A border vigilante who attracted worldwide attention for his group’s videos showing mass “arrests” of asylum seekers has pleaded guilty to a gun charge.
Larry Mitchell Hopkins, leader of the United Constitutional Patriots, pleaded guilty Thursday to being a felon in possession of a firearm. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
The charge itself dated back to 2017, when FBI agents visited Hopkins’ home and he admitted to being in possession of several firearms despite previous felony convictions.
But high-ranking officials in New Mexico zeroed in on Hopkins for another reason — the multiple shocking videos from his militia, United Constitutional Patriots, showing Hopkins and other men carrying rifles and “arresting” dozens of asylum seekers at a time at the U.S.-Mexico border.
On April 18, as the videos of the mass arrests spread across the web, the communications director for New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told colleagues in an email that state attorney general Hector Balderas “want[s] to come out swinging … we’ll see.”
Two days later, Hopkins was arrested.
“Felons should never possess dangerous firearms or illegally pose as law enforcement officials, and I am pleased that this individual is being held accountable,” Balderas said in a statement Friday.
On the phone with TPM Friday, Hopkins’ attorney Kelly O’Connell said he thought it was possible the 70-year-old could be sentenced to time served, and that “concerns that he would be able to live through his sentence” played a role in the guilty plea.
Hopkins wasn’t alone: A few weeks after his arrest, Jim Benvie, the militia’s former spokesperson and videographer, was arrested on charges of impersonating a Border Patrol agent.
The militia attracted a strange crew: One member, known as “Viper,” was a hobbyist Old West reenactor. Another man, who was kicked out of the group, mused to others about going “back to Hitler days” with the asylum seekers crossing the border.
Through Benvie and “Viper,” whose real name is Steve Brant, Hopkins’ militia had a chummy relationship with perhaps the most financially successful right-wing movement at the border — “We Build The Wall,” a GoFundMe-powered effort to build privately-funded border wall segments. The group has raised millions and completed one wall segment outside of El Paso, Texas.
Hopkins first came to the FBI’s attention after law enforcement received a tip in October 2017 from someone who observed men carrying guns around Hopkins’ house.
According to a probable cause affidavit, “Hopkins also allegedly made the statement that the United Constitutional Patriots were training to assassinate George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama, because of these individuals’ support of Antifa.” Hopkins denied as much after his arrest.
Still, O’Connell said, Hopkins had gotten a sense of purpose from the militia work.
“He got a lot of enjoyment out of doing this thing at the border,” O’Connell said. “He felt like he was doing his duty.”