By James McCarten, The Canadian Press
GREENBELT, Md. — A former Canadian army reservist’s right to express his views, however repugnant, doesn’t trump the risk he might try to escape justice, a U.S. District Court judge declared Wednesday as he ordered accused white supremacist Patrik Mathews to remain behind bars.
Judge Timothy Sullivan said Mathews, 27, is in the country illegally, has no ties to the United States and is facing serious charges that stem from his role in an alleged plot to sow violence, death and racial unrest, including at a massive pro-gun rally earlier this week in Virginia — a plot Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom described in court as domestic terrorism.
“You can’t get more serious than murder,” Windom told Sullivan as he argued the government’s case to keep Mathews in custody. “You can’t get more serious than inciting civil disobedience. That’s exactly what Mr. Mathews was planning to do.”
Sullivan — who sounded disinclined throughout Wednesday’s brief hearing to free the accused, given that he’s in the country illegally as it is — agreed. He ordered Mathews held until a preliminary hearing scheduled for Jan. 30.
“I don’t need to go any further than he’s a serious risk of flight,” Sullivan said. “This is a very dangerous person, he espouses very dangerous beliefs — I don’t think I have to say much more.”
Mathews and two other men were arrested last week after the former reservist disappeared from his residence in Manitoba amid allegations he was a recruiter for a white-supremacist group called The Base. At the time, Mathews was a combat engineer with the 38 Canadian Brigade Group in Winnipeg, though the military said then it was investigating those allegations and fast-tracking his request to be released from the Canadian Armed Forces.
He is facing one count of transporting a firearm and ammunition with intent to commit a felony and one charge of being an alien in possession of a firearm and ammunition — charges that each carry a maximum of 10 years in prison, three years of probation and a $250,000 fine.
Prosecutors allege in documents filed in court that Mathews videotaped himself advocating for killing people, poisoning water supplies and derailing trains. They have also alleged that Mathews and two other alleged co-conspirators, also members of The Base, had been planning to violently disrupt Monday’s gun-rights rally in Richmond, Va., in hopes of inciting civil war.
Defence counsel Joseph Balter acknowledged early in the hearing that his client, if released, would be immediately subject to an immigration warrant. But he argued that the government’s motion to keep Mathews in custody was predicated more on the content of “odious” and “repugnant” sentiments expressed in the video than on the potential danger he potentially posed.
The charges he is facing “would not, by themselves, support a detention order,” Balter said. “One man’s domestic terrorism can be another man’s exercising of his First Amendment rights.”
The detention memo filed Tuesday details how investigators used a closed-circuit television camera and microphone, hidden in a home in Delaware, to record Mathews talking about the Virginia rally as a “boundless” opportunity.
“All you gotta do is start making things go wrong and if Virginia can spiral out to (expletive) full-blown civil war,” the documents quote Mathews as saying.
Mathews and fellow group member Brian Mark Lemley Jr., 33, of Elkton, Md., discussed the planning of violence at the Richmond rally, according to prosecutors. They said Lemley talked about using a thermal imaging scope affixed to his rifle to ambush unsuspecting civilians and police officers.
“I need to claim my first victim,” Lemley said on Dec. 23, according to the 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.”
FBI agents arrested Mathews, Lemley and William Garfield Bilbrough IV, 19, of Denton, Md., 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.
Mathews, who was ushered into court wearing orange prison garb, with his hands cuffed behind his back, was silent throughout Wednesday’s hearing except when Windom made passing reference to the fact that Mathews couldn’t provide the address of the farm where he said he lived in Manitoba.
“I just couldn’t remember the street address, sir,” Mathews interjected, a note of frustration in his voice.
Sullivan admonished him for speaking out, urging him to relay his messages through Balter and otherwise “take shelter under your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.”
— With files from The Associated Press