Arrested border group leader makes first court appearance

New Mexico

The leader of a civilian militia group patrolling the southern border in New Mexico is still in custody after making his first court appearance Monday.

Larry Hopkins is expected to plead not guilty to federal gun charges. The 69-year-old was arrested Saturday after reports his group “The United Constitutional Patriots” were stopping migrants at gunpoint and detaining them before handing them over to Border Patrol.

Court documents say the group has been camped out in Sunland Park in southern New Mexico, very close to the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of the migrants crossing now are children.

On Monday outside the courtroom, his attorney said the group believes it’s just helping Border Patrol do their jobs.

“They believe that they are helping to enforce the laws of America on immigration,” said Kelly O’Connell, Hopkins’ defense attorney. “I mean that’s basically. It’s pretty simple.”

Hopkins is a convicted felon so he cannot own guns. The feds say he’s been previously convicted of at least three felonies, including impersonating a peace officer in Oregon in 2006. Court documents state Hopkins also allegedly threatened to kill several high-profile Democrats including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico is among those speaking out against the group’s actions, saying it’s kidnapping.

“These groups have actually gone to the lengths of holding people at gunpoint against their will, even overnight, even families,” said Peter Simonson, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Mexico.

Hopkins is expected back in court in Albuquerque on Monday and faces at least 10 years in prison.

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