Courthouse evacuated ahead of hearing for militia leader
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A detention hearing for the leader of an armed group that stopped asylum-seeking families near the U.S.-Mexico border was delayed Monday after the federal courthouse was abruptly evacuated.
The U.S. Marshals Service said it could not immediately provide information on why the courthouse was cleared, but the morning hearing for Larry Mitchell Hopkins was expected to resume after 1:30 p.m. Monday.
Attorneys and court officials exited and gathered in front of the courthouse in Albuquerque, as several Homeland Security vehicles arrived at the courthouse with lights flashing. At least one of the SUVs was marked for transporting a K-9.
Hopkins, the armed group's leader who has been indicted on a weapons charge, was escorted out of the courtroom where he had been waiting to appear before a magistrate judge for a hearing his attorney expected would last about 10 minutes.
The charge stems from a 2017 visit by an FBI agent to his home in northern New Mexico. An indictment cites previous criminal convictions against the 69-year-old resident of Flora Vista for impersonation of a police officer and repeated firearms violations.
He was arrested April 20 in Sunland Park, New Mexico, near the U.S.-Mexico border. Defense attorney Kelly O'Connell said Mitchell would dispute the charge, as he questioned the motivation and timing of his client's arrest.
O'Connell also said he planned to argue for Mitchell to be released as he awaited trial, saying he didn't pose a threat.
"If he's so dangerous, why didn't that (indictment) come two years ago," O'Connell said.
The indictment against Hopkins, made public on Friday, offers no new details about his involvement with an armed group called the United Constitutional Patriots, who say they want to draw attention to immigration violations and help federal law enforcement in patrolling the border.
The FBI has declined to comment on why it waited to bring charges against Hopkins following a search at his home in 2017. His arrest follows widespread criticism after videos surfaced of members of the United Constitutional Patriots carrying firearms and detaining groups of immigrants crossing the border.
In 2017, Hopkins allegedly invited an FBI agent into his home and showed him at least nine weapons and ammunition. According to the complaint, he first told the agent that the weapons belonged to his live-in girlfriend, but he then referred to one of the weapons as his.
An earlier complaint filed in U.S. District Court maintains that Hopkins told members of the Patriots in 2017 that they "were training to assassinate George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama, because of these individuals support of Antifa," or anti-fascists.
If convicted on the charge in the indictment, Hopkins faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Armed civilian groups have been a fixture on the border for years, especially when large numbers of migrants arrive. Amid the current rise in people seeking asylum, a larger portion of migrants are children.
Associated Press writer Morgan Lee contributed to this report from Santa Fe.