Alleged commander of militia group makes initial appearance in federal court
LAS CRUCES — Larry Mitchell Hopkins, 69, the alleged "commander" of an armed militia group accused of illegally detaining migrants in New Mexico near the United States-Mexico border, made an initial appearance in federal court in Las Cruces on Monday morning.
Hopkins was arrested in Sunland Park Saturday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on a federal complaint alleging he is a convicted felon in possession of firearms.
The complaint states that a 2017 search of Hopkins' home in Flora Vista, New Mexico, discovered nine loaded firearms and ammunition.
The FBI had no comment today on the time gap between the search of the home and the arrest.
"As a matter of policy, DOJ agencies, including the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI, may not discuss investigative matters," said FBI spokesman Frank Fisher via email. "We therefore respectfully decline to respond to your inquiry."
Hopkins was previously convicted, in Oregon in 2006, of felony possession of a firearm and impersonating a peace officer; and, in Michigan in 1996, of possession of a loaded firearm.
The new charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, three years of probation, and a $250,000 fine as well as possible forfeiture of weapons and ammunition.
Hopkins was represented at the hearing by a public defender, but stated he had retained counsel. A detention hearing for Hopkins has been scheduled on April 29 in Albuquerque.
"This is a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families," New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement Saturday. His arrest, Balderas stated, "indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not armed vigilantes.”
In Oregon 12 years ago, Hopkins was found guilty of the same crime for which he's now being accused.
But Hopkins fled without serving his sentence.
Klamath County, Oregon, court records show an arrest order for Hopkins was issued in January 2007 for after he failed to meet with his parole officer. Hopkins had been given probation the previous year after pleading guilty to two charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and impersonating a peace officer. Police said Hopkins, convicted in 1986 in Michigan of a felony, had shown two firearms and a badge that said “special agent” to a group of juveniles.
After Hopkins appeared for only his initial parole meeting but never returned, his parole officer recommended a 20-month prison sentence. An arrest warrant was issued but last year a judge dropped the case because the parole violation was “too old to effectively prosecute."
The United Constitutional Patriots has deployed armed volunteers to the border in New Mexico, and has posted videos to social media in recent days showing group members ordering families, including young children, to sit on the dirt and wait for Border Patrol agents to take custody of them.
Over its official Twitter account, Border Patrol said it "does not endorse or condone private groups or organizations that take enforcement matters into their own hands. Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved."
In Sunland Park, the group operates from a small encampment near the base of Mt. Cristo Rey, a prominent mountain that straddles the U.S.-Mexico border. The El Paso Times reports that the railroad that owns that land has asked the group to leave.
An FBI press release said that the case was "investigated by the Farmington Resident Agency of the FBI with assistance from the Las Cruces Resident Agency of the FBI."
The Sunland Park Police Department helped during the arrest Saturday.
Note: Additional information from The Associated Press was added to this story.