A former Canadian Forces reservist who disappeared after being accused of being a violent white supremacist has resurfaced in the United States where he is facing charges in a neo-Nazi weapons conspiracy.
Patrik Mathews, 27, appeared in a Maryland court Thursday on allegations of being part of a right-wing extremist group known as The Base. He and two American co-accused, one of whom also has a military background, are charged with unlawfully transporting an assault rifle and ammunition with intent to commit a felony.
Dressed in a brown T-shirt and camouflage cargo pants and sporting a heavy beard, Mr. Mathews was asked by Judge Charles Day during his appearance in a U.S. District Court if he understood the charges against him.
“Understood,” Mr. Mathews replied. He offered the same reply when informed of his rights by the judge.
When Mr. Mathews and a co-accused were arrested, they smashed their cellphones and dumped them into the toilet before submitting to federal agents, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom said.
The arrests came one day after Virginia issued a public warning about a potential attack ahead of a pro-gun rally next week.
“I’m declaring a state of emergency in Richmond,” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced on Twitter on Wednesday. Citing police warnings that he had received, he announced a five-day-long weapons ban on the grounds of the state legislature, where protests are scheduled for Monday. “This intelligence suggests militia groups and hate groups, some from out of state, plan to come to the Capitol.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice would not say whether the arrests are connected to the state of emergency. “I cannot speak beyond what is in the criminal complaint and there is nothing in the complaint that mentions the event or the [Virginia Governor’s] tweets,” Marcia Murphy said.
In the criminal complaint, a six-page affidavit from FBI Special Agent Rachid Harrison alleges Mr. Mathews and his co-conspirators were members of The Base. The group uses encrypted internet chat rooms to discuss “creating a white ethno-state, committing acts of violence against minority communities" and also "military-style training camps, and ways to make improvised explosive devices,” according to the affidavit.
Mr. Mathews had last been seen in Canada in August, when he disappeared from his home in Beausejour, Man., after his alleged recruiting work for The Base was revealed in reports by the Winnipeg Free Press.
In the aftermath, the RCMP raided his home and the Canadian Forces stripped him of his reservist status.
Prosecutors allege that Mr. Mathews was in the United States illegally after crossing from Manitoba into Minnesota on Aug. 19. There, his two American co-accused, Brian Mark Lemley, 33, and William Garfield Bilbrough, 19, are alleged to have picked him up.
The three then drove east and spent time in Delaware and Maryland, according to Special Agent Harrison.
The affidavit alleges that on Nov. 28, the men placed an order for an assault-rifle component – known as an upper receiver – and cobbled together a working weapon after getting it.
On New Year’s Day, the FBI says, the suspects purchased 150 bullets and they were observed firing the assault rifle at a Maryland gun range the next day.
That same day, after returning to a Delaware apartment shared by Mr. Mathews and Mr. Lemley, the group allegedly discussed the need to hide the weapon from authorities.
“Oh oops, it looks like I accidentally made a machine gun,” Mr. Lemley – a former U.S. Army Cavalry Scout – is alleged to have said.
The FBI later installed a video camera at the shooting range and captured images of Mr. Mathews firing the weapon on Jan. 5 and Jan. 11, according to the affidavit.
The suspects are alleged to have purchased 1,500 more rounds on Jan. 7.
Several thousand gun-rights supporters are planning a large rally in Richmond, Virginia’s capital, on Monday in response to the Democratic-controlled state legislature’s push to stiffen gun laws.
Virginia has become the latest focal point for the contentious American debate around the right to bear arms. Many gun-rights groups contend the U.S. Constitution guarantees their right to possess any firearm. Those opposed say gun laws would help lessen the number of people killed by guns each year.
On Thursday, a Canadian Forces spokesperson declined to comment on Mr. Mathews’s arrest, since he is no longer a reservist. The RCMP also declined to comment on the case, saying only that their missing-person file on him is now closed.
He joined the Canadian Forces in 2010 and was a combat engineer at the Canadian Forces Base in Winnipeg. As a reservist, he worked part-time for the military and did not have any deployments.
Groups that work to expose violent white supremacists say the case highlights how this threat warrants deeper investigation. “This is someone [Mr. Mathews] who is dangerous,” said Joshua Fisher-Birch, a researcher for the U.S.-based Counter Extremism Project.
He said The Base is a group that has “made their intentions clear on the fact that they want to commit attacks."
With reports from The Canadian Press and Reuters
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