Weekly Update: 19 Oct 2020

In the second MW weekly news round-up, some updates on last week’s stories and some updates on some much older stories, too. These new happenings are then related to reading within the MW archives and around the web. Here’s the weekly(ish) update for 19 October 2020.

Militia member Jim Benvie sentenced to 21 months for impersonating a Border Patrol agent

Jim Benvie, of the United Constitutional Patriots was sentenced to about two years time for impersonating a CBP officer. Benvie was essentially the central actor of the United Constitutional Patriots’ border operations near Sunland Park, New Mexico. The charges for which Benvie were sentenced came later, but the UCP commander claimed that the militia was in constant communication with CBP and was regularly detaining asylum-seekers with a heavily-armed team, calling CBP to come to pick up the families they had detained, and holding these people until CBP arrived.

His 2019 arrest for this charge also involved him wearing a badge that read “Fugitive Recovery Agent”. The same year, Benvie gave Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes a tour of the border wall.

Benvie also previously was accused of running a charity scam for child-cancer, as he was collecting donations for a “child with cancer” that he was unable to “provide any evidence about” according to a police affidavit.

During summer BLM protests, he also asked the New Mexico Civil Guard (involved in a now-notorious June scuffle that resulted in an NMCG and police supporter shooting protesters in Albuquerque) to guard a cheesesteak shop in Albuquerque, where he was employed at the time. A co-owner of the shop said that Benvie didn’t have permission to represent the shop in this way and added, “I should have fired him months ago!” to journalist Nick Martin.

More updates on the Michigan Wolverine Watchmen case

Lots to cover here, but for example:

  • Sheriff Dar Leaf (shared a stage with one of the arrestees) is being pressured to resign but has expressed he will not.
  • A protest scheduled last week to push for his resignation was canceled due to threats of violence from potential counter-demonstrators
  • The training site used by the militia group was a site of several police visits tied to domestic disturbances and a stolen chicken coop. Footage from training at the site was also released, allegedly of a weekly schedule of training at the site.
  • At a Trump rally in Muskegon, after Trump mentioned Governor Whitmer, the crowd erupted in chants of “lock her up!”, to which the US president replied, “lock ’em all up.”
  • Finally, apparently, Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia (site of a really important gathering of 2nd Amendment activists and militia groups at the beginning of the year, covered in MW here) was another target of the Wolverine Watchmen, indicating interstate aspirations for the group.

Given the massive media attention on this story, more details are sure to follow, but the entire picture will likely never be made fully clear.

Finally, a bit about the elections…

There are now countless stories about militias and elections, including specifically about the polls. While this is a topic that MilitiaWatch is watching closely, there is still a ton of obscurity into what might happen and how militia members are conceiving of this moment.

However, a few highlighted points:

  • A YouGov poll found that 52% of registered voters are worried about violence from militia groups, including 43% of Republicans and 66% of Democrats.
  • Stewart Rhodes of the Oath Keepers said his group would be “out on election day to protect people who are voting”, and that some of his members would have concealed firearms on them. Rhodes went on an angry tirade on Twitter that got him banned following the shooting of Adam “Jay” Danielson.
  • Q Anon groups are also discussing sending “heavily armed MAGA patriots” on Election Day, too.

People’s Rights Report

Also, be sure to check out IREHR’s lengthy report on Ammon Bundy’s newest project, the “People’s Rights” network:

New on MilitiaWatch

Lastly, just wanted to promote some new MW work!

Alongside On the Media’s Micah Loewinger, we generated a radio piece about militia groups’ use of push-to-talk walkie-talkie app Zello, which armed and violent movements are using to recruit and organize their membership. Listen to the piece, here.

Here on the site, a visual companion piece including some network analysis and further discussion of some of the groups from our data set is now available, too:

You can also catch up on last week’s update, here: