Luke Austin Lane, 21; Michael John Helterbrand, 25; and Jacob Kaderli, 19, were all charged with conspiracy to commit murder and being members of a criminal gang. Attorney information for the men was not immediately available in jail records.
The Base was founded in 2018 to plan a “violent insurgency” against the government and nonwhites, according to law enforcement. Members use encrypted chat rooms to discuss, among other things, violence toward groups like antifa and minorities including African Americans and Jewish Americans, an arrest affidavit states, explaining that operations are kept decentralized among local cells to minimize members’ accountability.
Law enforcement officials have zeroed in on the Base, whose name is the English translation of “al-Qaeda,” ahead of an upcoming gun rights rally in Richmond. They fear armed extremists could unleash violence at the event, which is expected to draw thousands of militia members and gun advocates from around the country to protest a suite of gun-control measures being considered by the Virginia legislature.
Authorities say they have tracked a flurry of threatening language in online message boards and social media accounts related to the rally, though officials caution it is difficult to predict when rhetoric may turn into violent actions. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has banned firearms on the state capitol grounds during the protests, saying there was “credible intelligence” of a potential violent disruption.
Federal authorities on Thursday arrested three other alleged members of the Base on federal firearm and smuggling charges. Their timing was driven by fears that some would commit violence at Monday’s rally, officials said.
The Georgia men’s charges are “unrelated” to fears of violence in Richmond, said Jay Tabb, executive assistant director for the FBI’s National Security Branch, at a Friday event.
There’s a “strong possibility” of more charges and “additional subjects,” Tabb said. He said it’s hard to put a number on the Base’s membership.
The newest charges grew out of an undercover operation, according to an affidavit for the arrests.
An FBI agent worked to join the Base last summer, the affidavit says. Lane, a resident of Silver Creek, conducted the vetting interview with another Base leader, and the agent soon met him in person along with Dacula resident Kaderli, who went by the name “Pestilence.”
The agent gained increasing access to the Base members’ world over the following months, at one point participating in shooting drills led by Lane and Kaderli. Online conversations led law enforcement to believe the drills were preparation for the “Boogalo” — Base members’ term for the “collapse of the United States and subsequent race war,” the affidavit states.
The agent also heard of Helterbrand’s admiration for white supremacist Dylann Roof, the killer of nine black parishioners at a historic church in Charleston, S.C., who was convicted of federal hate crimes.
Let me know “when it’s time to go to church,” Helterbrand reportedly told Lane.
The FBI also began to get details of an alleged murder plot. According to the affidavit, the undercover agent was with Lane and Kaderli last month as they surveyed their targets’ home in Bartow County and then as they discussed tactics with Helterbrand, developing various codes to obscure the real nature of their “camping trip.”
Lane also told the agent he wanted to kill other Base members because he was worried about word of the plot against the Bartow County couple spreading, the affidavit says. Lane said they were “stupid” and “would likely talk about it."
Lane was arrested without incident Wednesday near his home and denied bond, Floyd County police said. Kaderli and Helterbrand, arrested in other unspecified locations, were also denied bond, according to jail records.
The FBI’s Atlanta office handled most of the preliminary investigation and then helped local authorities, officials said.
Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.