A member of a vigilante group that was filmed in April apprehending hundreds of terrified asylum seekers — despite having no legal authority to do so — has been arrested for impersonating a Border Patrol agent.
Jim Benvie, who was part of the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP) before splintering off in May to form the Guardian Patriots, was arrested in Oklahoma on two counts of impersonating an officer or an employee of the United States, authorities announced on Saturday. The alleged incidents reportedly occurred in mid-April, around the time that UCP began to receive national attention of their unauthorized migrant apprehension. He will travel to New Mexico to face charges.
Benvie, who is from Minnesota, is also facing charges in Oklahoma for running a child cancer charity scam. As the Daily Beast reported, Benvie is accused of using the photos and story from 11-year-old cancer survivor Ryan Cremeens to collect money in his name, which he allegedly then pocketed for himself.
Benvie’s arrest is the latest setback for UCP-affiliated “patriots.” In April, the group’s leader Larry Hopkins (otherwise known as Johnny Horton Jr., Scott Alan Curtis, and “Striker”) was charged for unlawful possession of weapons and ammunition.
Those charges stem from a 2017 FBI investigation in which agents visited Hopkins over his claim to be planning the assassination of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros. Upon visiting Hopkins, agents noted that he had a number of firearms in his possession despite having prior criminal convictions. This opens the question of why the FBI didn’t arrest him then, since he had a string of previous felonies — including, in a similar vein to Benvie’s case, one of impersonating a peace officer in Oregon in 2006.
The UCP, including Hopkins and Benvie, spent months in the desert where they would regularly film themselves intercepting groups of migrants while heavily armed, before passing them on to Border Patrol. During an interview with KENS5, Benvie maintained that the group was “just Americans… we’re veterans, we’re ex-law enforcement, we’re people who care about the over-strained Border Patrol.”
However, the nature of the UCP’s “work” on the border — which seemed to go far beyond the “observing and reporting” carried out by groups like the Arizona Border Recon — brought immediate criticism once their videos began to circulate in the mainstream. Border Patrol said in a statement that “interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.” The ACLU of New Mexico, meanwhile, demanded that the New Mexico Governor and Attorney General investigate the UCP, which they labelled a “fascist militia.”
“The Trump administration’s vile racism has emboldened white nationalists and fascists to flagrantly violate the law,” the ACLU said. “This has no place in our state: we cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum. We urge you to immediately investigate this atrocious and unlawful conduct.”