16 | JUL | 2019
U.S. border militia groups, from racists to criminals and child abusers
The "Patriots" are a heavily armed group who patrol the U.S. border with Mexico, trying to deter immigrants from crossing the border illegally - Photo: Rick Wilkin/REUTERS

U.S. border militia groups, from racists to criminals and child abusers

03/05/2019
15:42
Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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Nearly two years into the Trump’s White House, the stability of the United States-Mexico border is confirmed by the absence of anti-immigrant militia groups

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Nearly two years into the Trump’s White House, the stability of the United States-Mexico border is confirmed by the absence of anti-immigrant militia groups.

However, from time to time such organizations emerge and that is the recent case of the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP) and his leader Larry Mitchell Hopkins, detained in New Mexico.

In a Latin-majority state that has remained far from the front lines of immigration battles compared to Texas and California, the UCP briefly attracted attention in both countries highlighting in social media its “operations illegally detaining undocumented migrants in the Sunland Park area, and handing them to the U.S. Border Patrol.

Nevertheless, Hopkins, 69, was arrested by the FBI on April 20, days after New Mexico’s Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said his activities had to stop, on charges related to weapons police found at Hopkins home in 2017, while investigating reports he was running a militia.

Last Monday, Hopkins, who also uses the name of Country music legend Johnny Horton, pleaded not guilty to federal weapons charges and was denied bail.

A few days earlier, he was hospitalized with broken ribs due to an alleged attack by other inmates at the prison in Las Cruces, in southern New Mexico.

It is worth noting that Hopkins has a criminal record dating back to at least 1986 in several U.S. states.

He was arrested for fraud and for impersonating a police officer; describing himself as an “entertainer,” Hopkins said he met President Donald Trump “when he had the casino in Las Vegas, and I played there numerous times.”

In contrast, for New Mexico’s Attorney General Hector Balderas he is a “dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families.”

For its part, the American Civil Liberties Union has considered his paramilitary group as a “fascist militia organization.”

In any case, the UCP and Hopkins’ history resembles that of past right-wing vigilante groups in the southwestern U.S. border.

Their recent origin goes back to the Operation Gatekeeper implemented “to restore integrity and safety” in the U.S. busiest border near San Diego, California, during the presidency of William Clinton in the 1990s.

Inspired by the Operation Hold the Line in El Paso, Texas, the Operation Gatekeeper marked the first time that a multi-million budget and cutting-edge technology were allocated by the U.S. Congress to the Border Patrol—then a part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)—with the purpose of halting illegal immigration, and to ensure conservative support for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The increase of Border Patrol agents and the use of fencing, checkpoints on interior highways, underground sensors and biometric identification systems, as well as the establishment of the first immigration court inside the San Ysidro Port of Entry was declared a success by the INS, reducing illegal entries by 75% over the next few years.
 

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The Barnett brothers

However, migration routes immediately shifted eastward to the Sonora desert, a vast and isolated region where ranchers and landowners such as the Barnett brothers noticed an increase of activity by human smugglers known as coyotes or polleros.

With urban, accessible areas blocked by the INS, migrants resorted to the long and dangerous desert trails in their never-ending effort to escape poverty and oppression in their countries.

Suddenly, Arizona turned into the epicenter of the new phase of immigration: Roger and Don Barnett, rounding dozens of aliens at gunpoint and handing them over to the Border Patrol were frequently depicted by major news organizations “in downright heroic terms, as two men struggling against a human tide that was leaving fences cut and property littered,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The Barnetts became a source of inspiration for right-wing politicians and nativists demanding border security,” supported by white supremacists as Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix, Arizona’s largest city), convicted in 2017 of criminal contempt of court, a crime for which he was pardoned by Trump.
 

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In Phoenix and other state capitals, from Austin to Atlanta, this situation resulted in a wave of discriminatory law proposals challenging federal legislation.

Their sponsors exploited the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. to reject any possibility of an “amnesty” for undocumented migrants and the migratory deal negotiated by the Bush administration with Mexico.

Earlier, a Californian named Glenn Spencer, who ran an outfit called American Patrol, moved his operations to Arizona and renamed it American Border Patrol.

He was quickly emulated by Casey Nethercott, founder of Ranch Rescue, who had done prison time in California and assaulted two Salvadoran migrants in 2003.

With the assistance of the SPLC, the migrants sued their attackers and won a USD $1 million civil judgment against Ranch Rescue.

One of the better-known cases is that of former kindergarten teacher Chris Simcox, who in 2002 started up the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.

Briefly associated with the former Marine Jim Gilchrist, Simcox raised about USD $6 million to build a “border fence” that never was built.

His movement, nevertheless, was a breeding ground for opportunists and criminals such as Shawna Forde, who at the helm of another group, Minutemen American Defense (MAD), tried to rob presumed drug dealers in order to finance its activities.

She was found guilty in 2011 of eight counts, including the murders of Raúl Flores and his daughter Brisenia (9) in Pima County.

Accused of domestic violence by his wife Alena in a divorce application presented in 2010, Simcox’s vigilante career collapsed three years ago after he was convicted and sentenced to 19 years in prison in Arizona for molesting a 5-year-old girl and showing her pornography.

In spite of the opprobrium and discredit, the legacy of militia groups is alive and well today in the extremist policies carried out by the Republican Party.

It is no coincidence that the Minutemen were lauded by federal lawmakers and officials at the height of their popularity, while Trump, always pandering to the far-right, has led the U.S. to a constitutional crisis demanding USD $4.5 billion for a useless border wall from Congress.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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