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Alleged Canadian neo-Nazi pleads not guilty to weapons charges in U.S. court

The case against accused Canadian extremist Patrik Mathews
WATCH: The case against accused Canadian extremist Patrik Mathews

A former Canadian Forces reservist at the centre of an alleged white-supremacist plot to trigger a race war in the United States pleaded not guilty to weapons charges Tuesday as his lawyer indicated he plans to use the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution to defend his client.

Patrik Mathews, sporting an orange jumpsuit, unruly hair and a long, reddish beard, stood ramrod-straight in a Maryland courtroom as Judge Timothy Sullivan asked him to state his name and whether he fully understood the charges against him.

“Yes, your honour,” replied Mathews, who has been in custody in the U.S. since he and two of his American cohorts were arrested a month ago by the FBI.

READ MORE: U.S. prosecutors request pre-trial extension in case of alleged Manitoba neo-Nazi, former reservist

Asked for his plea, Mathews said, “Not guilty, your honour.”

The former combat engineer vanished from Beausejour, Man., last year following media reports alleging he was a recruiter for The Base, a white-supremacist group with growing notoriety in the U.S. and around the world.

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He’s facing four charges, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison: two counts each of two charges related to possessing and transporting a firearm and ammunition while in the country illegally.

“We, frankly, intend to vigorously contest the charges in this case,” defence counsel Joseph Balter said after Tuesday’s brief arraignment.

David Weiss U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware speaks after Patrik Mathews was denied bail
David Weiss U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware speaks after Patrik Mathews was denied bail

Asked for his plea, Mathews said, “Not guilty, your honour.”

The former combat engineer vanished from Beausejour, Man., last year following media reports alleging he was a recruiter for The Base, a white-supremacist group with growing notoriety in the U.S. and around the world.

He’s facing four charges, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison: two counts each of two charges related to possessing and transporting a firearm and ammunition while in the country illegally.

READ MORE: Canadian Patrik Mathews, ex-reservist tied to neo-Nazi group, indicted on multiple charges

“We, frankly, intend to vigorously contest the charges in this case,” defence counsel Joseph Balter said after Tuesday’s brief arraignment.

Mathews and Lemley discussed the planning of violence at the Richmond rally, according to prosecutors. They said Lemley talked about using a thermal imaging scope affixed to his rifle to ambush unsuspecting civilians and police officers.

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“I need to claim my first victim,” Lemley said on Dec. 23, according to the memo.

“We could essentially like be literally hunting people,” the documents quote Mathews saying. “You could provide overwatch while I get close to do what needs to be done to certain things.”

READ MORE: FBI arrests Patrik Mathews, missing ex-reservist from Manitoba accused of neo-Nazi ties

The case has turned an uncomfortable spotlight on the problem of hatred in the Canadian Armed Forces. A military-intelligence report released in 2018 said 30 active service members were known to belong to a hate group or to have made statements deemed discriminatory or racist.

Chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance is among senior military officials who have promised a zero-tolerance approach to hate and discrimination in the ranks, while Canada’s military ombudsman has been tasked with investigating the issue and recommending solutions.

FBI agents arrested the trio — the third accused is William Bilbrough — Jan. 16 as part of a broader investigation of The Base. Authorities in Georgia and Wisconsin also arrested four other men linked to the group, which has been attracting more scrutiny from law enforcement in recent months.

Robert Hur U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland speaks after Patrik Mathews was denied bail
Robert Hur U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland speaks after Patrik Mathews was denied bail

Investigators found a number of videos on a computer belonging to Mathews, including one that depicts him wearing a gas mask and distorting his voice.

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“The time for violent revolution is now, that time is already here, it’s here right now as we speak,” the documents quote Mathews saying on the video. “For those who want to do nothing and who want a comfortable life, that’s not an option. This is the age of war.”

Officials say the group is just part of a wider spread of white nationalism and extremist ideology throughout the United States, with The Base following a model similar to that of al-Qaida, the Islamic State group and other violent organizations that rely on the internet and social media to mobilize independent cells or individuals who share their philosphies.

“Since 2018, The Base has been building a coalition of white supremacist members within the United States and abroad through, among other things, online chat rooms, in-person meetings, propaganda, and military training,” prosecutors allege in court documents.

Journalist spent months undercover as white supremacist
Journalist spent months undercover as white supremacist

“The Base’s membership includes members of other white supremacist organizations, including Atomwaffen Division, a violent neo-Nazi terror group linked to several hate crimes. The Base recruits white supremacists and is particularly interested in applicants with military and explosives backgrounds.”

With files from Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa