A former Canadian Armed Forces reservist facing up to 25 years in prison for his plotting to violently trigger a race war in the U.S. was backing away from the plan when he was arrested, defence lawyers argued Monday.
Patrik Mathews, 28, from Beausejour, Man., and U.S. army veteran Brian Mark Lemley Jr. have already plead guilty to weapons charges in advance of a sentencing hearing scheduled for Thursday.
But U.S. prosecutors want District Court Judge Theodore Chuang to apply a so-called “terrorism enhancement” that would result in 25-year sentences because their crimes involved an effort to “promote” federal terrorism offences.
Mathews, with a thick head of hair reaching the middle of his back and a long, scruffy beard under his face mask, looked alternately relaxed and animated throughout the daylong hearing.
The plot, revealed through FBI wiretaps, surveillance and conversations with an undercover operative, revolved around violently disrupting a gun-rights rally at the state capitol in Virginia in January 2020.
But Lemley’s lawyer argued Monday that the government’s evidence shows the two men had already decided to attend an event in Michigan instead, with fellow members of the white supremacist group The Base.
Ned Smock displayed a transcript of a conversation between the two men and an undercover agent.
“What you see in these conversations is there is not an intent to be in Virginia, and in fact they are going to Michigan to be at this Base event,” Smock said.
The Virginia rally has “been the essence of the government’s theory from the beginning of this case, and we now know it’s not accurate.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom spent the morning laying out the intricate legal argument for why the terrorism enhancement is relevant.
He walked FBI Special Agent Rachid Harrison through pieces of evidence, including two assault-style rifles, one of them a “ghost gun” assembled by the pair with aftermarket parts, making the weapon impossible to trace.
Other items included long-distance rifle scopes, thermal optics and night-vision equipment, as well as ammunition and a variety of camouflage garments, much of it with the Base’s logo.
The evidence, Windom said, “shows it’s more than idle talk, there’s a core purpose.”
He quoted from text messages and transcripts to show Mathews firmly believed in the principles of white supremacy, describing “affirmative action” as a policy designed “to subjugate white people.”
“‘We’re the bad guys already to them,'” Windom quoted Mathews as saying. “‘I think it’s time we became the bad guys. “‘They think we’re white-supremacist terrorists. Let’s give them what they want, give them what they deserve.'”
In court documents, both Smock and Mathews’ lawyer, Joseph Balter, insist that their clients never intended to commit any acts of terrorism and deserve only 33 months behind bars.