Neo-Nazi group members plotted to kill Free Press reporter
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Disturbing details of a plan to kill a Free Press reporter who had infiltrated a white nationalist hate group were revealed for the first time Wednesday.
In 2019, a then-18-year-old from New Jersey told the FBI that he and other members of neo-Nazi organization The Base planned to kill reporter Ryan Thorpe, after his work had exposed one of its Manitoba members: then-Canadian Armed Forces reservist Patrik Mathews.
The plan came to light in a December 2019 bail hearing for the Base member Richard Tobin, and was reported Wednesday by German news outlet Zeit Online.
Thorpe went undercover in the spring of 2019, and later exposed Beausejour resident Mathews as a local member of the Base, which was actively recruiting in Winnipeg and plotting extreme violence.
- Nov. 19, 2021: Inside the war on hate: Reporter Ryan Thorpe re-examines the journey of Patrik Mathews from neo-Nazi to U.S. prison inmate, and how authorities are coming to grips with domestic terrorism
Members of the Base considered Thorpe’s reporting “doxxing” and planned to kill him right before they carried out a plan to help Mathews escape to the United States, according to U.S. bail court documents uncovered by Montreal-based investigative journalist Zachary Kamel.
When U.S. law enforcement officials later searched Tobin’s computer, they found an image that depicted Thorpe being beheaded. (A headshot of Thorpe was superimposed over an image of American journalist James Foley being beheaded by the Islamic State in 2014.)
The murder plot was never carried out because they “got cold feet,” Tobin told the FBI, but members did smuggle Mathews across the border.
Mathews is currently serving nine years in a U.S. prison for his role in a separate mass murder plot.
The new report said Manitoba RCMP had warned Thorpe of a threat against him after his “Homegrown Hate” investigative series was published but provided no details.
Thorpe said Wednesday he wasn’t surprised he was being threatened, but was surprised police didn’t give him more information at the time.
Manitoba RCMP’s officer in charge of federal criminal operations sent Thorpe a letter in September 2019 stating: “A threat has surfaced regarding your personal safety. No further information can be provided to you regarding this threat.”
RCMP advised the Free Press reporter to install home alarms and call 911 if there was an emergency. At the time of the RCMP warning, Mathews was missing and was presumed to have fled to the U.S.
“I knew given the nature of the reporting I’d done on this story, that anyone associated with this organization might be quite angry at me and that these are people with a propensity for violence, so that could be directed at me,” Thorpe said.
“I always knew that was a possible outcome. At the same time, I was a bit surprised, looking back at the notification that the RCMP gave me and just how vague it was,” particularly given the level of details U.S. law enforcement had.
Thorpe was already taking safety precautions after his investigation was published. However, “If I’d known that members of the Base in the United States were trying to co-ordinate with Mathews to plan an attack on me before sneaking him across the border, I probably would have been even more careful than I was at that point in time.”
Free Press editor Paul Samyn denounced the threats against Thorpe.
“It is deeply disturbing that those in the business of peddling hate were also prepared to target one of our reporters for execution,’’ Samyn said Wednesday.
“It is deeply disturbing that those in the business of peddling hate were also prepared to target one of our reporters for execution.’’ – Editor Paul Samyn
“The deadly plans of this extremist group speaks to the value of the public service journalism our investigation delivered and another reminder of the dangers reporters are increasingly facing for simply doing their job.”
Kamel, a freelance journalist, said he has also been subject to death threats in his career.
He came across the bail hearing documents while researching a different story, paid fees to a third-party transcriber to obtain them, and was “shocked” to see a murder plot. Even more shocking, Kamel said Wednesday, was the target was barely informed.
“That freaked the hell out of me. I think that there needs to be some sort of accountability there, and knowing why wasn’t Ryan given more of a heads-up, and how is it that he’s only learning of this through my reporting… in 2022?”
“I think that there needs to be some sort of accountability there, and knowing why wasn’t Ryan given more of a heads-up, and how is it that he’s only learning of this through my reporting… in 2022?” – Zachary Kamel
That lack of transparency between law enforcement and journalists is all too common, said Canadian Association of Journalists president Brent Jolly.
The details of the murder plot are “chilling” but the RCMP’s notification was even more troubling, he said. “That kind of cavalier attitude towards someone who is working in the public interest… is quite shocking.”
Jolly cited several recent examples of law enforcement responding inadequately threats against journalists, most of them online.
“This is perhaps one of the most extreme examples that we’ve seen, but it’s by no means anything new.”