The FBI on Thursday arrested three men, two from Maryland, whom it accused of being white supremacists, possessing a machine gun and smuggling a like-minded colleague into the country from Canada, according to an arrest affidavit.
The men were apprehended and charged after authorities became concerned they were heading to an upcoming gun rights rally in Richmond, Virginia, according to law enforcement.
The Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Brian Mark Lemley Jr., 33, of Elkton and Newark, Delaware; William Garfield Bilbrough IV, 19, of Denton; and Patrik Jordan Mathews, 27, a Canadian national, currently of Newark, Delaware, with various gun and immigration violations.
Investigators believed the men were going to attend a rally Monday in Richmond as the Virginia General Assembly is considering bills for stricter gun laws, according to a federal law enforcement source and reports in national media outlets. Virginia’s governor declared a state of emergency and banned firearms from the grounds of the capitol building for the rally, hoping to head off another violent flare-up like the one in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2018.
A gun-rights group filed an emergency appeal late Thursday of a judge’s ruling upholding a ban on firearms at a pro-gun rally expected to draw thousands of gun activists to Virginia. The Virginia Citizens Defense League and Gun Owners of America had filed a lawsuit earlier in the day seeking an injunction against the ban, which Gov. Ralph Northam imposed for a rally scheduled for Monday on the grounds of the Virginia Capitol.
The three men arrested Thursday were members of The Base, a “racially motivated violent extremist group," according to an FBI criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday.
Lemley and Bilbrough each face charges of transporting and harboring Mathews, who authorities said illegally crossed the U.S.-Canadian border in August. The group then spent several days driving back to Maryland, a route law enforcement agents tracked using cellphone location data, according to the criminal complaint.
All three men appeared Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day in Greenbelt, where he granted detention hearings that are scheduled for next Wednesday.
During Bilbrough’s hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas P. Windom argued Bilbrough be held because he was found to be a serious flight risk. Windom also cited Bilbrough’s alleged involvement in The Base organization.
Windom presented a photo in court of Bilbrough allegedly participating in a “military-style training camp” in August.
The black-and-white picture showed what appeared to be six men in a line firing guns. Windom said Bilbrough traveled out of state to several such camps, including a recent one in Alabama. The Base’s network of members across the United States and abroad could provide him with means to flee, Windom said.
Windom also told the judge that Bilbrough had friends in Ukraine and had discussed traveling there to meet with “nationalists.”
But Bilbrough’s attorney, Robert C. Bonsib, said his client didn’t have a passport. He said Bilbrough is a 19-year-old college student who lives with his grandmother and has been a resident of the Delmarva region his whole life.
He said his client had no criminal history and did not believe there was any compelling argument to hold him. Bilbrough, who has short-cropped red hair and wore glasses, dark pants and a T-shirt, didn’t speak much at the hearing, except to respond to the judge, telling him he understood his rights.
The judge agreed to grant a detention hearing. A few rows behind where Bilbrough was seated at the trial table, his grandmother and uncle watched the brief proceeding. They declined to comment to media outside the courtroom.
After the hearing, Bonsib said he was unable to comment about the case having just been assigned it; however, he said his client shouldn’t be held.
“I think this 19-year-old man should be released,” he said.
Attorneys for Mathews and Lemely declined to comment after their brief hearings. Windom had argued that they be held because their felony charges involved a firearm, and the judge granted a detention hearing for each.
Law enforcement tracked the men’s whereabouts, according to the criminal complaint, including across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to Bilbrough’s home on the Eastern Shore, and then up to Elkton in Cecil County, near Lemley’s home.
In late November, authorities said Lemley received firearms parts shipped to him and Mathews to build a functioning assault rifle, the complaint said.
Lemley and Mathews were later allegedly observed using the gun at a Maryland gun range by FBI and ATF agents. At one point, Lemley allegedly told Mathews, “Oh oops, it looks like I accidentally made a machine gun," the complaint said.
Days before Christmas, authorities said, Bilbrough joined Lemley and Mathews in Delaware, where they discussed the manufacture of the hallucinogenic drug DMT, and attempted to make it. The three men also discussed the activities of The Base group and other members, the complaint said.
Authorities said Lemley later purchased more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition.
Last Saturday, Lemley and Mathews went back to the Maryland gun range, and later, while returning to Lemley’s Delaware residence, they stopped at Lemley’s prior home in Elkton, where they picked up plate carriers, which officials said are used to support body armor, and the previously purchased 1,500 rounds of ammunition.
Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.