February 22, 2020

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The case against a neo-Nazi: 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.

Homegrown hate: Coverage of a neo-Nazi recruiter in Winnipeg

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Posted: 13/09/2019 11:56 AM

Read Ryan Thorpe's story on infiltrating a neo-Nazi paramilitary group, and the Free Press' follow-up coverage.

Read Full Story

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.

The arrests in Maryland come on the eve of a potentially explosive pro-gun rights rally in Richmond, Va., where the governor declared a state of emergency to stop the protest from becoming a repeat of the bloody Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

According to American law enforcement, Mathews and his co-accused were planning to head to the Jan. 20 rally, where out-of-state militias and hate groups intend to converge.

Thursday's developments help solve the mystery of a how the Winnipeg-based neo-Nazi managed to flee the country, evade arrest, and become the subject of international headlines. 

Dave Fitz of the FBI's Baltimore office says Patrik Mathews was one of three men taken into custody this morning. (RCMP photo)</p>

Dave Fitz of the FBI's Baltimore office says Patrik Mathews was one of three men taken into custody this morning. (RCMP photo)

Court documents show the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tracked Mathews’ movements since he disappeared from his Beausejour home in late-August after being outed as a neo-Nazi recruiter and illegally crossed the U.S.-Canada border.

The affidavit from an FBI special agent used to secure arrest warrants for Mathews and the two Maryland men —  Brian Lemley, 33, a former cavalry soldier in the United States Army, and William Bilbrough, 19 — indicates the trio were targeted with sophisticated law enforcement techniques.

The FBI tapped into encrypted chatrooms where members of The Base — the group Mathews was a recruiter for —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."

RCMP statement

“The RCMP is aware of the arrest of Patrik Mathews today by the FBI. We work closely with our international partners and maintain strong relationships with law enforcement agencies around the world. The RCMP does not comment on investigations being conducted by other countries and therefore we have no further comment.”

“The RCMP is aware of the arrest of Patrik Mathews today by the FBI. We work closely with our international partners and maintain strong relationships with law enforcement agencies around the world. The RCMP does not comment on investigations being conducted by other countries and therefore we have no further comment.”

 

Federal Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s statement

“I am aware that the FBI arrested the individual in question. I am proud of the work done by both Canadian and American authorities on this matter. As I have said before, we will not tolerate racism and discrimination in the Canadian Armed Forces. We will continue to ensure the Canadian Armed Forces is an open and welcome modern military.”

--- With files from Dylan Robertson

After the Free Press's investigation, Mathews was dismissed from his duties as a master corporal combat engineer in the Canadian Army Reserves and the RCMP raided his home and seized his firearms.

Soon after, he disappeared. The Mounties formally declared him missing Aug. 23.

The FBI now says Mathews fled to the U.S. days earlier. On Aug. 30, Lemley and Bilbrough drove roughly 965 kilometres from Maryland to Michigan to pick Mathews up and provide him safe harbour among The Base’s white supremacist network, according to the affidavit.

By Nov. 3, Mathews and Lemley were holed up in a hotel room in Elkton, Maryland, near where Bilbrough lived. The following day, Lemley and Mathews drove to Delaware, where Lemley rented an apartment for them. The pair has lived there since.

The FBI tapped into encrypted chatrooms where members of The Base — the group Mathews was a recruiter for —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."

The FBI tapped into encrypted chatrooms where members of The Base — the group Mathews was a recruiter for —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."

During December, Lemley and Mathews purchased firearms parts and successfully built a functioning assault rifle, the FBI said in the affidavit.

By Dec. 21, the three men were reunited at the Delaware apartment where they attempted to manufacture DMT— a powerful hallucinogenic drug and Schedule 1 Controlled Substance —while discussing The Base’s activities and membership, according to the FBI.

On Jan. 2, Lemley took the assault rifle to a gun range in Maryland where an FBI agent observed him firing the gun and heard "what appeared to be more than one bullet being fired at a time," the affidavit states.

When Lemley returned to the apartment, he’s said to have told Mathews the assault rifle "would have to be cached, though, because that’s an ATF f—-king nightmare." He added: "Oh oops, it looks like I accidentally made a machine gun."

The Virginia state Capitol building is surrounded by fencing, Thursday, in Richmond, Va., in preparation for Monday's rally by gun rights advocates. (Dean Hoffmeyer / Richmond Times-Dispatch)

The Virginia state Capitol building is surrounded by fencing, Thursday, in Richmond, Va., in preparation for Monday's rally by gun rights advocates. (Dean Hoffmeyer / Richmond Times-Dispatch)

According to the FBI, Lemley told Mathews: "Go ahead and take the lower (receiver) off, give it to me. I’m gonna stow it until next week, just in case the ATF shows up tomorrow." Mathews responded: "Um, if they show up here, we got other problems."

On Jan. 5, Lemley and Mathews returned to the Maryland gun range where they practised target shooting with the assault rifle. Six days later, they reportedly picked up 1,500 rounds of 5.56 mm and 6.5 mm ammunition and plate carriers, which are used to support body armour.

The three men are alleged to have discussed traveling to Monday's gun rights protest in Richmond, where Gov. Ralph Northam recently announced a state of emergency.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, centre, declared a temporary emergency Wednesday, banning all weapons, including guns, from Capitol Square ahead of a massive rally planned next week over gun rights. (Steve Helber / Associated Press files)

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, centre, declared a temporary emergency Wednesday, banning all weapons, including guns, from Capitol Square ahead of a massive rally planned next week over gun rights. (Steve Helber / Associated Press files)

Northam, a Democrat, made the decision to ban all weapons from the State Capitol grounds due to "threats of armed confrontation and assault" from out-of-state militia and hate groups.

An annual event called "Lobby Day" — where lobby groups meet with state legislators to pitch proposals — is slated for Monday in Virginia. This year, the Democratic Party has taken over a majority in the state house and is seeking to push through stricter gun control measures. Thousands of protesters are expected to arrive in Richmond to demonstrate against the proposed changes.

Mathews has been charged with one count of "transporting a firearm and ammunition in interstate commerce with intent to commit a felony offense" and one count of "being an alien in possession of a firearm and ammunition."

The investigation by <em>Winnipeg Free Press</em> reporter Ryan Thorpe in August revealed Mathews' association with the secretive neo-Nazi group. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)</p> (Ruth Bonneville / Free Press files)

The investigation by Winnipeg Free Press reporter Ryan Thorpe in August revealed Mathews' association with the secretive neo-Nazi group. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

(Ruth Bonneville / Free Press files)

If convicted of both charges and ordered to serve consecutive, maximum sentences, he could spend up to 20 years in U.S. federal prison.

Bilbrough faces two criminal charges related to harbouring and transporting an illegal alien. He faces up to 15 years in prison. Lemley has been charged with five offences and faces up to 40 years in prison.

The defendants were expected to appear in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland Thursday afternoon.

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

 Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

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.

Read full biography

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