A former Canadian Armed Forces reservist and two other men who authorities say are linked to a violent white supremacist group were arrested Thursday, just days before they were believed to be headed to a pro-gun rally in Virginia’s capital.
The three men, members of The Base, were taken into custody on federal felony charges in Maryland and Delaware, the Justice Department said in a news release. One of the men had discussed traveling to Ukraine to fight alongside “nationalists” and compared the white supremacist group to al-Qaeda, a prosecutor said during the defendants’ initial court hearing.
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 three men were believed to be planning to attend a pro-gun rally scheduled for Monday in Richmond, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss an active investigation.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday declared a state of emergency and banned all types of weapons from the gun rally, citing reports that armed militia groups were planning to attend.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League and Gunowners of America filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking an injunction specifically against the ban on firearms. A judge upheld the ban, citing U.S. Supreme Court and other court rulings that found the Second Amendment right to bear arms is not unlimited.
In encrypted chat rooms, members of The Base have discussed committing acts of violence against blacks and Jews, ways to make improvised explosive devices, their military-style training camps and their desire to create a white “ethnostate,” according to an FBI agent’s affidavit.
Mathews and Lemley were arrested in Delaware and Bilbrough was arrested in Maryland. The men briefly appeared in court Thursday afternoon in Greenbelt, Maryland. A federal magistrate judge agreed to keep all three men jailed pending detention hearings, scheduled for Wednesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom showed the judge a photograph of Bilbrough participating in a military-style training camp with other members of The Base and said Bilbrough had also talked about traveling to Ukraine to fight alongside “nationalists.”
“He has personally compared The Base favorably to al-Qaeda,” Windom said.