ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A federal magistrate judge ordered the leader of an armed group that detained asylum-seeking families near the U.S.-Mexico border to remain jailed Monday as he awaits trial on a federal firearms charge.
Larry Mitchell Hopkins pleaded not guilty to being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition during a detention hearing that was delayed earlier in morning because the federal courthouse in Albuquerque was abruptly evacuated. The U.S. Marshals Service said it could not provide information hours later on why the courthouse was cleared. It reopened shortly after noon.
Hopkins, 69, clad in a gray jumpsuit and shackled at the waist, wrists and ankles, inched across the courtroom as an officer helped him down a step and escorted him out of the courtroom where he had been waiting to appear before the judge.
A federal prosecutor argued after the courthouse reopened that Hopkins posed a flight risk and danger to the public if released. He cited Hopkins' history of felony convictions dating back decades, use of aliases, and leadership role in the "heavily armed" United Constitutional Patriots group at the border.
"He was a commander of this militia group that was heavily armed and that further establishes he's a danger to the community," George Kraehe, the federal prosecutor, said.
Hopkins was arrested on April 20 after videos of his militia group carrying firearms and detaining groups of immigrants crossing the border sparked widespread criticism. The charge against him stems from 2017 when authorities say an FBI agent was invited into Hopkins' northern New Mexico home.
Hopkins showed the agent at least nine weapons and ammunition, saying they belonged to his live-in girlfriend before referring to one of the weapons as his, according to the complaint. He also knew which firearms were loaded with ammunition, Kraehe said in court.
In an interview, Hopkins' partner Fay Murphy said he had been at the border for about two months before his arrest. She said he had told her over the phone that a FBI agent approached him in the desert near the border.
He had been preparing to cook hamburgers when the agent offered to instead take him to a restaurant in Sunland Park, where federal authorities took him into custody, she said.
"It doesn't make no sense," said Murphy. "He's not a threat."
She shook her head in court as the prosecutor said he had counted 11 prior felony convictions since 1968 against Hopkins. The indictment against Hopkins cites previous criminal convictions of impersonating a police officer and repeated firearms violations.
Hopkins was accused by the prosecutor of wearing a holster with a pistol to a February meeting with the Sunland Park police chief. Hopkins also used an alias during that meeting, knowing that he was under investigation for being a felon in possession of a firearm, Kraehe said.
Hopkins' attorney, said the militia leader did not have a history of violence. He questioned prosecutors' argument that his client posed a threat, given two years had passed between the 2017 FBI visit to his home and his arrest.
"If he's so dangerous, why didn't that (indictment) come two years ago," O'Connell said.
He described Hopkins as a Quixotic figure who believed he was aiding U.S. Border Patrol amid a rise in migrants crossing the border seeking asylum.
An earlier complaint filed in U.S. District Court said that Hopkins told members of the Patriots in 2017 that they "were training to assassinate George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama, because of these individuals support of Antifa," or anti-fascists.
If convicted, Hopkins faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The FBI has declined to comment on why it waited to bring charges against Hopkins.
Associated Press writer Morgan Lee contributed to this report from Santa Fe.