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Judge: Canadian tied to extremist group is 'very dangerous'

Surveillance video Brian Mark Lemley Jr, right, and Patrik Mathews leaving a store in Delaware where they purchased ammunition and paper shooting targets on Jan. 1, 2020.

U.S. ATTORNEY/AP

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN | Associated Press | Published: January 22, 2020

GREENBELT, Md. — A former Canadian Armed Forces reservist plotted with other members of a white supremacist group to carry out "essentially a paramilitary strike" at a Virginia gun rights rally, a federal prosecutor said Wednesday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Sullivan agreed to keep Patrik Mathews, 27, detained in federal custody pending a Jan. 30 preliminary hearing.

Mathews leaned back in his chair and quietly laughed when the magistrate read aloud a transcript of a video in which the Canadian national advocated killing people, poisoning water supplies and derailing trains.

"This is a very dangerous person," the magistrate said during Mathews' detention hearing in Maryland. "He espouses very dangerous beliefs."

Later Wednesday, Sullivan refused to set bail for another defendant arrested in the FBI's investigation of The Base. A prosecutor described William Garfield Bilbrough IV — a 19-year-old pizza delivery driver who lives with his grandmother in Denton, Maryland — as a leader of the group who was seen as a "prophet" by Mathews and the third man arrested in the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom showed the judge a photograph recovered from Bilbrough's phone that shows him holding up the severed head of a goat he had killed in a "ritual sacrifice" at a training camp in Georgia for members of The Base. Bilbrough initially tried to kill the goat with a knife but failed, so he borrowed a gun to shoot it, Windom said.

Mathews, Bilbrough and Brian Mark Lemley Jr., 33, of Elkton, Maryland, were arrested Thursday on federal felony charges in Maryland and Delaware, just days before the pro-gun rally in Virginia's capital. Federal prosecutors said in a court filing Tuesday that a hidden camera captured the men discussing "the planning of violence" at the rally and expressed hope that bloodshed could start a civil war. Monday's event attracted tens of thousands of people and ended peacefully.

"This is a domestic terrorist investigation," Windom said Wednesday.

Bilbrough, the only defendant in the case who isn't facing firearms-related charges, participated in their early discussions about traveling to Richmond but recently had tried to distance himself from the group, the prosecutor said.

"He left The Base because he found out certain information about the leader of The Base," Windom said without elaborating,

Bilbrough's attorney, Robert Bonsib, said his client left the group "because he was not comfortable with what they were doing."

"Nineteen-year-olds are knuckleheads sometimes," Bonsib told the magistrate. "You've got to decide: Is he a knucklehead or a terrorist? And he's a knucklehead."

Sullivan, who called it "troubling" that Bilbrough had described himself as a group leader, said it was a "close call" whether to keep the teen detained. The magistrate said he considered Bilbrough's age, "but anybody can pull the trigger no matter how old they are."

Mathews' attorney, Joseph Balter, said his client may have used "alarming" and "outrageous" language in conversations captured on video at a Delaware home in the days leading up to the rally. But Balter said his client's statements are protected by the First Amendment as free speech and did not reflect any specific plans for violence.

"One man's domestic terrorist can be another man's exercise of his First Amendment rights," Balter said.

Windom said the men were preparing for a civil war when they packed up food and other supplies that they apparently intended to use during and after the Virginia rally.

"Mr. Mathews was not arrested for violating the First Amendment of the Constitution," Windom said.

Lemley withdrew his request for a detention hearing.

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, prosecutors said.

"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 ... full blown civil war," he said.

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."

FBI agents arrested Mathews, Lemley and Bilbrough as part of a broader investigation of The Base. Authorities in Georgia and Wisconsin also arrested four other men linked to the group.

Mathews and Lemley are charged with transporting a firearm and ammunition with intent to commit a felony. Bilbrough is charged with "transporting and harboring aliens."