WARNING: This story contains distressing details
Former Manitoba army reservist Patrik Mathews has been sentenced to nine years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for charges related to what the FBI has described as a neo-Nazi plot to instigate a race war in the United States.
U.S. District Court Judge Theodore Chuang delivered the sentence Thursday in a Maryland courtroom.
Just before he was sentenced, Mathews told the courtroom he got involved with the wrong people and regrets his decisions.
"I'm not someone who hurts people. I'm not a mean person," he said.
"I try to be people's friends. I picked the wrong set of friends to do that. It's one thing to be a friend, be a buddy. It's another to get involved in illegal activity. It's insane and all my fault."
He said he wants to go home to Canada and his family to make amends after he is released.
You have stated that all you want to do is go back to Canada and live a normal life. We all hope that is something that will happen once you serve this sentence. - U.S. Judge Theodore Chuang, sentencing Patrik Mathews
But Chuang remarked that Mathews never said he was sorry before handing him a sentence that represents a middle ground between the 25 years prosecutors were seeking and the 33 months defence lawyers wanted.
The judge said Mathews has not inspired confidence that he'd changed to the point that he was no longer a threat.
"Nevertheless, you have stated that all you want to do is go back to Canada and live a normal life. We all hope that is something that will happen once you serve this sentence."
Co-accused also sentenced to 9 years
Prosecutors had successfully argued for a "terrorism enhancement," meaning the judge agreed they were promoting a federal crime of terrorism, though Mathews and his co-accused, Brian Lemley Jr., were not charged with terrorism.
Mathews and Lemley entered the courtroom wearing orange prison suits and face masks, acknowledging and waving to their family members in the courtroom.
Both pleaded guilty in June to gun charges linked to what the FBI has described as a neo-Nazi plot to attack a gun-rights rally in Virginia last January, which the pair hoped would lead to clashes between police and tens of thousands of heavily armed protesters.
A U.S. army veteran who served in Iraq, Lemley was also sentenced to nine years in prison Thursday.
American prosecutors had said the pair wanted to instigate a civil war that would "decimate racial and ethnic minorities and subjugate women," court documents say.
Thursday's sentencing makes clear the pair's "hateful efforts" failed, according to Erek Barron, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, who said he hoped the sentences "deter others from such actions."
Plan to attack Virginia rally
Mathews was first publicly identified as a recruiter for neo-Nazi group The Base in 2019 after an undercover investigation by Winnipeg Free Press reporter Ryan Thorpe.
He then disappeared after RCMP raided his Beausejour, Man., home.
Mathews crossed into the U.S. and was missing for several months until he was arrested in Maryland in January 2020.
Court documents say the FBI conducted an underground operation beginning in July 2019 when an undercover agent went through an online vetting interview for admission into The Base.
The investigation found that Mathews, Lemley and other members of The Base conducted paramilitary training camps in Georgia in September and October, where they did tactical training and firearms drills.
In December 2019, FBI officers got court orders authorizing them to install a closed-circuit television camera and microphone in the apartment where Mathews and Lemley were living, which captured them discussing their plans to attack the Virginia rally.
Pair's plans more than 'just talk,' judge said
In some of the recordings, which were submitted as court exhibits, the pair can be heard talking about inciting violence and killing people in order to benefit "the movement."
For example, in one recording Mathews can be heard talking about killing Black people, saying the group needs to start "getting rid of them wherever they stand."
He was also recorded talking about killing protestors with the left-wing Antifa movement.
In another recording, Lemley is heard talking about killing a police officer.
Among the documents and items FBI officers found after they raided the pair's apartment was a video of Mathews wearing a gas mask and attempting to distort his voice.
In listening to the recordings, Chuang said Thursday the pair's discussions were more than "just talk," remarking he could hear their "virulence, passion and deadly nature."
Mathews' defence team had denied the pair were planning to act on the things they were recorded discussing.
But after the sentencing, Thomas Sobocinski, head of the FBI's Baltimore field office, said their investigation made it clear that the pair posed a severe threat to public safety. He thanked the various authorities involved in the investigation.
"Because of their hard work, we are standing here today at a sentencing rather than outside a tragic mass shooting."
Mathews 'led down wrong path,' parents say
Defence lawyer Joseph Balter said he was disappointed his client's sentence wasn't lower, but appreciated that the judge "certainly did balance a number of competing factors in arriving where it did."
Mathews' father, Glen, gave an emotional character reference, saying the man portrayed in court is not the son he knows and loves.
He said his son was raised to have a strong moral compass, but after his relationship with his girlfriend deteriorated, Mathews was led down the wrong path.
Mathews' mother, Kim Penhall, brought her son a card Thursday that said she would always love him and told reporters she still believes he is innocent and trusted the wrong people who led him down a bad path.
She described him as a kind, caring person who needed help and said she regretted agreeing to take care of his beloved cats. She said she believed he never would have fled to the U.S. without knowing they were in good hands.
The Base rhetoric called 'worst of the worst'
The evidence presented in court demonstrates the pair subscribed to what's known as accelerationism ideology, a belief held by white nationalists that accelerating the collapse of society through violence would lead to a white ethno-state, said Elizabeth Yates, a senior researcher National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland.
The terrorism enhancement indicates the judge accepts that Mathews and Lemley were trying to advance these beliefs.
"They're not merely waiting for this to occur, they are hoping to take advantage of specific instances and events to try to create more violence," she said.
WATCH | U.S. judge sentences Manitoban ex-reservist to 9 years:
Yates said members of The Base espouse some of the most extreme and explicitly racist views in all of the alt-right movement.
"Their rhetoric are some of the worst of the worst."
A third defendant, William Bilbrough IV, was sentenced to five years in prison last December for helping Mathews enter the U.S. illegally.
Mathews is also facing separate charges for what is described as the ritual beheading of an animal during a paramilitary training camp in Georgia.