GREENBELT, Md. — Terrorism sentencing enhancements will be applied in the case of Patrik Mathews — a neo-Nazi and disgraced Canadian reservist — and his co-conspirator, Brian Lemley Jr., a federal judge ruled in a Maryland courtroom Monday.

GREENBELT, Md. — Terrorism sentencing enhancements will be applied in the case of Patrik Mathews — a neo-Nazi and disgraced Canadian reservist — and his co-conspirator, Brian Lemley Jr., a federal judge ruled in a Maryland courtroom Monday.

The ruling means Mathews and Lemley, who plotted to murder federal law-enforcement and other civic figures during a charged pro-gun rights rally in Richmond, Va., in January 2020, will likely spend years, not months, in U.S. federal prison.

The two men will learn their fates during a sentencing hearing Thursday.

Patrik Mathews as a Master Cpl. in the Army Reserves in 2015.</p>

Patrik Mathews as a Master Cpl. in the Army Reserves in 2015.

Mathews fled Canada in August 2019 after the Winnipeg Free Press exposed him as an active military combat engineer moonlighting as a recruiter for a violent neo-Nazi paramilitary group called the Base.

After illegally crossing into the U.S., Mathews was provided safe harbour by Lemley and other neo-Nazi comrades. The two men amassed weapons and supplies while hatching various plots for white-supremacist violence.

Unbeknownst to them, the highest levels of U.S. law enforcement had them under investigation, sending in an undercover FBI agent and setting up around-the-clock audio and video surveillance of the men’s shared Delaware apartment.

The men have been in custody since their arrest in Newark, Del., on Jan. 16, 2020, just days before law enforcement believed they planned to drive to Richmond to commit acts of terror. They pleaded guilty to various felonies on June 11 of this year.

Monday’s hearing was the first time Mathews’ and Lemley’s families were in attendance during court proceedings — at least at any of the hearings the Free Press has covered in person.

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Mathews’ father waved to his son as he was led into the courtroom in an orange prison jumpsuit; soon after, his mother entered the court, leaning forward in her seat, looking intently at her son throughout much of the day.

Shortly before the hearing began, prosecuting attorney Thomas Windom and various FBI case agents were busy displaying evidence on a table in the courtroom. Later, an FBI agent would be sworn in to go through the evidence item by item.

The evidence — seized from the pair’s apartment — included a "sniper rifle," a homemade "assault-style rifle" (or "ghost gun"), a night-vision scope, a thermal-imaging scope, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, tactical gear, various supplies and neo-Nazi propaganda.

While the men were not charged — and did not plead guilty to — federal terrorism offences, Windom told Judge Theodore Chuang that Mathews and Lemley should receive stiffer sentences because their crimes were committed with the "intent" to promote an act of terror.

The prosecution is seeking a sentence of 25 years for both men — minus time already served. There is no parole in the U.S. federal prison system.

Windom pushed back against the contention — repeatedly raised by the defence attorneys — that Mathews and Lemley’s conduct amounted to "rambling" and "idle chatter," arguing instead that the two men had every intention of perpetrating mass violence.

Lemley’s defence team — led by public defender Ned Smock — responded to Windom’s arguments. He said he did not deny Lemley and Mathews had committed criminal offences and that law enforcement was right to investigate and arrest them.

(Brian Mark) Lemley (driving) and (Patrik) Mathews (in the passenger seat) driving through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel near Norfolk, Virginia in September, 2019.

(Brian Mark) Lemley (driving) and (Patrik) Mathews (in the passenger seat) driving through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel near Norfolk, Virginia in September, 2019.

Nevertheless, Smock said the requested terrorism sentencing enhancements were disproportionate to the facts in the case.

"The consequences of what we’re talking about here are enormous," Smock said, referencing the request for a 25-year prison sentence.

Smock pointed to the fact that Lemley and Mathews had served in their country’s respective militaries — Mathews as a reservist, and Lemley as a veteran of the Iraq War, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder following a 15-month deployment.

During this dark period of Lemley’s life, Smock said, the veteran spiralled into a "black hole of conspiracy theories." He claimed the various plots picked up via CCTV surveillance were "stream of consciousness" hypothetical discussions disconnected from reality.

“The consequences of what we’re talking about here are enormous." — Public defender Ned Smock

"The discussions were going nowhere," Smock said, adding that an undercover FBI agent who infiltrated the Base was "goading them along" and "pressing" Mathews and Lemley to make incriminating statements during the probe.

In response to this claim, Windom shot back: "We heard the (undercover agent) coaxed and cajoled them.... We never heard that he entrapped."

Joseph Balter, Mathews’ defence attorney, began his address by pointing out that America is a much different place in October 2021 than it was in January 2020 when the two men were arrested. He repeatedly mentioned the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol during his statement.

"Our country is becoming much more polarized. The level of rhetoric on a political level is becoming much more ramped up," Balter said.

He said the duo should be punished for "what they did, not what they said" — a frequent defence tactic from him throughout the case, arguing that their plotting was protected speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

He pointed to the sentences for many of the U.S. Capitol rioters, saying their actions were far worse than Mathews’ and Lemley’s, yet many have received shorter sentences than what the prosecution is seeking in this case.

Balter concluded his remarks by saying that Mathews’ and Lemley’s various conversations captured by CCTV surveillance amounted to "aspirational talk, as opposed to operational talk."

Chuang ultimately sided with the prosecution on all points of contention, applying the two terrorism sentencing enhancements Windom was seeking to have imposed. The ruling is likely to significantly lengthen the amount of time the two men spend in federal prison.

"The defence argues this was just talk. These were ideas. But when one listens to the tapes... it’s clear the defendants were serious, specific and calculating in the violence they intended to (commit)," Chuang said.

"They were not wide-eyed neophytes being pressured into acts by the undercover... (They were) ready, willing and able to move forward with the terroristic night operations they’d discussed."

Nevertheless, Chuang said he remained open to arguments on how long Mathews and Lemley should be in prison.

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.