Member of armed border group charged with impersonation

June 23, 2019 GMT

GUTHRIE, Okla. (AP) — A man who has been a spokesman for a small group of armed civilians patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border was charged with impersonating a U.S. officer or employee.

An indictment returned Wednesday by a grand jury in New Mexico charged James Christopher Benvie, 44, of Albany, Minnesota, with two counts of false personation of a U.S. officer or employee, federal prosecutors said in a news release Friday. He faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

The news release from prosecutors does not provide details on the allegations, including what kind of officer or employee Benvie is accused of impersonating. It does say that the alleged offenses were committed in Dona Ana County, New Mexico, on April 15 and April 17. The county is along the U.S-Mexico border.

Benvie posted Facebook live videos on both April 15 and April 17 of encounters with people crossing the border.

Benvie made an initial appearance in federal court Friday in Oklahoma, after the FBI arrested him in Guthrie, Oklahoma, prosecutors said. Prosecutors said he would remain jailed until a detention hearing set for Tuesday in Oklahoma. It was unclear if he had an attorney.

Prosecutors said he’ll be transported to New Mexico for prosecution.

Benvie was a spokesman for a group called the United Constitutional Patriots before becoming a spokesman for a splinter group called the Guardian Patriots.

Armed civilian groups have been an intermittent presence on the border for years, portraying themselves as auxiliaries to the Border Patrol and operating in areas where agents are not stationed. As the videos show, U.S. authorities keep them at arm’s length while also responding to reports of people entering the country illegally.

Other videos he posted include one in March under the heading “Detained a man with a baby!” As an agent arrived, Benvie said, “The border is overrun. We’re being invaded.”

In Oklahoma, Benvie was charged with possession of a stolen vehicle and attempting to obtain money by false pretenses. Benvie’s defense attorney in that case, David Bedford of Oklahoma City, said Sunday that he could not discuss the matter.

The leader of the United Constitutional Patriots, Larry Hopkins, was arrested in April on federal weapons charges.