LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (KTSM) — The man convicted of impersonating a Border Patrol agent in Sunland Park in March was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison Friday.
On March 2, James Christopher Benvie, known as Jim Benvie on his social media platforms, was found guilty in federal court of impersonating a Border Patrol agent in April 2019 near Anapra, N.M. — at the height of the immigration crisis. The incident was streamed live on Facebook by Benvie and members of the United Constitutional Patriots (later renamed the Guardian Patriots).
Benvie was living in Albuquerque until an August incident at a Philly Cheesesteak shop in downtown where Benvie is accused of inviting militia members to guard the restaurant during a Black Lives Matter protest.
According to the terms of his release pending sentencing, Benvie was ordered to only leave the halfway house he was assigned to for work. The activity during the BLM protest was a violation of federal release according to documents obtained by KTSM.
In addition to the 21 month sentence, Benvie was also ordered to pay a $200 fine.
Sunland Park incident
Benvie and the United Constitutional Patriots became well known on social media in early 2019 after streaming videos of themselves patrolling the border fence near Anapra in search of migrants attempting to cross illegally. At the time, migrant crossings were at an all-time high and migrants were coming across the border in large groups where they would turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents to claim legal asylum.
In February 2019, Benvie and a group of militia leaders set up camp near the existing border fence in Anapra. Their arrival coincided with President Trump’s visit to El Paso, however, there is no indication the president’s rally was the deciding factor for the group to set up camp in Sunland Park.
They operated mostly undetected to the general public in the area until a series of live videos streamed on Facebook on April 15 and 17, 2019 went viral nationally. The videos show the group detaining a group of approximately 300 migrants at gunpoint. The federal indictment alleged Benvie impersonated a Border Patrol agent on April 15 and April 17, 2019 — the dates the videos were posted to social media.
Benvie told KTSM in an interview in April the group had been stopping people crossing the border until Border Patrol agents arrived. He said Border Patrol had full knowledge of their activities in the area and welcomed the help.
“They are like, ‘Don’t quit.’ I hear it from the agents every day. A lot of people in El Paso hate our guts. You know what, we’re here. You guys know what’s going on. You’re telling the story. Even if they are talking negatively about you, don’t leave, don’t quit, don’t pack and you know we’re not gonna, we’re not gonna,” Benvie said at the time.
Legal trouble & Larry Hopkins
The viral video set of a series of legal issues for the militia group and its leaders. The group was forced to abandon their campsite after law enforcement in Sunland Park arrived to remove them when the Union Pacific Railroad posted “no trespassing” signs near their initial campsite. They peacefully cooperated with police but insisted they were trying to serve the country and help Border Patrol.
Shortly after being ousted from their initial campsite, the group found refuge on the property of American Brick Company, operated by co-owner Jeff Allen. The new campsite was privately owned and sat at the base of Mt. Cristo Rey in Sunland Park. They continued their operations in the area, albeit with fewer social media posts documenting their precise movements in the area.
Their campsite removal coincided with the federal indictment and arrest of the United Constitutional Patriot’s Commander, Larry Mitchell Hopkins. The arrest was a result of a federal grand jury indictment alleging Hopkins was in possession of a weapon at his home in Flora Vista, New Mexico in 2017. Hopkins, who was previously convicted of impersonating a peace officer, was prohibited from owning or possessing firearms.
Just two days after the group’s relocation, on April 25, 2019, U.S. Reps. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, and Ben Ray Lujan, D-New Mexico, called on the FBI to investigate the militia and their documented activities in the viral videos on the nights of April 15 and 17.
“Armed militias are not only engaging in unlawful conduct, they are stripping migrants from their due process and dignity,” Escobar stated in a Tweet posted that day.
After Hopkins’ arrest, Benvie voluntarily notified local law enforcement in May when a man arrived unannounced. He told KTSM the man wanted to join their cause but shortly after his arrival, he began making neo-nazi threats in reference to incoming migrants.
“He was not a member and was somebody that we filed a police report on because some of the things he said were disturbing,” Benvie said in May. “Something made a noise in the trees and he immediately ran back to his truck and grabbed his gun and said, “do I need to shoot?” That’s not the type of people we need at the border,” Benvie told KTSM.
Benvie and the militia changed their name from the United Constitutional Patriots to the Guardian Patriots, in an effort to distance themselves from the incident.
Hopkins accepted a plea deal on Jan. 20, 2020, in federal court to charges of possession of a firearm by a felon. He was also sentenced to 21 months in prison and a $100 fine in June.
We Build The Wall
In late May 2019, the United Constitutional Patriots again became the center of media attention when the group We Build the Wall raised more than $20 million to build a privately funded border barrier on private land.
We Build the Wall reached an agreement with Jeff Allen, co-owner of American Eagle Brick Company to build the wall on the property the United Constitutional Patriots were already patrolling. The new barrier was built in just 17 days along the U.S.-Mexico border near Sunland Park.
Although ‘We Build the Wall never claimed Benvie is part of the organization, he was granted unmitigated access to their building process and land during the erection of the private border barrier.
Several members of We Build the Wall, including Brian Koflage and Steve Bannon were indicted for an alleged scheme to defraud donors of the projects earlier this summer.
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