LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - Larry Mitchell Hopkins, a member of the United Contitutionalist Patriots, an armed civilian group that has detained migrants near the U.S.-Mexico border, is expected to plead not guilty to a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.
The 69-year-old Hopkins, who also identifies as Johnny Horton, made his first appearance in a Las Cruces federal court Monday. He is being represented by Las Cruces attorney Kelly O'Connell.
According to the criminal complaint, Hopkins unlawfully possessed nine firearms and ammunition in his residence in San Juan County, New Mexico in November 2017. The complaint alleges Hopkins was prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition because he previously had been convicted of at least three felony offenses, including possessing a loaded firearm in the state of Michigan in 1996; being a felon in possession of a firearm in the state of Oregon in 2006; and impersonating a peace officer in the state of Oregon in 2006.
Hopkins remains in custody pending a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing, both of which are scheduled to be held at 9:30 a.m. on April 29, 2019, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen B. Molzen in the Rio Grande courtroom of the federal courthouse in Albuquerque.
If convicted on the charge in the criminal complaint, Hopkins faces a maximum statutory penalty of ten years of imprisonment.
ABC-7 spoke with Hopkins in March 2019. During the interview, Hopkins identified himself as Johnny Horton, a commander with the United Contitutionalist Patriots, a small group composed mostly of veterans.
At the time, Hopkins said the group made its way down to the U.S.-Mexico border near Sunland Park, New Mexico to ”keep the border secure."
"This country was built on three things: God, guns and guts. That American flag has to keep flying," he said at the time, "It's in danger, a lot of danger right now."
Hopkins told ABC-7 his group has weapons for self-defense. "We don't want Rambos. We don't want someone down here just to create a problem," he said. "We're not going to have any shootings. We're against it. We are armed for our own protection."
The FBI arrested Hopkins in Sunland Park with the assistance of local police. The FBI said Hopkins is from Flora Vista, a rural community in northern New Mexico and approximately 353 miles north of Sunland Park, which is a suburb of El Paso, Texas.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement that Hopkins "is a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families. Today's arrest by the FBI indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not armed vigilantes."
Federal authorities on Friday warned private groups to avoid policing the border after a string of videos on social media showed armed civilians detaining large groups of Central American families in New Mexico. The videos posted last week show members of United Constitutional Patriots ordering family groups as small as seven and as large as several hundred to sit on the dirt with their children, some toddlers, waiting until Border Patrol agents arrive.
The Border Patrol's El Paso sector has emerged as the second-busiest corridor for the entrance of undocumented immigrants seeking asylum, just behind Texas' Rio Grande Valley. CBP officials said 86 percent of arrests in the El Paso sector in March were people who came as families or unaccompanied children.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT