FBI agents received reports in 2017 that the leader of a right-wing militia that has been detaining immigrants in New Mexico had said then that his group was “training” to kill former President Barack Obama, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and billionaire George Soros, according to an FBI affidavit.
The affidavit was part of the criminal complaint against Larry Mitchell Hopkins, who was arrested Saturday on a federal complaint charging him with being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. Hopkins appeared Monday in federal court in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Hopkins, 69, is the “commander” of the United Constitutional Patriots, whose armed members are seen in the group’s videos posted recently on social media that show them rounding up and holding immigrants in New Mexico until border agents arrive.
The FBI began investigating Hopkins after receiving reports in 2017 of “alleged militia extremist activity” in northwestern New Mexico, according to the affidavit by FBI special agent David Gabriel.
According to the affidavit, “Hopkins 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,” a shortened name for left-wing anti-fascist activists. Soros is a philanthropist and Democratic donor who is a frequent target of criticism by President Donald Trump and his supporters.
“Information also was conveyed that the group had its ‘base’ at Hopkins’s residence, was supported by approximately 20 members, and was armed with AK-47 rifles and other firearms,” Gabriel stated.
Hopkins’ lawyer, Kelly O’Connell, told The New York Times that the reports of assassination plans were “not true.”
The affidavit stated that agents found 10 weapons in Hopkins’ Los Flores, New Mexico, home during a search in November 2017 — including handguns and a 12-gauge shotgun — which he claimed belonged to his common-law wife. It wasn’t clear why Hopkins’ arrest occurred more than a year later.
Federal authorities refused to explain why Hopkins is just now being charged.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas called Hopkins a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families” following his arrest Saturday. Balderas said the “rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not armed vigilantes.”
Hopkins was previously convicted of felony firearm possession and felony impersonating of a peace officer.
He was arrested just days after the UCP posted a video showing members, some of them armed, apparently holding hundreds of immigrants, including children. After receiving an alarming letter about the group’s actions from the American Civil Liberties Union, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham demanded the militia stand down, calling members’ actions “completely unacceptable.”
UCP spokesman Jim Benvie told The New York Times last week that the militia’s actions are legal and compared them to a “verbal citizen’s arrest.” He also said in a video posted to Facebook that border patrol agents are “happy” for the militia’s help.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that CBP “does not endorse private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands.” It added that interference by civilians “could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.”
Hopkins also goes by the name of the late singer Johnny Horton Jr. “Johnny” often runs the militia’s radio program. In a segment last month, he appealed for more “boots on the ground” to “capture” immigrants. He pleaded for donations for the group. “We’re down to nothing,” he said.
PayPal and GoFundMe have both blocked fundraising efforts by the group.
Hopkins’ next court appearance is scheduled for April 29 in Albuquerque.