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Illustration by Security Management

Suspected Neo-Nazis Arrested Ahead of Gun Rights Rally

The FBI arrested three alleged neo-Nazis on Thursday suspected of planning to travel with a machine gun to a Richmond rally to support gun rights.

According to U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) press release, Brian Mark Lemley, Jr., 33, and William Garfield Bilbrough IV, 19, are charged with transporting and harboring aliens, and conspiring to do so. "Lemley is also charged with transporting a machine gun and disposing of a firearm and ammunition to an alien unlawfully present in the United States," the 16 January release said.

In addition, Lemley and Canadian national Patrik Jordan Mathews, 27, are charged with transporting a firearm and ammunition with intent to commit a felony. Mathews is also charged with being an alien in possession of a firearm and ammunition.

All three men are alleged members of The Base, an extremist group that hopes to instigate a race war in the United States. The Base draws inspiration from the book "Siege" by neo-Nazi James Mason and was created in 2018 by its founder, who goes by Norman Spear and Roman Wolf online.

"The Base's members portray themselves as vigilante soldiers defending the 'European race' from a broken 'system' infected by Jewish values," according to an analysis of the group by Reuters. "The Base has organized training camps around North America on weaponry and military tactics and distributed manuals for 'lone-wolf terror attacks, bomb-making, counter-surveillance, and guerrilla warfare.'"

According to the affidavit, Mathews illegally crossed into the United States near the Manitoba/Minnesota border on 19 August 2019. Lemley and Bilbrough then drove from Maryland to Michigan to pick him up, returning to Maryland on 31 August 2019 before ultimately renting an apartment in Delaware that Lemley and Mathews stayed in.

Lemley later ordered an upper receiver and other firearm parts, which he and Mathews used in December 2019 to make a functioning assault rifle. In January 2020, they purchased roughly 1,650 rounds of 5.56 mm and 6.5 mm ammunition, went to a gun range, and retrieved plate carriers (to support body armor), the DOJ said in a press release.

The three men were allegedly planning to travel—with their equipment—to a gun rights rally planned for Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, in Richmond. The rally was organized to protest the Virginia Legislature's potential restrictions on firearms.

"The organizer, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, is prominent in the state’s Second Amendment rights movement, donating tens of thousands of dollars to lawmakers over the years," according to The New York Times. "Its president, Philip Van Cleave, refers to himself as an extremist but issued a statement saying the rally was meant to be a peaceful protest about gun rights."

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency ahead of the demonstration through 21 January, citing information from law enforcement that there were credible threats of violence surrounding the event that out-of-state militia groups planned to attend.

"I took this action to protect Virginians from credible threats of violence," Northam said. "These threats are real—as evidenced by reports of neo-Nazis arrested this morning after discussing plans to head to Richmond with firearms."

The governor's declaration prohibits all weapons, including firearms, from capitol grounds, and will provide joint law enforcement and public safety agencies the resources they need to keep demonstrators, policymakers, and all Virginians safe, Northam's office said in a press release.

A recent Anti-Defamation League report found that right wing extremism is on the rise in the United States and Europe, and that these extremists were responsible for nearly 50 killings in 2018.

New research by the Southern Poverty Law Center also found that the number of white nationalist groups surged by almost 50 percent from 100 groups in 2017 to 148 groups in 2018.

"In the United States, far-right extremism is emerging as a significant terrorism threat, with attack incident rates and casualty numbers likely to rise more quickly than those of Islamist terrorism," said Chris Hawkins, senior analyst at Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, in an interview with Security Management.