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Two men accused of plotting race war plead guilty to immigration-related gun charges


Two men accused of plotting violence at a Virginia gun rights rally to spark a "race war" pleaded guilty Thursday to firearms and immigration-related charges as federal prosecutors moved to increase their sentences by classifying the cases as domestic terrorism.

Appearing in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., Patrik Mathews, a 29-year-old Canadian national, and Brian Lemley Jr., of Elkton, Md., acknowledged having been members of "the Base," which federal authorities have said organizes military-style training and encourages violence against minorities. They will be sentenced at a later date.

A third man in the case, William Bilbrough IV, was sentenced to five years in federal prison in December. He had pleaded guilty to two counts of transporting an alien.

Mathews specifically pleaded guilty to transporting a firearm and ammunition in interstate commerce with intent to commit a felony, being an alien in possession of a firearm and ammunition, and obstruction of justice. Lemley pleaded guilty to similar charges, along with transporting and harboring an alien.

The obstruction of justice counts, according to authorities, related to the pair smashing their cellphones and dumping them into a toilet as federal agents were executing an arrest warrant at a residence in Delaware.

"Break your phone," Lemley ordered. "Smash it."

In court on Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom described facts that would have been established had the cases gone to trial. There was no mention of plans for the Virginia rally. The narrative instead spoke about the Base and its training camps, firearms possession, large ammunition purchases and Mathews's status and movement in the United States as an unlawfully present immigrant from Canada.

As members of the Base, Mathews, Lemley and Bilbrough were afforded access to a secure messaging group operated on cellphones. In 2019, Mathews unlawfully crossed the U.S. border from Canada. He was later picked up in Michigan by Lemley and Bilbrough, according to Windom. Mathews was ultimately taken to Chincoteague, Va., Rome, Ga., and Newark, Del., where he could conceal his presence in the country.

In fall 2019, Mathews, Lemley and Bilbrough attended a Base training camp in Georgia, prosecutors said. While in that state, prosecutors alleged, Lemley and Bilbrough purchased about 1,550 founds of 5.56 ammunition. On Dec. 20, 2019, while staying in Delaware, "Mathews took steps to construct a rifle out of various weapons parts" and later fired a rifle at a gun range while Lemley watched through an unattached rifle scope, according to court filings.

At one point, prosecutors alleged, Lemley told Mathews: "I may be going to jail upon discovery of the propaganda on my cellphone."

"In late 2019 and early 2020, Mathews and his co-defendants in the Base were assembling firearms and collecting thousands of rounds of ammunition with the intent to engage in serious criminal conduct," said acting United States attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner. "There is no place in our country for racially motivated extremist groups that engage in violence."

Rachel Byrd, the acting special agent in charge of the FBI Baltimore Field Office, said Thursday's guilty pleas showed how far Lemley and Mathews were willing to go to support extremist activity.

"This investigation and the guilty plea underscore the continuing threat we face from domestic extremist groups," Byrd said.

Early in the case, one of Bilbrough's attorneys described his client as a naive young man who was consumed with fantasies, including going to Ukraine to fight against Russian-backed aggression.

"That's pie in the sky, but that's not terrorism," said the attorney, Robert Bonsib. "A 19-year-old can be a knucklehead sometimes. You've got to decide whether he's a knucklehead or a terrorist. He's a knucklehead."

Attorneys for Mathews and Lemley could not be reached for comment Thursday after the plea hearings.

While there is no federal statute dealing specifically with domestic terrorism, prosecutors in Mathews's case will seek a terrorism "enhancement" at his sentencing.

Published : June 11, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Dan Morse