A federal judge decided Monday that he will consider adding a “terrorism enhancement” to the prison terms of two white supremacists who prosecutors said plotted to carry out deadly violence at a Virginia guns-rights rally last year to provoke what one of them called “a full-blown civil war.”
Although Chuang — over the objection of defense lawyers — agreed that a terrorism enhancement, allowed by federal law, could be applied in this case, he seemed skeptical of the 25-year terms recommended by the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland. That would be a significant increase over typical sentences for the crimes to which Mathews and Lemley pleaded guilty in June.
Attorneys for the men argued that their clients should be punished only for the crimes they admitted to, not for ideas they discussed but never carried out.
Neither man will learn his sentence until Thursday.
Mathews, a Canadian national, and Lemley, of Elkton, Md., who are both members of a white supremacist group called “the Base,” were arrested in January 2020, just days before a large-scale gun-rights demonstration at the Virginia Capitol in Richmond.
In the months leading up to the rally, using electronic eavesdropping and other surveillance techniques, federal agents said, they uncovered a plan by the men to secretly wreak havoc at the demonstration, hoping that participants would respond with even more mayhem.
According to court filings, “Lemley discussed using a thermal imaging scope affixed to his rifle to conduct ambush attacks,” stating, “I literally need, I need to claim my first victim. . . . It’s so unfair what I can do to people with that.”
Authorities said Mathews replied that “tons of guys” at the gathering “should be radicalized enough to know that all you gotta do is start making things go wrong” and the rally can spiral into “full-blown civil war.”
An undercover federal agent, posing as an older member of the Base, also recorded the men talking about establishing a base camp in the Shenandoah Forest where they could coordinate an eventual overthrow of the government.
As it turned out, the rally took place peacefully amid heavy security.
A terrorism enhancement is sometimes used in cases of apparent domestic terrorism. That is because there is no federal statute defining such terrorism as a distinct crime itself. Instead, defendants are typically prosecuted only for the individual offenses that make up an apparent terrorist conspiracy, such as firearms violations.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom argued Monday that the enhancement should apply in this case because Mathews and Lemley purchased one gun and built another illegally; they stockpiled ammunition, thermal scopes and other gear; and they discussed shooting police officers in Richmond in an attempt to sow chaos and destabilize the government.
When the Justice Department announced the men’s charges, federal prosecutors said the men had planned to spark a “race war” at the rally.
Mathews pleaded guilty to transporting a firearm and ammunition in interstate commerce with intent to commit a felony and being an alien in possession of a firearm and ammunition. Lemley pleaded guilty to similar charges, as well as transporting and harboring an alien, meaning Mathews.
Public defender Ned Smock, Lemley’s attorney, told the judge that prosecutors have painted Lemley and Mathews as sophisticated operators. In fact, Smock said, their conversations were likely no more than unrealistic musings and violent ideations.
Smock noted that in one conversation the men mentioned they might skip the Virginia rally and instead travel to Michigan for a gathering of the Base.
He told the judge that the government was “relying on talk.”
But Chuang disagreed.
“This was not just talk,” the judge said during his ruling. “There was intent.”
A third man in the case, William G. Bilbrough IV, now 21, was sentenced to five years in prison in December after pleading guilty to two counts of transporting and harboring an alien. Unlike Mathews and Lemley, Bilbrough did not face firearms-related charges, and the U.S. attorney’s office did not seek a terrorism enhancement of his sentence.