Ahead of a pro-gun rally held in Virginia on Monday (Jan. 20), the FBI arrested three alleged white supremacists who hoped for “a full-blown civil war” at the event.
The Associated Press reports, a former Canadian Armed Forces reservist and two other men who authorities say are linked to a violent white supremacist group were arrested Thursday (Jan. 16) just days before they were believed to be headed to the rally in Virginia’s capital.
According to the AP, a criminal 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.”
The Justice Department said in a news release that the three men are members of the extremist group The Base and were taken into custody on federal felony charges in Maryland and Delaware, the AP reports.
During the defendants’ initial court hearing, a prosecutor said that one of the men compared the white supremacist group to al-Qaida and had discussed traveling to Ukraine to fight alongside “nationalists,” the AP reports.
According to a law enforcement official who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, the three men were believed to be planning to attend the pro-gun rally in Richmond.
Amid reports that armed militia groups were planning to attend, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency, banning all types of weapons from the gun rally.
Trump responded by ridiculing the governor and tweeting, “Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia.”
The AP reports that according to an FBI agent’s affidavit, in encrypted chat rooms members of The Base discussed committing acts of violence against Blacks and Jews.
Additionally, they discussed ways to make improvised explosive devices, their military-style training camps and their desire to create a white “ethno-state.”
According to a prosecutor, when federal agents moved in to arrest Lemley and Matthews, the men smashed cell-phones and tried to flush the pieces down a toilet, the AP reports.
The Canadian Department of National Defence said they were investigating Mathews for several months for “possible racist extremist activities” and both U.S. and Canadian authorities were searching for him after his truck was found in September near the border between the two countries, the AP reports.
CBS News reports, according to a video Mathews allegedly created on December 1, in which he is wearing a gas mask to distort his voice and hide his face, he said, “Derail some f***ing trains, kill some people, and poison some water supplies. You better be f***ing ready to do those things. If you want the white race to survive, you’re going to have to do your f***ing part.”
Mathews’ defense attorney Joseph Balter said, “One man’s domestic terrorism is another man’s exercise of his first amendment rights,” CBS News reports. The judge responded by asking, “What’s the government supposed to do? Are they supposed to wait until they go to Richmond and kill people?”
Surveillance devices caught Mathews and Lemley discussing what they might do on their trip to Virginia’s capital. Lemley told Mathews, “I literally need, I need to claim my first victim,” according to CBS News.
Mathews added, “You know we got this situation in Virginia where this is going to be, that opportunity is boundless and the thing is you’ve got tons of guys who are just in theory should be radicalized enough to know that all you gotta do is start making things go wrong and if Virginia can spiral out to f***ing full blown civil war,” CBS News reports.
CBS Investigative Reporter Mike Hellgren tweeted video of U.S. Attorney Robert Hur outside the federal courthouse in Greenbelt telling reporters, “They have a right to say what they think, but everyone else has the right to be safe and free from harm.”
CBS News reports, Mathews was held in federal detention. Lemley waived his right to a detention hearing and will continue to be held. The third defendant William Bilbrough IV was ordered to be held.
FBI Special Agent Jennifer Boone told reporters, CBS News reports, “If you see something say something. If you suspect something, say something. We must not allow fear or silence weaponize those who seek to commit acts of violence against our communities or against our nation.”
(Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images)