By Michael Kunzelman, The Associated Press
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — A hidden camera captured members of a white supremacist group expressing hope that violence at a gun rights rally in Virginia this week could start a civil war, federal prosecutors said in a court filing Tuesday.
Former Canadian Armed Forces reservist Patrik Jordan Mathews also videotaped himself advocating for killing people, poisoning water supplies and derailing trains, a prosecutor wrote in urging a judge in Maryland to keep Mathews and two other members of The Base detained in federal custody.
But the 27-year-old Canadian national didn’t know investigators were watching and listening when he and two other group members talked about attending the Richmond rally in the days leading up to Monday’s event, which attracted tens of thousands of people and ended peacefully.
Last month, a closed-circuit television camera and microphone installed by investigators in a Delaware home captured Mathews talking about the Virginia rally as a “boundless” opportunity.
“And the thing is you’ve got tons of guys who … should be radicalized enough to know that all you gotta do is start making things go wrong and if Virginia can spiral out to (expletive) full blown civil war,” he said.
Mathews and fellow group member Brian Mark Lemley Jr., 33, of Elkton, Maryland, discussed the planning of violence at the Richmond rally, according to prosecutors. Lemley talked about using a thermal imaging scope affixed to his rifle to ambush unsuspecting civilians and police officers, prosecutors said.
“I need to claim my first victim,” Lemley said on Dec. 23, according to Tuesday’s detention memo.
“We could essentially like be literally hunting people,” Mathews said, according to prosecutors. “You could provide overwatch while I get close to do what needs to be done to certain things.”
Lemley talked about ambushing a police officer to steal the officer’s weapons and tactical gear, saying, “If there’s like a PoPo cruiser parked on the street and he doesn’t have backup, I can execute him at a whim and just take his stuff,” according to prosecutors.
FBI agents arrested Mathews, Lemley and William Garfield Bilbrough IV, 19, of Denton, Maryland last Thursday as part of a broader investigation of The Base. Authorities in Georgia and Wisconsin also arrested four other men linked to the group.
Detention hearings for Mathews and Bilbrough are scheduled for Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, Maryland. Their attorneys didn’t immediately respond to the memo filed Tuesday by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom.
Mathews and Lemley are charged with transporting a firearm and ammunition with intent to commit a felony. Bilbrough is charged with “transporting and harbouring aliens.”
Bilbrough’s attorney, Robert Bonsib, said last Thursday that he was “underwhelmed” by a prosecutor’s arguments for keeping his client detained. 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.
Lawyers for Mathews and Lemley declined to comment after last Thursday’s hearings.
Mathews, who was a combat engineer in the Canadian Army Reserve, illegally crossed the U.S. border near Minnesota in August after reporting by the Winnipeg Free Press led to his identification as a member of The Base.
Investigators believe Bilbrough and Lemley, who was a “cavalry scout” in the U.S. Army, drove from Maryland to Michigan to pick up Mathews and bring him to the Mid-Atlantic region, authorities said.
On Jan. 5, Mathews and Lemley returned to the Delaware home from a gun range in Maryland and began packing rations and other material that investigators believe they planned to use during and after the Virginia rally, court documents said.
They packed containers with food and supplies before Mathews remarked about needing to bring a gas mask, investigators said. Lemley also said he thought they’d have food to last between three and five months and that it “might be enough til the war is over,” according to the filing.
Lemley had also discussed loading the truck “for the war,” the documents said. Authorities said Lemley had also bought a 4-foot (1-meter) metal antenna to attach to his truck to get a better radio signal to communicate after any Virginia confrontations.
A day before their arrests, Lemley told Mathews that “there cannot be no trust among a group of murderers,” the detention memo says.
“I cannot trust you to keep my murdering secrets. Not under threat of 30 years in jail and torture. Why should I trust you?” Lemley asked.
“You realize that they’re just going to call us terrorists,” Mathews said minutes later.
As federal agents moved in to arrest Lemley and Matthews on Thursday, the men smashed cellphones and dropped the pieces in a toilet, a prosecutor said.
Bilbrough was arrested in Maryland. Prosecutors say Bilbrough has repeatedly expressed an interest in travelling to Ukraine to fight alongside “nationalists” for several months.
U.S. and Canadian authorities had been searching for Mathews after his truck was found in September near the border between the two countries. 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.
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.”
Last Friday, Georgia authorities announced that they arrested three members of The Base on charges they conspired to kill members of a militant anti-fascist group. The arrests came after an undercover FBI agent infiltrated the group and participated in shooting drills in the mountains of northern Georgia, according to a police affidavit.
Separately last Friday, the Justice Department charged a Wisconsin man who they say was also a member of The Base. That man is accused of spray- painting swastikas, the group’s symbol and anti-Semitic words on a synagogue in Racine, Wisconsin , in September.
Associated Press reporter Mike Balsamo in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.