In an effort to avoid a second Charlottesville, the Virginia state government and federal law enforcement are taking serious precautions in advance of a gun-rights rally on Martin Luther King Day in Richmond that has attracted the attention of far-right agitators. Yesterday, Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in the capital city ahead of the weekend’s “Lobby Day” rally, stating that outside protestors “have as their purpose not peaceful assembly but violence, rioting, and insurrection.” On Thursday morning, the FBI arrested three suspected members of the neo-Nazi group the Base who had discussed traveling to Richmond with the alleged intention of instigating violence.
The three men — Patrik Jordan Mathews, 27, Brian M. Lemley Jr., 33, and William G. Bilbrough IV, 19 — were charged with multiple federal crimes in Maryland, according to the Justice Department. Among other charges, prosecutors state that Lemley and Mathews built a functioning assault rifle, and purchased over 1,500 rounds of ammunition for it. The three are allegedly connected to the Base, which serves as a social network to link cellular neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups.
According to a 2018 report from Vice News, the operation helps cell groups in “networking, creating propaganda, organizing in-person meet-ups, and discussing potential violence or “direct action” against minority groups, especially Jewish and black Americans. An extensive online library contains a trove of manuals with instructions on lone wolf terror-tactics, gunsmithing, data mining, interrogation tactics, counter-surveillance techniques, bomb making, chemical weapons creation, and guerilla warfare.” In November, the FBI arrested an 18-year-old in New Jersey using the Base as a recruitment tool and to promote violent attacks against people of color. Although it’s unclear if the reference is intentional, the base is the English translation of al-Qaeda.
A prolific recruiter for the Base, Mathews has been the subject of significant media attention over the last six months: After his dismissal from his combat engineering role in the Canadian Army for his white nationalist ties, Mathews went missing, and crossed into the U.S. near the Minnesota border in August. As of December, Mathews was at a paramilitary training camp run by the Base in Georgia.
Because of the undocumented crossing, Lemley and Bilbrough face charges of transporting and harboring aliens, and Mathews with being an alien in possession of a firearm and ammunition. According to a DOJ statement released upon their arrest, the Base members discussed “recruitment, creating a white ethno-state, committing acts of violence against minority communities (including African-Americans and Jewish-Americans), the organization’s military-style training camps, and ways to make improvised explosive devices.” As part of his military training, Mathews is considered an expert in the use of explosives.