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Man tied to white-supremacist group suspected of planning violence at Va. gun rights rally gets 5-year sentence

Prosecutors say members of the Base, a white-supremacist group, were planning violence at this Richmond gun rights rally in January.
Prosecutors say members of the Base, a white-supremacist group, were planning violence at this Richmond gun rights rally in January. (Julia Rendleman/The Washington Post)
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One of three men charged with plotting violence at a Virginia gun rights rally pleaded guilty Tuesday and was sentenced to five years in federal prison in what prosecutors said was a scheme by white supremacists to spark a “race war” by shooting “unsuspecting civilians and police officers” during the demonstration.

The defendant, William G. Bilbrough IV, was arrested by FBI agents after he and two others allegedly plotted to kill people at random at the January rally in Richmond, hoping to ignite what one of them purportedly called a “full-blown civil war.”

Although authorities described the scheme as potential “domestic terrorism,” there is no federal statute dealing specifically with domestic terrorism. Bilbrough, 20, of Maryland, was charged with five felony counts of transporting and harboring an alien, meaning one of his co-defendants, who had entered the country illegally from Canada.

The other two men, who are awaiting trials, are charged with weapons offenses. Bilbrough, who faced less serious charges than his co-defendants, pleaded guilty to two of the five counts against him in a deal with prosecutors.

Both sides in the case agreed that a five-year prison term would be appropriate, and U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang in Greenbelt, Md., imposed the sentence immediately after Bilbrough entered his plea.

White supremacists made Charlottesville a symbol of racism. Black residents say it still is.

Defense attorney Megan E. Coleman said Bilbrough did not want to address the judge personally.

“He just asked me to represent to the court that he does take this case very seriously and that he is going to do his best to prove to the court that he understands the seriousness of his actions,” Coleman told Chuang.

The FBI, which surveilled and eavesdropped on the three men before the Jan. 20 rally, described them as belonging to a group called the Base, which encourages violence against African Americans and Jews and organizes military-style training.

The Canadian citizen, Patrik J. Mathews, 28, was charged with several weapons offenses, as was the third defendant, Brian M. Lemley Jr., 34, of Maryland. Like Bilbrough, Lemley also was charged with transporting and harboring Mathews when he entered the United States, knowing that he intended to commit violent acts, prosecutors said.

Mathews and Lemley have pleaded not guilty.

According to law enforcement officials, the Base emerged in recent years with aspirations of uniting various hate groups for a race war. Lemley, Bilbrough and Mathews attended a Base military-training event in November 2019 in Georgia, according to court documents.

“Lemley discussed using a thermal imaging scope affixed to his rifle to conduct ambush attacks” at the Richmond rally, stating, “I literally need, I need to claim my first victim. . . . It’s so unfair what I can do to people with that,” according to court documents.

Mathews allegedly replied that “tons of guys” at the Richmond 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.”

“We could essentially be like literally hunting people,” Mathews said, according to prosecutors.

After the three were arrested early this year, one of Bilbrough’s attorneys, Robert Bonsib, said in court that his client was a naive young man enthralled by the older companions he had been hanging around. Bonsib said Bilbrough was consumed with fantasies, including going to Ukraine to fight against Russian-backed aggression.

“That’s pie in the sky, but that’s not terrorism,” Bonsib said in January, adding: “A 19-year-old can be a knucklehead sometimes. You’ve got to decide whether he’s a knucklehead or a terrorist. He’s a knucklehead.”

Coleman continued that theme Tuesday.

Bilbrough “accepted this plea agreement because he recognizes the seriousness of the offense that he got himself into,” the defense attorney said in court. Noting that her client was 19 at the time of his arrest, she said, “Oftentimes science demonstrates that the brain is still not fully mature until approximately age 21.”

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