The FBI has arrested three white supremacists, two of whom have military training, days before an extremist pro-gun rally in Richmond, Virginia, which authorities say is attracting "threats of violence" from hate groups and militias.
The three men — Patrik Jordan Mathews, 27; Brian Mark Lemley Jr., 33; and William Garfield Bilbrough, 19 — are members of the white supremacist group "the Base," according to an affidavit filed in Maryland court.
The FBI did not respond to requests for comment, but the men reportedly discussed attending the rally on Monday.
"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," the court documents state.
The Counter Extremism Project says the Base is a "neo-Nazi, white-supremacist network that describes itself as an 'international survivalist and self-defense network' that seeks to train their members for fighting a race war."
Mathews is an eight-year veteran of the Canadian Army Reserve who is trained in explosives. He was under investigation by the Canadian military for attempting to recruit people for the Base and his white nationalist beliefs when his car was found abandoned last August near the US border.
After he illegally crossed into the US, authorities say, he met up with Lemley and Bilbrough. Lemley and Mathews had been living together in a Delaware apartment for months, allegedly building an assault rifle and attempting to manufacture DMT, a psychedelic drug.
Lemley took the assault rifle to a Maryland gun range on Jan. 2, where an FBI agent reported that multiple bullets could be heard firing at once.
“Oh oops, it looks like I accidentally made a machine gun,” Lemley told Mathews, according to the affidavit. Five days later, Lemley ordered 1,500 rounds of ammunition.
The men were arrested on federal gun charges, as well as those related to harboring an undocumented immigrant.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that he’s declaring a state of emergency from Friday to Tuesday due to "threats of violence" from hate groups.
"We're seeing threats of violence," said Northam. "We're seeing threats of armed confrontation and assault on our capital."
The state of emergency includes banning all guns from the Capitol Square area in Richmond, where the state’s government buildings are located, in anticipation of the rally, which is being organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
"They are not coming to peacefully protest," Northam said at his news conference. "They're coming to intimidate and cause harm."
On Thursday, a judge refused to grant Virginia Citizens Defense League's request for an injunction against the state of emergency, with Northam citing the arrests of the three men as proof that the threats are real.
A state of emergency was also called for the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, when far-right and extremist protesters gathered to protest the possible removal of a Confederate statue. Heather Heyer was killed and 19 others were injured when a protester drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.
On Monday, state Democratic leaders banned guns inside the capitol and another legislative office building. Last November, Democrats took control of the Virginia General Assembly based in part on promises of tighter gun regulations in the state.