GREENBELT, Md. — Patrik Mathews walked into a U.S. federal courtroom Thursday cloaked in the presumption of innocence. When he left, he was a felon — four times over.
The former master corporal and combat engineer in the Canadian Army Reserves pleaded guilty to four criminal charges in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Maryland during a rearraignment hearing.
The charges stem from crimes committed in Maryland and Delaware in late-2019 and early-2020, while the Beausejour resident was on the run, and allegedly involved in the plotting of murders and terror attacks.
The convictions bring the saga of Patrik Mathews — perhaps the most dramatic, high-profile case where a member of the Canadian military has been linked to far-right extremism in recent years — one step closer to completion.
Mathews pleaded guilty to two counts of being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm; one count of transporting a firearm over state lines with the intent to commit a felony; and one count of obstruction of justice, related to the deliberate destruction of evidence.
For each of the three firearm-related crimes, the Manitoba man faces up to 10 years in prison; for the obstruction of justice charge, he could be sentenced to an additional 20 years.
There is no parole in the U.S. federal prison system.
"Did you do the things the government said you did?" District Judge Theodore D. Chuang asked Mathews — shortly after determining his competency to agree to a plea deal — at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
"Yes, your honour," Mathews said, softly.
Mathews, 29, strode into court with a beard down to his chest and thick blonde hair that fell below his shoulders. Clad in an orange prison jumpsuit and white sneakers, he admitted under oath to being a member of a violent white supremacist group.
Throughout the hearing, Mathews spoke in a flat, monotone voice, offering short, perfunctory responses whenever asked questions by the judge. Occasionally, he would turn to his lawyer, Joseph Balter, and seek approval before answering a question.
In the fall of 2019, after a month-long undercover investigation, the Winnipeg Free Press exposed Mathews as a member of the Canadian military moonlighting as a recruiter for the Base, a neo-Nazi paramilitary organization.
On Feb. 3, the Base (alongside a dozen other extremist outfits) was officially designated a terror group by the government of Canada. It remains unclear what, if any, complications this might create for Mathews if he ever returns to Canada.
Following his exposure — and a nighttime raid of his Beausejour home by the RCMP, who seized firearms but released him without charge — Mathews illegally fled to the U.S., where he linked up with neo-Nazi comrades.
Following a lengthy probe by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Mathews and seven other reported members of the Base were arrested as part of a nationwide crackdown.
They were accused of a litany of crimes, ranging from vandalism of synagogues to murder plots and the ritualistic slaughter of an animal, as well as plans to open fire on crowds at a pro-gun rights rally last year in Richmond, Va.
Across the board, according to U.S. federal law enforcement, their actions were aimed at fomenting chaos and sparking a violent revolution for the white race.
"Derail some f---ing trains, kill some people, poison some water supplies," Mathews said in a self-recorded propaganda video.
Homegrown hate: Coverage of a neo-Nazi recruiter in WinnipegClick to Expand
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Read Ryan Thorpe's story on infiltrating a neo-Nazi paramilitary group, and the Free Press' follow-up coverage.
Mathews’ closest co-conspirators were William Bilbrough, 21, and Brian Lemley Jr., 35.
Bilbrough was the only man to plead guilty early on in the court proceedings. In December 2020, Bilbrough admitted to helping Mathews travel throughout the U.S. while knowing he was an illegal alien. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
Mathews and Lemley initially pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges against them. But on Thursday, they admitted guilt to certain crimes as part of a plea deal struck by defence attorneys and the prosecution.
The two men will not know their fates until sentencing hearings Oct. 28.
Despite the plea deal, there appear to still be numerous legal matters for Chuang to untangle in the case.
On Thursday, assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom said the prosecution would seek "hate crime" and "terrorism" enhancements to the sentences against Mathews. Balter has indicated he plans to oppose the enhancements.
By pleading guilty, Mathews waived his right to appeal the criminal convictions, but he retains the right to appeal his sentence, according to the terms of the agreement.
"Today’s admission of guilt shows how far Mr. Lemley and Mr. Mathews were willing to go to support extremist activity," Rachel Byrd, acting special agent of the FBI Baltimore field office, said in a written statement, shortly after the hearing.
"This investigation and the guilty plea underscore the continuing threat we face from domestic extremist groups."
As revealed in the agreed upon statement of facts, which were read into the court record, the night before the FBI arrested Mathews and Lemley at an apartment in Delaware, the two men discussed the possibility of going to prison for their neo-Nazi activity.
"I may be going to jail upon the discovery of the propaganda in my cellphone," Lemley told Mathews on Jan. 15, 2020.
The conversation proved prophetic.
Early the next morning, the FBI executed a search warrant at the apartment, and the two men frantically tried to destroy their cellphones as agents closed in on them.
Mathews and Lemley have been in federal custody since.
In total, as he stood with slumped shoulders in the orange prison jumpsuit, Mathews repeated the word "guilty" four times Thursday. Each time, his voice seemed to grow quieter and more dejected.
Windom declined comment when approached by the Free Press after the hearing.
Outside the courthouse, Balter provided a short statement, before walking off and ignoring follow-up questions.
"All I can say is that Mr. Mathews has entered his plea of guilty, he has accepted responsibility for his actions, and we’re hoping to get a proportioned sentence in the case," the lawyer said.
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.