Univision spent a day with a pro-Trump militia patrolling the border. Its leader was arrested on Saturday.
A few days after Univision published a video in which members of the United Constitutional Patriots militia boasted of detaining Central American migrants on behalf of the Border Patrol, the FBI arrested its leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins for illegal possession of firearms. The militia were camped on the New Mexico border, patrolling with AR-15 assault rifles.
SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico.- Three self-declared “patriots” leave on patrol to make sure that no undocumented migrants are crossing this stretch of the New Mexico border. All wear military garb, faces covered with ski masks. One of them takes up the rearguard, wearing an extra layer; a tactical camouflage suit with the appearance of Chewbacca, the tall and hairy Star Wars warrior.
They communicate by radio. One man, with a telescopic sight mounted on his rifle, lies face down on the ground. “Clean,” he tells his teammates and the other two continue stealthily walking with their AR-15s at the ready.
The group calls itself the ‘United Constitutional Patriots’. They are stationed at a point on the New Mexico border where the metal fence ends and gives way to a more natural border barrier; a large desert mountain. More than a month ago they set up camp, with tents and a motor home whihc serves as the office of its commander, Johnny Horton Jr., an unkempt and stout 69-year-old, who says he is three quarters Cherokee Native American.
” We want to protect the American people from this invasion ‘cause it is an invasion. Anybody says isn’t, come down here to the border and see … Watch the hell the Border Patrol is going through,” Horton explains, squeezed behind a small table in the motor home piled with an assortment of items from a ziploc bag with spaghetti and tomato sauce, two packs of cigarettes, a pot of garlic powder, a clock without a battery, and a gas lamp. On a bed are several rifles and on one side, a gas stove is lit for no apparent reason.
“We’re not here in any way to hurt anybody. Sure we’re armed, that’s for our own protection, ‘cause we don’t know who is coming across that border. Our… our mission is to just stop what’s going on,” he adds, saying they operate out of a desire to support President Donald Trump, the Constitution and their fellow citizens. They claim to have arrested more than 2,000 people in just one week, including families with children.
Whenever they stop someone crossing the border without documents, they call the Border Patrol by radio to deliver them into federal custody.
Horton alleges that the migrant caravans include rapists and child kidnappers, who, while they may not be drug cartel members but nonetheless represent “an armed force.” He says they have word of another caravan on ist way with an estimated 670 people. “It’s sickening how they wanna come here and take over our country,” he adds, warning “this could end in a war”.
Outside the motorhome, a couple of people cross the border from Mexico, but they stop short when they see the militiamen with their AR-15, and run back over to the Mexican side.
The patrol takes up guard behind some rocks. “I’ll make sure it’s safe and then we’ll keep walking,” says a man who calls himself ‘Viper’, a 53-year-old U.S. veteran who recalls his soldiering in Afghanistan, but asks not to be identified by his real name. He’s been with the group for less than a week, and says he has spent 38 hours without sleep, all because he wants to protect his five daughters from the “armed immigrants who are coming.” Viper then loads his AR-15, begins walking and asks his partner to keep watch.
The camp of the United Constitutional Patriots is in the middle of the arid desert of Sunland Park. Every so often during the day, a deafening freight train passes by and cars arrive from militia supporters with 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 that perimeter, in the closest communities, about three minutes by car, no-one seems to know them, or have any idea about a possible invasion. Sunland Park police bumped into them by chance on one of their patrols but paid them little notice. Neighbors have not filed any complaint about their presence, at least not prior to Univision’s March visit.