A former Canadian Forces engineer who disappeared after he was accused of being a neo-Nazi has been arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Patrik Mathews and two others, Brian Lemley and William Bilbrough IV, both U.S. citizens, were taken into custody on Thursday morning and were scheduled to appear in a Maryland court in the afternoon to face federal charges, American prosecutors said.
Mathews is facing one charge of transporting a firearm and ammunition with intent to commit a felony and one charge of being an alien in possession of a firearm and ammunition. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Thursday’s court appearance will be the first time Mathews has been seen by the public since he disappeared at the end of August amid allegations of having been a recruiter for the right-wing hate group called The Base.
At the time, Mathews was a combat engineer with the 38 Canadian Brigade Group in Winnipeg, though the military said then it was investigating his alleged links to The Base and fast-tracking his request to be released from the Canadian Armed Forces.
The RCMP were also reportedly conducting their own investigation, though the Mounties have not confirmed the report. They had previously seized a number of weapons from a house in Beausejour, Man., about 60 kilometres east of Winnipeg, where Mathews lived.
Shortly after he disappeared, Mathews’s truck was found abandoned on a rural property in southern Manitoba near the U.S. border, prompting speculation the now 27-year-old had entered the United States. The RCMP said it was treating his disappearance as a missing-person case.
The charges against Mathews were laid out in a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland on Thursday, which alleges Mathews crossed illegally from Manitoba to Minnesota on Aug. 19.
Mathews is alleged to have made his way to Michigan. Prosecutors say on Aug. 30, Lemley and Bilbrough, who are also described as members of The Base, picked him up and took him to Maryland. Lemley, 33, previously served in the U.S. Army.
On Nov. 3, according to the criminal allegations, the three men drove from Virginia to Maryland where Bilbrough, 19, lived. Lemley and Mathews eventually continued to Delaware, “where Lemley rented an apartment in which the two have resided since that time.”
Lemley and Mathews are then alleged to have made “a functioning assault rifle” using different firearms parts in December while all three men are accused of having made a psychedelic drug known as DMT.
“Furthermore, Lemley, Mathews and Bilbrough discussed The Base’s activities and spoke about other members of the organization,” according to the prosecutors. “Mathews also allegedly showed the assault rifle to Bilbrough, who examined the assault rife and returned it to Mathews.”
The U.S. Attorney goes on to allege that Lemley and Mathews purchased 1,650 rounds of ammunition earlier this month, “travelled from Delaware to a gun range in Maryland, where they shot the assault rifle” and retrieved a bulletproof vest.
Both Lemley and Bilbrough face charges for transporting and harbouring Mathews, while Lemley is charged with transporting a machine gun in interstate commerce and for providing a firearm and ammunition to Mathews and transporting a firearm with the intent to commit a felony.
The statement from prosecutors does not indicate what felony they believed Lemley and Mathews were planning to commit, but the New York Times reported they had talked about travelling to a pro-gun rally next week in nearby Virginia.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said in a tweet Wednesday there was credible intelligence from law-enforcement agencies of threats of violence surrounding the demonstration planned for Monday.
He said the threats included extremist rhetoric similar to what has been seen before other major incidents, such as the violence in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, in which members of white-supremacist and neo-Nazi groups clashed with counter-protesters.
A self-identified white supremacist rammed his car into the counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 others.
In Canada, the accusations against Mathews in August and his subsequent disappearance put a spotlight on concerns that neo-Nazis, white supremacists and right-wing extremists were attempting to infiltrate the Canadian Armed Forces.
While the military maintains incidents of Forces members associating with right-wing extremism or white supremacy are isolated, concerns about their presence have been heightened in recent years thanks to several high-profile incidents and an internal military-intelligence report.
The issue first came to public light when several sailors associated with the far-right Proud Boys group disrupted a Mi’kmaq ceremony in Halifax in 2017. A military-intelligence report in 2018 said 30 active service members belonged to hate groups or had made racist statements.
The report also revealed some extremist groups have encouraged their members to seek military training and recruit service members.
The Department of National Defence later revealed that more than a dozen members of the Canadian Armed Forces identified in the report were warned, disciplined or ordered to take counselling, but were allowed to remain in uniform.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 16, 2020.
— with files from Jim Bronskill
— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press