The FBI arrested three alleged members of a white supremacist group early Thursday, including two men accused of possessing a machine gun, over 1,000 rounds of ammunition and body armor parts, according to the Justice Department.
The three were arrested at residences in Delaware and Maryland and taken into custody without incident, FBI spokesman Dave Fitz said.
The men, who the Justice Department says are members of the international white supremacist group known as The Base, were believed to be planning to attend a pro-gun rally in Virginia’s capital of Richmond on Monday that is expected to draw a significant crowd of extremists, according to a law enforcement official.
They’re charged with multiple firearms and immigration-related offenses and are expected to make an initial appearance in Maryland federal court later Thursday.
Brian Mark Lemley Jr., 33, is accused of transporting a machine gun, as well as transporting a firearm and ammunition with intent to commit a felony.
Lemley and William Garfield Bilbrough IV, 19, are also accused of transporting and harboring an alien — 27-year-old Patrik Jordan Mathews, a Canadian citizen and former combat engineer in the Canadian Army Reserve.
Like Lemley, Mathews is charged with transporting a firearm and ammunition with intent to commit a felony. A criminal complaint filed in court also charges Mathews with being an alien in possession of a firearm and ammunition.
It wasn’t immediately clear who was representing the men. No defense attorneys were listed on the court record. The Washington Post first reported the arrests.
Canadian illegally entered US in August, authorities say
Mathews is accused of illegally crossing into the US — specifically, Minnesota — from Canada on August 19.
Federal authorities in Canada had reported Mathews as a missing person as of late August. Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in September that they had found a car belonging to Mathews abandoned at a rural property in the border town of Piney, Manitoba.
A Winnipeg newspaper ran a story over the summer alleging Mathews was recruiting for The Base. A spokesman for Canada’s Department of National Defence told CNN Mathews was relieved of his military duties in early August as a result of the “seriousness” of allegations against him “and the risk to unit morale and cohesion.”
On August 30, Lemley and Bilbrough allegedly drove some 600 miles to pick up Mathews in Michigan, according to the complaint filed in the Maryland federal court.
According to court documents, in November Lemley ordered a gun part online, and last month, along with Mathews, built a functioning assault rifle using that part.
Lemley and Matthews allegedly purchased some 1,650 rounds of ammunition earlier this month, and practiced using the assault rifle at a gun range in Maryland, where FBI agents had set up a hidden camera to secretly record them as they practiced shooting, according to a criminal complaint.
The Base describes itself as an international network that is training its members to fight in a race war, according to the Counter Extremism Project.
Inside encrypted chat rooms, members of the group have discussed creating a white ethno-state and attacking African Americans and Jewish people, according to the criminal complaint.
Group members have also talked about ways to build bombs and the military-style training camps the group runs, the complaint says.
The FBI had been keeping close surveillance of the men for weeks. Conversations the men had inside private residences — including about making drugs and the assault rifle they built — are detailed in the complaint.
“Oh oops, it looks like I accidentally made a machine gun,” Lemley told Mathews on January 2, according to the complaint.
Earlier this week, Virginia’s governor declared a temporary state of emergency around the Monday rally that banned all weapons on state Capitol grounds, citing credible threats of violence.
“State intelligence analysts have identified threats and violent rhetoric similar to what has been seen before other major events such as Charlottesville,” Gov. Ralph Northam said, referring to the deadly 2017 white supremacist rally in that Virginia city.
The threats, which are considered credible by law enforcement, come from mainstream channels and alternative dark web channels used by violent groups and white nationalists from outside of Virginia, Northam said.
By David Shortell, CNN