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FBI: Militia member posed as U.S. Border Patrol agent

Members of the United Constitutional Patriots NM Border Ops militia keep an eye on the border in Sunland Park in March. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

A few months ago, a self-described “commander” of an armed militia group that set up camp at the border in southern New Mexico was brought in on federal weapons charges. Now, the FBI has arrested and charged the group’s spokesman with impersonating a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

James Christopher Benvie, 44, spokesman for the Guardian Patriots, formerly known as the United Constitutional Patriots, was indicted by a New Mexico grand jury Wednesday on two counts of false personation of an officer or employee of the United States.

A news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Benvie of Albany, Minnesota, was arrested by local authorities in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and made his initial court appearance in Oklahoma on Friday. He’s set for a detention hearing Tuesday and will be transferred to New Mexico for prosecution.

The specifics of the Benvie case are unclear, other than that the alleged incidents happened in Doña Ana County on April 15 and 17. Court records in the case have been sealed. If convicted, he could face up to three years in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

The group camped out for months near the border fence in southern New Mexico and claimed that members were helping Border Patrol after an influx of migrant families started coming into America seeking asylum.

As the spokesman of the group, “Jim” Benvie spoke with a Journal reporter for a series of articles on immigration at the southern border, including after a “commander” with the group was arrested on April 20.

Larry Mitchell Hopkins, 69, was arrested in Sunland Park on federal charges of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. The charges stemmed from Hopkins, a convicted felon, allegedly keeping guns and ammo at his home in San Juan County in late 2017.

Around the time of Hopkins’ arrest, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico sent letters to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Attorney General Hector Balderas asking for an investigation into the group after videos surfaced on social media of its members allegedly detaining hundreds of migrants unlawfully.

At the time, Benvie told the Journal the militia was made up of “volunteer patriots” and the only lawbreakers were those crossing the border illegally – even those asking for asylum.

“We are detaining people but not illegally,” Benvie told the Journal in April. “If they do not surrender to our verbal commands; we do not force them to stay with us.”

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