A former Canadian army reservist and his two American cohorts, all of them tied to a white-supremacy group with growing notoriety in the United States, remained behind bars Wednesday over a thwarted plot to allegedly kill blacks and Jews, derail trains and trigger a race war in the name of creating a white "ethno-state."
Patrik Mathews sat stone-faced throughout his detention hearing in a Maryland courtroom, where U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Sullivan spent the morning contemplating the balance between the safety of the American public and the accused's right to freedom of expression.
"You can't get more serious than murder," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom, who described the plot as nothing less than a plan to commit acts of domestic terrorism. "You can't get more serious than inciting civil disobedience. That's exactly what Mr. Mathews was planning to do."
Sullivan ultimately ordered Mathews, 27, held until a preliminary hearing can be held for the trio, scheduled for Jan. 30.
"I don't need to go any further than he's a serious risk of flight," Sullivan said. "This is a very dangerous person, he espouses very dangerous beliefs — I don't think I have to say much more."
Mathews, a former combat engineer in the Canadian Forces reserves, was arrested last week along with Brian Lemley Jr., 33, and William Bilbrough, 19. Last year he vanished from Beausejour, Man., amid allegations he was a recruiter for The Base, a white-supremacist group. He faces two weapons charges, each of which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison, three years of probation and a $250,000 fine.
Prosecutors allege in documents filed in court that Mathews videotaped himself advocating for killing people, poisoning water supplies and derailing trains. They have also alleged that Mathews and Lemley had been planning to violently disrupt Monday's gun-rights rally in Richmond, Va., in hopes of inciting civil war.
"Defendant Lemley fantasized about killing law-enforcement officers, while defendant Mathews expressed regret that he had failed to set explosives in anticipation of the search of his home by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police," said David Weiss, the U.S. attorney for Delaware — the chief federal prosecutor in the state where two of the men had been living.
"These defendants, who were self-proclaimed members of the white-supremacist group The Base, were dedicated to the idea of doing harm to African Americans, Jewish Americans and others the defendants viewed as a threat to their twisted idea of a white ethno-state."
Lemley waived his right to seek bail; Sullivan ordered Bilbrough back into custody during a separate hearing later Wednesday.
Mathews, meanwhile, was being held more on the basis of his "odious" and "repugnant" beliefs than on the merits of the two weapons charges, which "would not, by themselves, support a detention order," argued his lawyer, Joseph Balter.
"One man's domestic terrorism can be another man's exercising of his First Amendment rights."
Mathews was silent throughout the hearing until Windom mentioned in passing that he'd been unable to tell investigators the address of the farm where he lived in Manitoba. "I just couldn't remember the street address, sir," Mathews interjected, earning a stern rebuke from the judge.
The prosecution's "detention memo" filed Tuesday detailed how investigators used a closed-circuit television camera and microphone, hidden in a home in Delaware, to record Mathews talking about the Virginia rally as a "boundless" opportunity.
"All you gotta do is start making things go wrong and if Virginia can spiral out to (expletive) full-blown civil war," the documents quote Mathews as saying.
Mathews and Lemley discussed the planning of violence at the Richmond rally, according to prosecutors. They said Lemley talked about using a thermal imaging scope affixed to his rifle to ambush unsuspecting civilians and police officers.
"I need to claim my first victim," Lemley said on Dec. 23, according to the memo.
"We could essentially like be literally hunting people," Mathews said, according to prosecutors. "You could provide overwatch while I get close to do what needs to be done to certain things."
FBI agents arrested the trio last Thursday as part of a broader investigation of The Base. Authorities in Georgia and Wisconsin also arrested four other men linked to the group, which has been attracting more scrutiny from law enforcement in recent months.
Sullivan made it clear from the outset that he was disinclined to release Mathews, given that he was in the U.S. illegally as it was. He sounded an entirely different note in the afternoon, however, when it came time to contemplate Bilbrough, who took steps to distance himself from the group, according to lawyer Robert Bonsib.
Windom, however, managed to convince the judge that Bilbrough isn't the disillusioned and confused young follower he might seem to be, portraying him instead as a self-proclaimed white supremacist and "leader" — one whose cellphone photos featured Base propaganda material, including images of him killing and beheading a goat.
"I came in thinking it had to be that Mr. Bilbrough was just a pawn for Mr. Lemley and Mr. Mathews," Sullivan said, saying he needed to determine whether he could establish conditions that would guarantee the accused would show up on Jan. 30 if released.
"The answer to that is no, right now."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2020.
— With files from The Associated Press