The FBI has arrested three alleged members of a white-supremacist group that calls itself ‘The Base’ on federal gun and alien-harboring charges, amid growing concerns about safety surrounding planned gun rights protests in Virginia’s capital next week:
The charges announced Thursday grew from an investigation of a collection of online extremists who refer to themselves as “the Base,” which is the English translation of al-Qaeda. According to experts who track hate groups, its members promote racist views and seek to unite different hate groups in preparation for a race war.
Officials said Brian Mark Lemley Jr., 33, and William Bilbrough IV, 19, both of Maryland, were charged with transporting an alien and conspiring to harbor an alien. Lemley is also charged with transporting a machine gun. Also charged is Patrik Mathews, 27, who has been living in Newark, Del. He is accused of transporting a firearm and ammunition with the intent to commit a felony.
The three are expected to make an initial court appearance this afternoon in Greenbelt, Md.
Federal officials moved on the trio partly out of concerns they might engage in violence at a gun rights rally planned for Monday in Richmond, according to people familiar with the investigation. The Virginia General Assembly’s new Democratic majority is advancing four bills that seek to restrict some people’s access to firearms.
“Lemley, Mathews, and Bilbrough are members of a white supremacist organization named ‘The Base,’ ” the complaint charges. “Within The Base’s encrypted chat rooms, members have discussed, among other things, recruitment, creating a white ethno-state, committing acts of violence against minority communities (including African-Americans and Jewish-Americans), the organization’s military-style training camps, and ways to make improvised explosive devices.”
Lemley previously served as a scout in the U.S. Army, while Mathews was a combat engineer in the Canadian army reserve, according to court papers.
…In advance of Monday’s gun rights protests in Richmond, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has declared a state of emergency, temporarily banning weapons from the state Capitol grounds, citing “threats of armed confrontation and assault on our Capitol.”
The governor’s declaration means that from Friday evening until Tuesday night, firearms, sticks, bats, chains and other weapons will be prohibited on Capitol Square and throughout the Capitol complex.
Monday is the state’s traditional citizen lobbying day, and gun rights groups are organizing a large demonstration to oppose the proposed legislation.
The rally has drawn interest from militias and extremist groups across the country, raising security concerns in Richmond.
…FBI Director Christopher A. Wray warned Congress in the fall that American neo-Nazis seem increasingly to be communicating with like-minded violent racists overseas, but he cautioned that those links so far appear more inspirational than organizational.
“We are starting to see racially motivated violent extremists connecting with like-minded individuals online, certainly, and in some instances we have seen people travel overseas to train,” Wray said…
Wray said that U.S. violent extremists still by and large lack organizational structure and direction but that there are now individual terrorism suspects who travel overseas to get training — behavior similar to that of Americans inspired by the Islamic State or other groups.
“We have seen some connection between U.S.-based neo-Nazis and overseas analogues,” Wray said. “Probably a more prevalent phenomenon that we see right now is racially motivated violent extremists who are inspired by what they see overseas.”