The GoFundMe-powered “We Build The Wall” group, which has raised millions to build segments of border wall on private land, has long sought to distance itself from the armed militia movement. That changed Thursday night, shortly after the group held an event celebrating its first half-mile of erected wall, in Sunland Park, New Mexico.
In a live-streamed interview he gave to a popular militia figure known for streaming videos of mass arrests on his Facebook page, We Build The Wall’s co-founder and vice president Dustin Stockton spoke as if to an old friend, telling the interviewer “you’ve always had the right mindset” and saying “we appreciate you.”
The interviewer was Jim Benvie, spokesperson for the so-called “Guardian Patriots” (which he renamed from the “United Constitutional Patriots), who is a prolific presence among Facebook’s far-right border watchers. Benvie streamed his interview with Stockton on his Facebook page Thursday night.
“You guys have shown, Jim, you and your crew have shown how high-traffic this area was,” Stockton said toward the start of the exchange, pointing to the strip of previously un-walled border just outside of El Paso, near the “Monument One” landmark.
“Your videos turned us on to just how serious this crisis is,” he added. “And when we saw those, the proof is there. We had the absolute proof of what was happening right here. And to be able to shut that off with the people’s money so quickly, it’s moving.”
Benvie’s videos brought UCP infamy after the ACLU of New Mexico objected to the militiamen making armed, mass “arrests” of asylum seekers crossing in the area, with some UCP members falsely identifying themselves as federal agents. UCP’s former leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins, was subsequently arrested on a gun charge.
Until they were evicted by the Union Pacific Railroad in April, UCP’s campground was mere feet away from We Build The Wall’s (WBTW) current site. They’ve since relocated nearby, though it’s not clear precisely where. The Intercept reported Thursday on the ties between UCP and the partial landowner of the property where WBTW’s new barrier was recently built, Jeff Allen. Allen’s dog, Athena, often appears in Benvie’s videos.
After Benvie mentioned to Stockton Thursday that “we were told not to film,” the WBTW co-founder confirmed that the group had asked Benvie to keep the wall construction under wraps over the weekend.
“When we asked you [that] it’s better for us if you don’t livestream for a little while…” Stockton said. “If you go underground, it helps us with the media narrative, it helps us not blow the cover of what we’re trying to do here.”
“You gave up a lot of views. You could have reached a lot of people, but you’ve always had the right mindset,” he continued, adding: “You did the right thing, man, I really appreciate you.”
The connection between UCP and WBTW has, for months, been only obliquely acknowledged.
In April, for example, WBTW’s founder and public face, Air Force veteran and triple amputee Brian Kolfage spent a day at the border with UCP’s camouflage-clad members. He even illegally crossed into Mexico and came back to the United States to prove how porous the border was.
When Kolfage noted that day in his speech Thursday, he didn’t mention that he “rolled across into Mexico” while UCP militiamen watched on. “If these fuckers fuck with you, I’ll shoot them myself,” someone off-screen said as Kolfage rolled into Mexico, seemingly referring to no-one in particular.
In fact, asked about that day by the Phoenix New Times, WBTW spokeswoman Jennifer Lawrence denied that Kolfage or former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a WBTW board member who was also present, “has any relationship with the UCP or its members.”
At one point, the Intercept noted, WBTW included that Kolfage crossing in a fundraising video. UCP members standing around weren’t shown. Lawrence didn’t respond to TPM’s questions Friday.
Benvie wasn’t the only militiaman hanging around after the party Thursday night. At various points in Benvie’s livestream, he spoke with a man known as “Viper,” a long-time UCP member.
“Nobody even knows that’s Viper because he’s out of his uniform,” Benvie noted, referring to the face mask the man usually wears. “Just in case you didn’t recognize him. Say hi Viper!”
Viper waved, commenting in part, “We’re never off-duty.”
Benvie, who didn’t respond to TPM’s request for comment Friday, promised an interview with WBTW board member Sheriff Clarke, the former Milwaukee County sheriff, and with Kolfage himself, which would add to the one from April. He recalled a comment from Kolfage about the importance of the wall.
“Between you and me, there was a quote: He said ‘I’ll go to jail if I have to.’”