Manitoba fugitive at centre of neo-Nazi murder plot: FBI
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/01/2020 (1111 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was a scene out of a thriller novel.
A neo-Nazi on the run from federal police hatches a murder plot with a comrade. Unbeknownst to them, an undercover FBI agent infiltrates the terror cell and is pulled into the conspiracy. Distrust soon festers within the ranks and the ringleader decides to double-cross the wanted man.
FBI documents reveal how Winnipeg-area fugitive Patrik Mathews finally caught
It was a lengthy criminal investigation involving the highest levels of U.S. law enforcement and the most sophisticated counter-terrorism techniques at their disposal.
The target was disgraced Canadian military reservist Patrik Mathews, who vanished from his Beausejour home last summer after being identified by an undercover Free Press investigation as a recruiter for a violent neo-Nazi paramilitary group.
On Thursday, Mathews resurfaced, this time in handcuffs, when he and two others were arrested by the FBI. They’re alleged to have stockpiled more than 1,650 rounds of ammunition and manufactured a fully-functioning assault rifle.
They were caught after the FBI tapped into encrypted neo-Nazi chatrooms and targeted the men with video and personal surveillance, as well as recorded phone calls and accessed cellular location data.
That’s the scene painted by an affidavit used to secure arrest warrants for three members of the Base — a violent, neo-Nazi paramilitary group — taken into custody Friday in Georgia.
The document sheds new light on Patrik Mathews’ activities while a fugitive in the United States, and reveals how, in a shocking twist, he found himself in the crosshairs of a murder plot he helped hatch.
After the Winnipeg Free Press exposed Mathews, an active Canadian reservist trained as a combat engineer, as a recruiter for the Base, he fled the country — illegally crossing into the U.S. in late August, where he was sheltered by fellow neo-Nazis.
By Oct. 5, Mathews was in Silver Creek, Ga., at a sprawling, 100-acre property owned by Luke Austin Lane. Also in attendance were Jacob Kaderli and Michael Helterbrand. All men are reported to be members of the Base.
There was one more person present at the meeting: an undercover FBI agent who’d recently infiltrated the group.
At the gathering, which stretched into the early-morning hours, the men discussed their hatred of anti-fascist activists and their desire to fight in pursuit of their neo-Nazi worldview. Eventually, they revealed they were planning a murder.
“These antifa types, all these people, there has to start being consequences for what they are and that’s race traitors and agents of the system,” Mathews said, according to the affidavit.
“You know, if you really want to fight these evil, evil Nazis, you better be prepared for when they actually start becoming what you…”
“What you’ve vilified them to be,” interjected Kaderli.
“Yeah,” Mathews responded.
“You call them neo-Nazi terrorist enough, they’ll eventually show you what a neo-Nazi terrorist is,” Kaderli said.
“Makes me wonder if they’re ever really prepared for that day to come?” Mathews said.
According to the undercover FBI agent, Mathews then characterized the Free Press reporter who exposed him as a white supremacist as “essentially antifa,” adding: “Any engagement in anti-fascist activity will carry the death penalty.”
The conversation then turned to the possibility of carrying out targeted murders, with Mathews saying they needed to get “snub noses” for “sneaking in and assassination.” The undercover FBI agent would later learn Mathews and Lane had begun hatching a plan to murder a married couple living in Georgia who engaged in anti-fascist activism.
By early November, however, Lane had soured on Mathews, describing him to the undercover agent as incompetent. He believed if Mathews was involved in the proposed murders, they’d get caught, the FBI said.
Homegrown hate: Coverage of a neo-Nazi recruiter in Winnipeg
Read Ryan Thorpe's story on infiltrating a neo-Nazi paramilitary group, and the Free Press' follow-up coverage.
The problem now was Mathews knew about the plot and, if the married couple turned up dead, he would be capable of linking them to the crime, according to the affidavit.
The solution: murder Mathews before murdering the couple.
During the course of the next few months, the FBI agent said Lane planned the murders and recruited Kaderli and Helterbrand to pull it off. The group allegedly decided to break-in to the couple’s home, shoot them dead, then burn it to the ground.
Speaking directly to the undercover agent, Lane is alleged to have repeatedly reiterated the need to kill Mathews, and another member of the Base he shared a Delaware apartment with, before carrying out the murders.
Lane, Kaderli and Helterbrand were arrested Friday in Georgia.
A day earlier, Mathews was arrested in Delaware alongside two other alleged members of the Base: Brian Lemley and William Bilbrough. The trio are charged with various offences that could result in decades in U.S. federal prison.
Mathews is accused of helping manufacture a fully-automatic assault rifle and stockpiling body armour and more than 1,650 rounds of ammunition. Police believe the men planned to travel Monday to a gun rights rally in Richmond, Va., authorities are concerned could break into violence.
Gov. Ralph Northam has said he doesn’t want the rally to turn into a repeat of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., where anti-fascist and white supremacist groups clashed, and a woman was killed when a neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd. The driver was convicted of first-degree murder in 2019.
On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing law enforcement officials, Mathews and his co-accused discussed going to the rally to open fire on the crowds from multiple positions in an effort to sow chaos and cause bloodshed.
The back-to-back high-profile arrests of members of the Base, which arose after lengthy, sophisticated investigations, speak to how serious of a threat federal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. consider the group to be.
“These groups, they exist to promote and plan and prepare for terrorism. If they are not countered or addressed in a significant matter, they will carry that sort of stuff out. It’s really messed up they let him run the border.” – Evan Balgord, Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Evan Balgord of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, which has long-sounded the alarm about groups like the Base, says it’s time for Canadian law enforcement to take note.
In particular, Balgord points to the fact Mathews successfully fled the country after the RCMP raided his Manitoba home and seized his firearms. He wonders what resources — if any — were being leveraged by police to keep an eye on Mathews, or build a case against him, after the Free Press exposed him as a member of a fledgling neo-Nazi terror cell.
“These groups, they exist to promote and plan and prepare for terrorism. If they are not countered or addressed in a significant manner, they will carry that sort of stuff out. It’s really messed up they let him run the border,” Balgord said.
“They should be more transparent about how that went down and why that happened, because they should prevent similar things from happening in the future. If law enforcement doesn’t take it seriously, that’s when things like this happen.
“We don’t ring alarm bells for no good reason.”
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Friday, January 17, 2020 7:42 PM CST: Fixes typo.