when asked about his past by phone. “You are talking about 15 years ago,” added this white man by detracting from what happened.
“They have no authority to arrest”
Viper and Stringer already line the border wall. In their patrols they assure that they have not had to fire a single bullet, not until now: “Our weapons are for our safety and yours,” says the first. And although the commander refused to detail for security reasons how many militiamen make up this group, Viper assured that there are about twenty people.
“Do they copy me at the base?” Says Viper. Border Patrol is here, we have movement to the west.
At first glance, nothing moves more than them and an approaching Border Patrol van that parks blocking their path.
“Hey, I’d like to talk to you,” the agent tells Viper.
“Yes, sir,” replies the militiaman.
“Okay, on this side or the other?”
“Okay, guys, we appreciate your efforts, do you understand that?”
“We thought you were foreigners, you know?” That as number one. Number two, these lands are federal territory. When you walk around here, you are really interfering with our operations, you are in our way, do you understand? Tell your commander that we appreciate the efforts, but that this area has a lot of operation.
The mission was aborted. Viper and Stringer walked back to base camp, without immigrants and being scolded.
“They always tell us that (the agents). But we work with them, ”Viper replies.
The Border Patrol responded in an email that they know that these citizens and veterans “want to help protect the border” and that they often radio them to hand over immigrants they have detained in that area. However, they clarify that they “do not have the authority to arrest or enforce immigration laws.”
“CBP chased us away,” Viper told his companions upon arriving at the camp. “We were in his sector. They were very upset that that happened. We must have turned on some of their sensors. “
“Viper, 911, the commander needs you,” one of the militiawomen interrupted in an orderly tone from the motor home.
“Wait a second,” he replies, wanting to finish narrating his patrol.
—911, the commander needs you! – she repeats louder and he obeys.
“Be careful with how much information you give (to the reporters),” the commander orders him.
This story was made with the support of the International Women’s Media Foundation and its Adelante Latin American Reporting Initiative.