In October 2017, the FBI received reports of "militia extremist activity" at the Lakeside Ranch Trailer Park home of Larry Mitchell Hopkins in Flora Vista, New Mexico. Information provided to the FBI alleged that members of the United Constitutional Patriots – armed with AK-47 assault rifles and other firearms – were known to gather at Hopkins' trailer.
Furthermore, according to a federal criminal complaint (see end of story) later issued against Hopkins, the militia leader had said that his group was training to assassinate billionaire Democratic Party backer George Soros, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former President Barack Obama.
Once, maybe, such an organization would inhabit only the farthest-right regions of the nation's political spectrum, but the United Constitutional Patriots has apparent ties to We Build the Wall Inc. – the group that Phoenix New Times showed has been negotiating to build a private wall near, if not on, the Arizona-Mexico border.
We Build the Wall’s leadership includes past and present friends and advisers of President Donald Trump's administration, including 2016 campaign chairman and former White House senior strategist Steve Bannon, who serves as chairman of the group's advisory board, and Trump campaign/administration immigration and voter fraud advisor Kris Kobach. We Build the Wall also claims to operate with Trump's personal "blessing."
Closer inspection by New Times of We Build the Wall and its activities suggests that the group, which has raised at least $20 million, is more interested in aiding Trump's 2020 re-election bid than building an effective border wall. And We Build the Wall has consulted with at least one anti-immigrant border activist with ties to white nationalist groups through the course of its activities in Arizona.
New Times also learned that We Build the Wall and Hopkins’ group promoted each other through videos posted to social media. A We Build the Wall leader appeared to refer to the border militants as “our guys on the ground.”
However, since Hopkins' arrest on April 20, We Build the Wall Inc., has tried to distance itself from the militia group.
For obvious reasons.
A video recently began making the internet rounds. It depicted a group of nearly 300 undocumented immigrant asylum-seekers being detained on April 15 by members of United Constitutional Patriots in the area of Sunland Park, New Mexico – just across the state line from El Paso, Texas, and the border with Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua.
On April 18, citing the video, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico asked New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan and state Attorney General Hector Balderas to investigate the group, arguing that members of the civilian "armed fascist militia organization" have no lawful authority under state or federal law to arrest or detain migrants or asylum seekers.
National and international media picked the story up. Hopkins and his group became household names overnight.
‘That’s my black right there.’
Shortly after the outcry, on April 20, a federal warrant was issued for Hopkins' arrest on a nearly year-and-a half-year-old weapons violation.
On November 28, 2017, FBI agents visited Hopkins at his New Mexico trailer park home. The militia leader, a convicted felon, acknowledged that there were several firearms in the residence, but that all were owned by his "common-law wife."
Hopkins then took the agents on a tour of firearms contained in the residence. Upon entering the kitchen, the militia leader brought a black tactical vest to the attention of the agents. Holstered on the vest was a 9 mm pistol.
"That's my black right there, and it's loaded," the felon told the federal agents.
All told, according to the criminal complaint, agents recovered nine firearms along with assorted ammunition from Hopkins' trailer. Yet, for reasons not stated in the FBI's criminal complaint, federal law enforcement agents did not arrest or issue any charges against Hopkins until April 20, 2019.
But before this widespread coverage of United Constitutional Patriots, We Build the Wall clearly had become friendly with the militant border group.
In the April 15 video, United Constitutional Patriots spokesman Jim Benvie even plugged We Build the Wall Inc.
"This is the same area that we're workin' on gettin' wall built. They're in negotiations right now with the property owner. Ah, We Build ... We Build the Wall – Brian Kolfage, the veteran who, ah, raised the money for the GoFundMe page. Check out his page if you haven't guys," Benvie said, panning his camera over the seated group of asylum-seekers, largely consisting of children.
"It's only gonna be Americans who are gonna solve this problem. You know – we the people have to stand up, demand more of Congress. You know a wall can prevent stuff like this – it can slow people down. With no barrier, this is how they bomb-rush [sic] the border. This is how you get invaded. This is an invasion, guys."
And, for its part, We Build the Wall heavily promoted United Constitutional Patriots. Indeed, We Build the Wall was apparently so fond of United Constitutional Patriots that it claimed the militant border vigilantes as part of its own operations in fundraising pitches.
For example, on April 19, We Build the Wall posted a portion of the United Constitutional Patriots' April 15 video to its GoFundMe "updates" page.
"Every single night our guys on the ground bust HUNDREDS of illegals coming across the property. Just watch the video!" wrote a We Build the Wall representative identified as "BK," which are the initials of its leader, wounded war veteran Brian Kolfage. "Take part in this historic project and encourage others to as well!"
We Build the Wall spokesperson Jennifer Lawrence, in a written response to questions submitted by New Times, now claims the group has no relationship with United Constitutional Patriots and that Kolfage was referring to content provided by members of We Build the Wall's "site-selection and construction teams" when he referred to "our guys on the ground."
Still, the video referenced by Kolfage was a video created by United Constitutional Patriots, showing members of the militant vigilante group undertaking what definitely looks like a "bust of HUNDREDS of illegals."
And in a post made to Instagram by Kolfage on April 16, Kolfage published the same clip of Benvie's April 15 video depicting United Constitutional Patriots' detention of the group of asylum-seekers.
In text accompanying the video, Kolfage erased any line separating We Build the Wall from the armed border militants.
"EXPOSE THIS SHOCKING VIDEO we filmed last night from @webuildthewall team. This is what every single night looks like here! Literally thousands come in every day in this one half mile section where were are looking to begin construction."
Kickin' It With Kolfage and Kobach
We Build the Wall was incorporated by Kolfage as a nonprofit organization in the state of Florida on December 28, 2018.
Kolfage, a veteran of service with the U.S. Air Force, suffered injuries in Iraq on September 11, 2004, which resulted in the amputation of both legs and his right hand and forearm.
On December 16, 2018, Kolfage launched a fundraising campaign through the crowdsourcing platform GoFundMe. With a goal of raising $1 billion, Kolfage’s “We the People Will Fund the Wall” GoFundMe campaign pledged to give all donated revenue to Congress for use in border wall construction in lieu of taxpayer funding. In its first weeks, the campaign raised more than $20 million.
In January, Kolfage announced that We Build the Wall Inc., would not give money raised to Congress after all, but would instead build the wall itself, using private funding and private contractors on private property.
The group repeatedly claimed intent to break ground on its first building site, likely in Arizona, in April, but New Times discovered that there is no privately owned property in Arizona comprising actual international border – at least, not where there is not already existing federally constructed border wall.
The organization was incorporated as a nonprofit under IRS code 501(c)(4). As opposed to more strictly charitable organizations such as 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4)s – often referred to as "dark money" groups – may engage in political activities, including lobbying and political campaigns.
Given the roster of talent employed by We Build the Wall, which reads like a litany of far-right propagandists, political operatives, and organizers, and Kolfage's own history as purveyor of propaganda and misinformation on social media, and the involvement Bannon and Kobach, the group's 501(c)(4) designation should carry weight for those attempting to tease out its true purpose.
Following the April 7 resignation of U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, far-right pundits – including Kolfage – advanced Kobach as the next head of DHS.
Kobach copiloted the Trump administration's failed Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and served as Kansas' Secretary of State. Before that, he served as counsel and constitutional law "expert" for the Federation for American Immigration Reform's Immigration Reform Law Institute and was credited as a primary architect of Arizona's controversial racial profiling law, SB 1070.
By April 10, Kolfage and Kobach were in southeast New Mexico, near El Paso, touring the border with the United Constitutional Patriots.
In a video created by United Constitutional Patriots spokesman Benvie, and heavily promoted by Kolfage and We Build the Wall, Kolfage is carried in his wheelchair by members of United Constitutional Patriots back into the United States, having crossed the border into Mexico illegally.
Kobach was also present in the video, hanging out with a United Constitutional Patriot named Jeff and the group's dog, Athena.
Benvie encouraged his viewers to donate to We Build the Wall, and concluded the video saying:
"We're gonna be hanging out with Brian Kolfage and Kris Kobach – we're gonna be hanging out with them for part of the day, showing and touring the border area that we're on here. Giving them a better perspective of the risks and what's coming through here. And hopefully, at the end of the day, we can put together a deal to take this little area, right here – this problem area, this problem child on the border – and build it with a nice fat wall that will keep those people from comin' in here."
Uh, Who Are Those Guys?
Following Hopkins' arrest, spokesperson Lawrence was asked why Kolfage and Kobach spent time on the border with the militants. "Neither Kolfage nor Kobach has 'spent time' on the border with members of the UCP,” she replied. “They were briefly introduced to Jim Benvie by a border landowner when meeting with that landowner. Neither Kolfage or Kobach has any relationship with the UCP or its members."
There also were claims by both United Constitutional Patriots and We Build the Wall that the groups were working to conclude a deal for wall construction on the Sunland Park-area property in New Mexico patrolled by United Constitutional Patriots. But on April 22, the Sunland Park Police Department and representatives of Union Pacific informed the militants they would have to relocate their camp, as they had been trespassing on Union Pacific properties in their operations.
Lawrence declined to give any information relating to where the group may be considering building its wall, citing "legal and harassment" concerns. She did not respond to a written question asking whether We Build the Wall was aware of United Constitutional Patriots' alleged assassination training program.
She also did not respond to a written question asking what the group's position is regarding this alleged assassination training program.
When asked about the federal firearms charge against Hopkins, Lawrence replied, "We Build the Wall supports the rule of law and trusts that the justice system will deliver a fair verdict in this case."
She also said, "[We Build the Wall] has no interest whatsoever in armed border vigilante groups. Our sole mission is the construction of barriers on or near the border between the United States and Mexico."
United Constitutional Patriots did not respond to requests for comment.
On April 23, We Build the Wall announced through Facebook that an unnamed "representative" of the group, along with advisory board member Steve Ronnebeck, had spent the "last two days" on the Arizona-Mexico border with another armed militant group, Arizona Border Recon.
Lawrence told New Times this had been done to gain "a better understanding of what's happening on the border."
Arizona Border Recon refused to respond to inquiries, replying that the organization is "tired of Media that thinks we should jump when they want to talk to us [...] We decide who and when we talk to."
Both United Constitutional Patriots and Arizona Border Recon claim to work closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol. When asked if they work with such groups, Customs and Border Protection offered the following:
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"U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not endorse or condone private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands. Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved."
Kobach did not respond to a request for comment.
(Complaint against Lawrence Mitchell Hopkins.)