On Saturday, the FBI arrested a New Mexico-based member –and possible leader – of the self-styled militia group, United Constitutional Patriots, charging him with being a felon of possession of firearms and ammunition. The militia has allegedly been detaining migrants at the southern border in New Mexico, and the state’s governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham has said the militia has “no authority” to do so.
Angela Kocherga has been covering this story for the Albuquerque Journal, and says the militia has a camp in Sunlalnd Park, New Mexico, just across the border from Texas. The militia is still there, even after the ACLU tipped off New Mexico’s governor and attorney general about the group’s practices, which is what led to the FBI’s arrest of one of its members. Kocherga says the group’s current spokesman told her it intends to continue detaining migrants.
“He admitted to me they are detaining people, but he said, legally, they have every right, and New Mexico is an open-carry state so they can also carry weapons,” Kocherga says.
The person who was arrested, however, wasn’t allowed to carry weapons because of his criminal background.
Kocherga says it’s also unclear whether the group is legally allowed to detain migrants like it claims. She says the group said it’s “holding” migrants – mostly children and families – until Border Patrol comes. The militia claims it wasn’t arresting the migrants, but she says a video posted by the group shows that wasn’t always clear to them.
“They said people are free to leave … but the migrants seem very confused in the video, some are young children, and that prompted an outcry from the ACLU,” Kocherga says, “that this was akin to kidnapping, in their words.”
There have been similar militia-like groups over the years that have patrolled the southern border, Kocherga says. She says she only saw six members of this group, but they told her there are more of them hiding out along the border.
“I also interviewed them elsewhere in New Mexico, and, again, I only observed about four people, so it’s hard to know how big the group is,” Kocherga says.
She says Border Patrol said the militia can complicate their work.
“They really don’t want these people running around in the dead of night,” Kocherga says. “They need to be able to discern who is coming across and what’s happening, and having people running around in camouflage may confuse the issue.”
While the Border Patrol encourages the public to report illegal activity, it doesn’t want them to “take the law into [their] own hands,” she says.
Kocherga says she hasn’t heard of any other militia groups in the area, but also says these groups come in “waves.”
Written by Caroline Covington.