Patrik Mathews and two others, Brian Lemley and William Bilbrough IV, both US citizens, were taken into custody on Thursday morning and were scheduled to appear in a Maryland court in the afternoon to face federal charges, American prosecutors said.
The three men were reportedly armed and had recently discussed going to Richmond, Va., for an upcoming gun-rights rally that has attracted the attention of extremists from around the country.
Their arrests come in anticipation of the groups heading to the capitol for a January 20 rally organized by an anti-gun control group called the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
Standing calmly before Judge Charles Day, Lemley wore a T-shirt and pajama trousers, while Mathews sported camouflage trousers and a bushy blond beard. The defendants are appearing before a federal judge Thursday afternoon for an arraignment at U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., just east of the Capital Beltway.
They also discussed starting "military-style training camps and ways to make improvised explosive devices", the Federal Bureau of Investigation said, while noting that Lemley previously served as a Cavalry Scout in the U.S. Army.
As federal agents moved in to arrest Lemley and Matthews on Thursday, the men smashed cellphones and tried to flush the pieces down a toilet, the prosecutor said.
Prosecutors allege that Mathews illegally entered the U.S.in August of a year ago and was harbored by Lemley and Bilbrough in Maryland until the three moved to DE in November.
Canadian officials once considered Mathews to be missing.
While federal authorities can bring criminal terrorism charges against those suspected of working on behalf of foreign extremist groups like al Qaeda, they lack those tools when pursuing those affiliated with domestic extremist groups, whose views are protected by the free-speech clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Shortly after he disappeared, Mathews's truck was found abandoned on a rural property in southern Manitoba near the USA border.
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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. Lemley and Mathews then continued to the area of Elkton, Maryland, where Lemley obtained a motel room for Mathews.
According to the affidavit, in December 2019, Lemley and Mathews used an upper receiver ordered by Lemley, as well as other firearms parts, to make a functioning assault rifle. Its agents had set up a camera near the gun range, allowing them to record Lemley and Mathews with the illegal firearm.
"Oh oops, it looks like I accidentally made a machine gun", Lemley told Mathews on January 2, according to the complaint.
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 January 5.
Both Lemley and Bilbrough face charges for transporting and harbouring Mathews, while Lemley is charged with transporting a machine gun in interstate commerce and for providing a firearm and ammunition to Mathews and transporting a firearm with the intent to commit a felony. Furthermore, Lemley, Mathews, and Bilbrough discussed The Base's activities and spoke about other members of the organization.
Lawyers for Lemley and Mathews declined to comment on the charges.
Bilbrough's defense attorney denied that his client posed a flight risk, noting that he lived with his grandmother and lacked a passport. Bilbrough was the only one of the three men not facing a firearms-related charge.
"I think this 19-year-old man should be released", Bonsib told reporters after the hearing. Two of Bilbrough's relatives attended the court hearing but declined to be interviewed.
The Base describes itself as an worldwide network that is training its members to fight in a race war, according to the Counter Extremism Project. The Washington Post first reported the arrests.
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