Before the FBI arrested Larry Hopkins, the leader of a far-right militia group illegally detaining migrant families in the New Mexico desert, his organisation was making a reality show grift out of their pretend border patrol schemes. Hopkins was previously the head of the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), one of the multiple vigilante groups falsely identifying as border officers to kidnap migrants, who posted footage on Facebook Live.
According to a new report from The Daily Beast, the videos cultivated a decent Facebook audience of over 5,000 fans as their latest viral episode was highlighted by mainstream media outlets. Across their array of videos, Hopkins and his followers are shown impersonating law enforcement officers (which happens to be a crime) through their wearing of military fatigues, armed to the teeth with assault rifles and handguns, ordering around over 300 migrants seeking asylum (including children) under the threat of deadly force. This was confirmed by a leaked affidavit identifying the guns as AK-47s.
The footage led to outcries from human rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which published a letter demanding any type of investigation into the kidnappings on the local, state and federal level. Although the group’s leader has been arrested on gun charges, holding a decades worth of felonies across multiple states, the UCP continues to maintain a healthy Facebook page set on broadcasting their future illegal border patrols to their online audience. The reason for the uploads, according to Heidi Beirich, leader of the Intelligence Project for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), stems from a desire to fundraise in order to keep up their activities. “It lets someone be part of the reality TV action,” Beirich explains.
Facebook Live has been a frequent destination for border militias since last year. Journalist Will Sommer cites similar groups such as the AZ Patriots and Veterans on Patrol, two Arizona-based groups also devoted to migrant kidnappings, who use their platform to promote their actions and receive donations directly from the audience (whether through linked third-party fundraising accounts or Facebook directly). A spokesperson for Facebook acknowledged their actions violated some of their terms of service, though has nothing to offer than simple PR-speak.
“People cannot use our fundraising tools for activities involving weapons,” their statement to The Daily Beast reads. “We will remove fundraisers this group may try to start on our service and any content that violates our Community Standards.” When asked why these militias still have active pages, allowing broadcasting activity, Facebook only stated the fundraising aspect is a violation, not the content itself — which is a lie given the UCP’s top link is urging users to raise money on their fundraiser page.
This nonsensical response comes just a few weeks after the mosque massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, resulting in the death of over 50 people, which was rightfully removed for being a horrific video depicting a crime. When it’s a different crime like kidnapping for a political purpose, likely to be used as an example of some bias against conservatives, suddenly admins seem disinterested with issuing basic content moderation to curb extremists.
Jim Benvie, a spokesman for the UCP, told The New York Times their actions were somehow “completely legal” by comparing the kidnapping of the migrants to “a verbal citizen’s arrest”. To anyone with a brain, their actions are more akin to aggravated assault via a deadly weapon without lawful authorisation, but the facts just so happen to make them look like the bad guys so it’s conveniently ignored.
“We’re just here to support the Border Patrol and show the public the reality of the border,” Benvie pleads, saying the organization plans to remain on the border until the extended wall proposed by President Trump is built or Congress changes immigration laws to make it harder for migrants to request asylum. The process already requires migrants to surrender to border patrol as they await their hearing, which is their legal right under international law.
Immigration hawks will argue seekers have no right to enter the country without a visa or citizen, though a federal judge has blocked Trump notorious asylum ban claiming this. The policy was an ambitious effort by the administration to defy both Congressional and international law, demanding there be overblown “Migrant Protection Protocols” requiring asylum seekers to stay south of the U.S. border until their hearings.
The judge ordered the program be suspended and granted entry to the plaintiffs. “Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” wrote U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar of San Francisco. “Failure to comply with entry requirements such as arriving at a designated port of entry should bear little, if any, weight in the asylum process.”
This complicated human rights process can’t begin if vigilante dickheads armed with a four-wheeler and an AK simply kidnap those seeking asylum and tossed them back to their war-torn hellholes. “They have absolutely not been authorized by our office or any other. We are actively working with the AG’s Office, state police and local police to determine what has gone on and what can and will be done,” wrote Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for the governor. “That migrant family might be menaced or threatened in any way, shape or form is completely unacceptable.”
So why the complacency of Facebook? Instead of deterring this obvious incitement of violence, where the group’s supposed free expression is nothing more than crimes against the internationally marginalised, it’s instead used as just another form of entertainment hooking users on Facebook. “The arrest by the FBI indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not armed vigilantes.” Nor should it be broadcast to the world as a knock-off “Cops” for the MAGA movement. The idea migrant families have been menaced or threatened under the guise of our own social network institutions, enabling the terrorists their policies claim to oppose, is completely unacceptable.
Thanks for reading! This article was originally published for TrigTent.com, a bipartisan media platform for political and social commentary, truly diverse viewpoints and facts that don’t kowtow to political correctness.
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