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3 more suspected ‘extremists’ arrested before Virginia gun rights rally, reports say

Arrested (Oregon Department of Transportation/WikiCommons)
January 17, 2020

Three more suspected extremists connected to a white nationalist group that reportedly planned to have members at a gun rights rally in Virginia have been arrested, media reports say.

Three Georgia men were arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit murder and participating in a criminal street gang as part of the hate group, The Base, the Associated Press and Rome News-Tribune reported.

According to the News-Tribune, the three men were arrested a day before three other suspected members of The Base were arrested in Maryland on firearms and alien-harboring charges.

The three Georgia men were identified as Luke Austin Lane of Floyd County, Michael Helterbrand of Dalton and Jacob Kaderli of Dacula, Floyd County police Sgt. Chris Fincher told the Associated Press. Details of the charges were under seal by a judge, the AP and News-Tribune reported.

A spokesperson for the Floyd County Police Department did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment Friday. Kevin Rowson, a spokesperson for the FBI in Atlanta, confirmed federal authorities assisted Floyd County police.

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The string of arrests come as Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency ahead of Monday’s gun rights rally and banned all weapons, including firearms, in the area around the state Capitol in Richmond.

A judge upheld Northam’s ban Thursday, but rally organizers are seeking an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. It was not clear when the court would hear the appeal.

Attorney General Mark Herring wrote in a legal brief to the court on Friday that Northam has the authority to issue the order for public safety and that it does not infringe on anyone’s right to bear arms or First Amendment rights.

Northam declared the state of emergency after he says law enforcement received multiple, credible threats of violence by militias and extremists groups planning to attend the rally Monday.

Fearing violence similar to that of Charlottesville, where a woman was killed when a neo-Nazi rammed his car into a crowd in 2017, Northam issued the temporary ban on weapons through Tuesday.

“They’re not coming to peacefully protest. They are coming to intimidate and cause harm,” Northam said at a news conference earlier this week.

“No one wants another incident like the one we saw at Charlottesville in 2017. We will not allow that mayhem and violence to happen here,” he added.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League, the group organizing the rally and challenging Northam in court alongside Gun Owners of America, has said the event is still on. The group planned the “lobby day” to try to sway state legislators not to pass a host of gun control measures that Democrats have promised after taking control of state government in November.

Following the election, more than 100 localities in Virginia declared themselves “sanctuaries” for the Second Amendment, saying they wouldn’t enforce unconstitutional laws. Legal experts and Herring have said those resolutions hold no legal weight as local law does not supersede state law.

However, as momentum grew with the sanctuary resolutions and planning of the lobby day, the movement spilled across state lines and onto pro-gun social media, sparking interest from groups outside of Virginia.

Groups identified as extremist organizations urged members to flock to Richmond on Monday, using fiery language of “tyrants” trying to seize arms and promising civil war.

Some of the militia groups that said they would attend the rally in Richmond are the same ones who attended the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, the Daily Beast reported.

The Base, the group that the six men arrested this week allegedly have connections to, has been identified as a hate group committed to creating a white ethno-state.

Prosecutors said at a court hearing Wednesday that one of the men arrested in Maryland compared the group to al-Qaida and discussed traveling to Ukraine to fight alongside “nationalists.”

One of the men, Patrik Jordan Mathews, 27, is a former Canadian Armed Forces reservist who was dismissed over alleged ties to white supremacists.

Prosecutors say Brian Mark Lemley Jr., 33, and William Garfield Bilbrough IV, 19, traveled to Michigan last year to pick up Mathews. The men have allegedly operated in Maryland and Delaware since, building an assault rifle, amassing ammo and trying to make DMT, a hallucinogenic drug, as they discussed The Base’s activities.

The New York Times reported that The Base has become a growing concern for the FBI as the group recruits more people.

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