An expert on hate crimes says the prison sentence handed down to former Manitoba army reservist Patrik Mathews sends an important message to Canadians and Americans that terrorism and hate will not be taken lightly.
“Not only is it a crime, but it is a crime that will steal a part of your life away,” said Bernie Farber, the chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. “And I think that that message has been received.”
U.S. District Court Judge Theodore Chuang sentenced Mathews to nine years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, in a Maryland courtroom Thursday, for charges related to what the FBI has described as a neo-Nazi plot to instigate a race war in the United States.
Mathews was first publicly identified as a recruiter for neo-Nazi group The Base in 2019 following an investigation by Winnipeg Free Press reporter Ryan Thorpe.
After RCMP raided his home in Beausejour, Man., he crossed the border into the U.S. and was missing for several months until he was arrested in Maryland in January 2020.
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.
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.
Farber said while people can feel a little safer knowing the system is working, following the sentence handed down to Mathews, he’s never been more concerned about hate groups and organizations than he is today.
“I think this is the most dangerous time in North American history when it comes to the hard right or the extreme right,” said Farber.
“Lucky for us in this particular instance, the FBI caught on quickly and was able to stop anything from happening. We’re not so sure that can happen next time and there will be a next time. Young people are being radicalized in numbers online that we’ve, like, never seen before.”
When posters for The Base went up in Winnipeg back in 2019, the group Fascist Free Treaty 1 worked to make the community aware about the dangers of the group and what it represents, said organizer Omar Kinnarath.
“My fear was was like more, more violent Nazis in Winnipeg … through an organization like The Base,” he said.
Kinnarath said with the seriousness of the charges, the nine-year sentence Mathews received seems to be a halfway compromise to the 25 years prosecutors were seeking.
“It’s satisfactory but, you know, it’s definitely not the desired outcome,” said Kinnarath.
Joshua Fisher-Birch, with the Counter-Extremism Project in New York City, said while the sentence is shorter than what the prosecution was asking for, it’s important to remember that Mathews did receive the additional sentencing with the terrorism enhancement.
“This is incredibly important because of the intention behind the crimes that Mathews [pleaded] guilty to and his association in a violent neo-Nazi organization that being The Base,” said Fisher-Birch. “I think that this is a good precedent going forward for members of violent white supremacist groups.”
Fisher-Birch called this case a win for the FBI and federal law enforcement.
“They were able to disrupt this plot, they were able to arrest these members of this violent group,” he said.
Fisher-Birch noted that The Base is still recruiting and there are still multiple similar organizations to The Base that exist.
“The threat certainly is not over,” he said.