PayPal and GoFundMe have banned a far-right group, the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), that was recently reported to be posing as law enforcement to round up migrant families at gunpoint at the U.S. border with Mexico before handing them over to Border Patrol officials, BuzzFeed News reported on Friday.
The UCP, which the ACLU characterized as an “armed fascist militia organization” and “racist and armed vigilantes” in a letter to New Mexico government officials urging them to crack down on the group, filmed videos of themselves appearing to detain hundreds of migrants before calling Border Patrol to hand them over. They then uploaded the footage to social media. The group insists that the detentions are equivalent to a citizens’ arrest, though many of those detained appear to be families legally allowed to request asylum in the U.S. Crossing the border illegally is also a misdemeanor; the ACLU told the New York Times that the UCP lacks the authority under federal or state law to detain anyone it observes doing so.
Members of the group also traffic in conspiracy theories like QAnon and claim to be in direct contact with Donald Trump, while comments on their videos are often filled with hateful rhetoric. The UCP also says it works with Border Patrol, though the agency is now distancing itself from the group, and members reportedly sometimes identify themselves as law enforcement officials while wearing unofficial badges. On Saturday, the Daily Beast reported, the FBI and Sunland Park, New Mexico police arrested 69-year-old UCP leader Larry Mitchell Hopkins on charges of possessing a firearm and ammunition as a convicted felon—a move that could be a prelude to a larger investigation.
According to BuzzFeed, the UCP solicited thousands of dollars via PayPal and GoFundMe to cover costs like “food, gasoline, propane, and a portable toilet at a camp in Sunland, New Mexico,” as well as—allegedly—firearms, which the group denies.
“The account associated with United Constitutional Patriots has been closed due to a violation of our Acceptable Use Policy,” a PayPal spokesperson told BuzzFeed. “We do not allow PayPal services to be used to promote hate, violence, or other forms of intolerance that is discriminatory.”
Mark Cheney, who described himself as the commander of the UCP, told BuzzFeed that “They killed us... As the commander, it’s my responsibility to find some way for people to donate.”
Asked whether he and his men carried weaponry, Cheney told the site, “We’d be fools not to be.” Asked whether they wear badges resembling those of law enforcement, he said that if immigrants “can’t tell the difference, that’s their problem.”
Cheney also told BuzzFeed that members of the UCP work with Border Patrol on an “hourly” basis, and “If Border Patrol says, ‘We don’t need you,’ we’ll leave.” As BuzzFeed noted, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have said in a statement that they do not “endorse or condone private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands,” while Sunland Park police chief Javier Guerra said he had warned UCP members they do not have the authority to point their weapons at people or detain them.
However, as of Saturday evening, members of the Facebook group associated with the organization were still posting links to what they said was a PayPal account set up for Hopkins’ legal defense fund. (It stood at $0 out of a $10,000 goal.) The group also maintains a YouTube account with thousands of subscribers.
PayPal, Facebook, and Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Gizmodo on Saturday evening, but we’ll update this post if we hear back.
Update: 10:15 p.m. ET: In an emailed statement regarding the newer fundraiser for supposed legal costs, PayPal told Gizmodo, “PayPal has a policy to allow fundraising for legal defense purposes. If we learn that funds are used for anything other than legal defense, the account will be subject to immediate closure.”