COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — FBI agents on Thursday arrested a former Canadian Armed Forces reservist and two other men who are linked to a violent white supremacist group and were believed to be heading to a pro-gun rally next week in Virginia’s capital.
The three men are members of The Base and were arrested on federal charges in a criminal complaint unsealed in Maryland, according to a Justice Department news release.
Tuesday’s complaint charges Canadian national Patrik Jordan Mathews, 27, and Brian Mark Lemley Jr., 33, of Elkton, Maryland, with transporting a firearm and ammunition with intent to commit a felony. William Garfield Bilbrough IV, 19, of Denton, Maryland, is charged with “ transporting and harboring aliens.”
Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday declared a state of emergency and banned all types of weapons from the gun rally, citing reports that armed militia groups were planning to attend. The Virginia Citizens Defense League and Gunowners of America filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking an injunction specifically against the ban on firearms.
In encrypted chat rooms, members of The Base have discussed committing acts of violence against blacks and Jews, ways to make improvised explosive devices, their military-style training camps and their desire to create a white “ethno-state,” according to an FBI agent’s affidavit.
Mathews and Lemley were arrested in Delaware and Bilbrough was arrested in Maryland, according to Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Maryland. All three men were making initial court appearances Thursday afternoon in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Mathews illegally crossed the U.S. border near Minnesota in August, according to court papers. Lemley and Bilbrough then drove from Maryland to Michigan to pick up Mathews before the three headed to Maryland in late August, investigators said.
Mathews was a combat engineer in the Canadian Army Reserve. Lemley was a “cavalry scout” in the U.S. Army, court papers show.
U.S. and Canadian authorities had been searching for Mathews after his truck was found in September near the border between the two countries. He was last seen by family members in Beausejour, northeast of Winnipeg, on Aug. 24, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The Canadian military’s intelligence unit was investigating Mathews for “possible racist extremist activities” for several months, according to the Canadian Department of National Defence.
Authorities say Lemley and Mathews built an assault rifle using several parts, including an upper-receiver that Lemley had ordered and shipped to a Maryland home. In December, the three men gathered at an apartment that Lemley and Mathews rented in Delaware, where they discussed The Base and its activities and members, passed around the assault file and tried to make the drug DMT, a hallucinogen, according to court papers.
A few days later, Lemley and Mathews bought 150 rounds of ammunition and paper shooting targets and Lemley was spotted by an FBI agent at a gun range in Maryland. Court papers say federal agents heard the gun firing in rapid succession and authorities allege that Lemley later told Mathews: “Oh oops, it looks like I accidentally made a machine gun.”
Federal agents appeared to be tracking the men’s movements and set up a stationary camera near the gun range, which captured video of Mathews shooting the gun there on Jan. 5. Court documents say Lemley had also ordered 1,500 rounds of ammunition and he and Mathews visited the gun range as recently as Saturday.
Lemley also is charged with transporting a machine gun and “disposing of a firearm and ammunition to an alien unlawfully present in the United States.”
The Anti-Defamation League said members of The Base and other white supremacist groups have frequently posted online messages advocating for “accelerationism,” a fringe philosophy in which far-right extremists “have assigned to their desire to hasten the collapse of society as we know it.”
“The term is widely used by those on the fringes of the movement, who employ it openly and enthusiastically on mainstream platforms, as well as in the shadows of private, encrypted chat rooms,” the ADL says.
In recent months, FBI agents have arrested several members of a different far-right extremist group, the neo-Nazi Atomwaffen Division. Atomwaffen has been linked to several killings, including the 2017 shooting deaths of two men at an apartment in Tampa, Florida.
Balsamo reported from Washington.