ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Reuters) - The leader of a paramilitary group that has detained undocumented migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border pleaded not guilty to federal weapons charges on Monday and was denied bail.
Larry Hopkins, 69, commander of the United Constitutional Patriots, has been charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm after the FBI said it found guns during a 2017 visit to his home.
Moments before Hopkins was first scheduled to stand and face U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen, a U.S. Marshal told the courtroom to evacuate the building for a bomb threat. Nothing was found, and authorities did not elaborate on the threat.
When the court reconvened, Assistant U.S. Attorney George Kraehe testified that Hopkins had 11 prior felony convictions and was seen in possession of a holstered firearm as recently as February, when he met with the police chief of Sunland Park, New Mexico, where his group is camped on the border.
Kraehe said Hopkins failed to appear at seven court hearings and escaped from a penal institution during a criminal history, dating back to 1968.
“I believe the government has met its burden of showing he is a flight risk and a danger to the community,” said Molzen, ordering Hopkins to be held in custody until trial.
Hopkins was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on April 20, days after the American Civil Liberties Union accused his group of illegally detaining migrants, and New Mexico’s Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said its activities had to stop.
The charges relate to weapons the FBI found at Hopkins home in 2017, while investigating reports he was running a militia. They do not relate to any of his group’s conduct at the border.
When agents entered the home they collected nine firearms, ranging from pistols to rifles, which Hopkins, also known as Johnny Horton Jr., illegally possessed as he had at least one prior felony conviction, according to the complaint.
Hopkins’ lawyer, Kelly O’Connell, said the pistol Hopkins wore in February was a compressed-air pellet gun and the weapons found in 2017 were legally purchased for the group by its vice commander Mark Cheney at flea markets. He acknowledged Hopkins had a criminal record but believed he had only two felony convictions.
“He has no history of being a threat to the community,” O’Connell said.
Hopkins was assaulted in jail last week and O’Connell argued that, as well as being infirm and not a flight risk, his client’s safety was at risk if incarcerated due to his high-profile activities at the border.
“It’s all made up,” said Hopkins’ common-law wife Fay Murphy, 60, of the government’s allegations.
Reporting by Andrew Hay, Editing by James Dalgleish and Tom Brown