A former Manitoba army reservist with alleged ties to a neo-Nazi group has been arrested in the U.S. nearly five months after he went missing.
Mathews, 27, is facing charges of transporting a firearm and ammunition with intent to commit a felony and “being an alien” in possession of a gun and ammunition, the agency said in a statement.
Two Americans, Brian Mark Lemley, Jr., 33, and William Garfield Bilbrough IV, 19, were charged with “transporting and harbouring aliens” and conspiracy to do so.
Lemley, a former cavalry scout in the United States Army, also faces additional firearms-related charges.
Police allege that the trio were members of The Base, which the FBI calls a “racially motivated violent extremist group.”
Mathews disappeared in August after a Winnipeg Free Press report alleged he had been recruiting for the group.
Before he was relieved of his duties with the Canadian Armed Forces, Mathews was a combat engineer who had achieved the rank of master corporal with the 38 Canadian Brigade Group in Winnipeg. Defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance told reporters prior to Mathews’ disappearance that he had been under investigation before the news report was published. Mathews had also applied to leave the Forces.
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Global News has reached out to the Canadian Armed Forces for comment.
An affidavit filed in support of the U.S. criminal complaint alleges that Mathews entered the U.S. unlawfully on Aug. 19, 2019. On Aug. 30, the two other men allegedly drove from Maryland to pick up Mathews.
“According to the criminal complaint, 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,” a statement from the FBI said.
According to the affidavit, Mathews and Lemley lived in an apartment in Newark, Del. They allegedly used firearm parts to make a “functioning assault rifle” last month.
“Lemley, Mathews, and Bilbrough discussed The Base’s activities and spoke about other members of the organization,” the FBI said.
According to the authorities, the trio also attempted to make DMT, an illegal psychedelic drug.
Earlier this month, Mathews and Lemley allegedly bought 1,650 rounds of ammunition and visited a shooting range in Maryland. They also retrieved “plate carriers,” which are used to support body armour.
The Times reported that the three men had talked about attending a gun rights rally in Virginia on Monday.
That event prompted Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to declare a state of emergency over threats of “armed militia groups storming our Capitol.” He banned all weapons from the legislature grounds.
Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, said gun rights are “central” to the activities, strategies and ideologies of paramilitary-style hate groups.
Fascist and militia groups also encourage members to join the military and reserve forces, or recruit people who are already part of the military, she said.
“So they have access to that expertise, that knowledge and that leadership potential.”
A 2018 military intelligence report found that 30 Canadian Forces members or reservists belonged to hate groups or had made racist statements since 2013, though the military maintains such cases are isolated.
In August, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan asked Canada’s military watchdog to investigate racism within the ranks.
The RCMP, which opened a missing persons’ case into Mathews’ disappearance, confirmed Thursday it’s aware of his arrest.
“We work closely with our international partners and maintain strong relationships with law enforcement agencies around the world,” a spokesperson said.
“The RCMP does not comment on investigations being conducted by other countries and therefore we have no further comment.”
A spokesperson for the office of Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said it’s aware of Mathews’ arrest and “monitoring the situation” but could provide no further comment.
Mathews, Lemley and Bilbrough were expected to make an appearance in a Greenbelt, Md., court on Thursday afternoon.
If convicted, Mathews faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for transporting a firearm with intent to commit a felony, and 10 years for the other firearms charge.
“Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties,” the statement from the FBI points out.
–With files from The Canadian Press