Judge to convict members of neo-Nazi group, including US military veteran, under terrorism law
GREENBELT, Md. (AP) – Two members of a neo-Nazi group intended to engage in terrorist activity before FBI agents arrested them ahead of a pro-gun rally in Virginia, a federal judge found on Monday.
US District Judge Theodore Chuang’s decision to apply “terrorism enhancement” to the men’s sentencing favors prosecutors’ recommendation that they both receive 25 years in prison.
Chuang has heard very different portraits of the two defendants as he prepares to convict them in separate hearings Thursday at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, Md.
Prosecutors said Canadian Armed Forces reservist Patrik Jordan Mathews and U.S. Army veteran Brian Mark Lemley Jr. were planning a massacre inspired by their white supremacist ideology. Defense attorneys say undercover FBI agent unsuccessfully tried to get the two “wounded veterans” to devise a plan of violence at a January 2020 gun rights rally on Capitol Hill from the State of Virginia to Richmond, Virginia.
FBI agents arrested Lemley and Mathews and a third member of a white supremacist group called The Base. The group has been a major proponent of “accelerationism,” a fringe philosophy that advocates the use of mass violence to accelerate the collapse of society.
Lemley and Mathews pleaded guilty in June gun charges. They have not been charged with any violent crime.
But the judge agreed to apply “terrorism enhancement” to their sentences, significantly increasing the jail terms recommended for Mathews and Lemley under federal sentencing guidelines.
âIt doesn’t matter what the specific motivation was,â Chuang said. “But the idea that they intended to replace the US government is relevant to this improvement.”
Prosecutors called them national terrorists preparing for civil war, discussed how to get racist South Carolina mass killer Dylann Roof out of death row, and spoke of assassinating a Virginia lawmaker.
The court’s probation office calculated a range of sentencing guidelines of 33 to 41 months in both cases. Lemley’s attorney seeks a sentence consistent with these guidelines, while Mathews’s attorney seeks a 33-month prison sentence.
Chuang is not bound by any of these recommendations.
Defense attorneys said an undercover FBI agent who visited Lemley and Mathews in their Delaware apartment nine days before the rally attempted to cajole them into making a plan for Virginia. Defense attorneys said the pair decided instead to meet with other members of The Base in Michigan the weekend before the rally in Virginia.
The FBI installed a closed-circuit television camera and microphone in the Delaware apartment. Surveillance equipment also recorded them discussing their intention to kill federal agents, destroy railroad tracks and power lines and derail trains, prosecutors said.
“It’s more than just gossip,” Deputy US Attorney Thomas Windom said Monday. “There is a fundamental purpose for which they want to do these things.”
Defense attorney Ned Smock said Lemley, an army veteran who served in Iraq, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning home. Lemley ultimately fell into a “black hole” of conspiracy theories and propaganda during a dark period in his life, Smock said.
But defense attorneys said the hundreds of hours of FBI taped conversations provided no evidence that Lemley and Mathews planned or intended to carry out a terrorist attack.
âEverything is a flow of consciousness,â said Smock. âIdeas arise. They are thrown away and never come back.
âThe government is asking you to take a giant leap of faith,â said Joseph Balter, one of Mathews’ lawyers.
Mathews and Lemley pleaded guilty to charges, including carrying a firearm illegally and obstructing justice, for destroying cell phones when FBI agents raided their apartment.
The third co-accused, William Garfield Bilbrough IV, was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in December to helping Mathews illegally enter the United States from Canada in 2019.
The case against the three indicted men in Maryland was part of a larger investigation by The Base. In January 2020, authorities in Georgia and Wisconsin arrested four other men linked to the group.