Stung by the arrest of their leader, an eviction from their campground on Union Pacific Railroad land and weeks of critical press coverage, members of the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP) border militia will be reforming under a new name, said Jim Benvie, the de facto spokesperson for UCP’s “Border Ops,” on Tuesday.
“We are officially changing our name to Guardian Patriots,” Benvie (pictured above) said in a live video stream filmed on a patch of land near the U.S.-Mexico border. “The reason for that is because we have had attacks on the UCP.”
UCP’s border presence, Benvie said, was defined by “Jonny Horton” and his trailer, which was parked on the group’s campground until recently. “Horton” is the name used by Larry Mitchell Hopkins, UCP’s former leader, who was arrested last month for allegedly possessing a gun as a felon.
“The fact of the matter is, the people that are down here volunteering, we were never looking for a name, we were never looking to be affiliated with any organization,” Benvie said, promising a Facebook page for the new group and detailing its not-particularly-stringent rules for vetting potential border watchers.
“We’re not necessarily going to stop somebody if you’ve got a past, and you [have] a misdemeanor or a gross misdemeanor,” he said. “As long as it’s not violent or it’s not something that’s just completely way out there, then we want you guys down here.”
Benvie also, again, contested the group’s characterization as a militia, instead describing his outfit as a group of volunteer videographers.
After the initial wave of press reports on UCP — which focused on its gun-toting members, some falsely identifying as law enforcement, making mass “arrests” of large groups of migrants along the border — the group tried to rehab its image.
Last month, Benvie promised the unofficial border patrollers would ditch their rifles and camouflage — “because apparently that makes you a militia, if you do that,” he said. They’d instead opt for civilian attire and concealed handguns.
The mass arrests brought the group to the attention of the ACLU of New Mexico, which spoke out against UCP’s “vigilante” behavior last month.
While “we saw a surge in this kind of vigilante activity on our southern border in the early 2000s,” ACLU-NM executive director Peter Simonson told TPM at the time, “we never saw anything so extreme, so aggressive as what these vigilantes are doing.”
Benvie on Tuesday also disputed the implication in recent reports that a man patrolling the border with UCP, who reportedly mused about murdering migrants and “go[ing] back to Hitler days” with gas chambers, was actually part of the militia.
“He was with the guys for about less than 24 hours, and what happened is, is that the guy was kind of a weirdo,” Benvie said. Referring to the man’s threats, which were recorded in a police report later obtained by The Young Turks, Benvie said, “We’re not about that. We’re not that type of organization.”
The police report was filed on April 24. In an April 23 New York Times article, the man who would later file the report — he goes by the moniker “Viper” — said of the man who’d allegedly make the threats: “He just showed up today.”