FBI officers have arrested more alleged members of a racially motivated and violent extremist group that a former Manitoba reservist has been accused of recruiting for — and court documents tell a chilling tale that includes plans to murder a married couple and overthrow the U.S. government.
In separate sweeps Friday, American law enforcement arrested three men in Georgia and another in Wisconsin.
The arrests came just one day after three alleged members of The Base were arrested in Delaware and Maryland — including 27-year-old Patrik Mathews. The Manitoba man had been missing for nearly five months, ever since he was accused of recruiting for a global neo-Nazi group, while at the same time serving in Canada's army reserves.
Mathews is believed to be connected to the group arrested in Georgia, based on an affidavit used to secure the arrest warrants, which was released by the Floyd County police.
It describes an unnamed member of The Base who "crossed into the United States illegally." That detail, along with others in the affidavit, match the description of Mathews from the FBI complaint against him filed in court.
Although the document suggests the group member believed to be Mathews stayed with a Georgia cell member for months, he is later reportedly characterized as "incompetent" and "stupid" and is seen as a liability to the local group. In fact, he eventually becomes a new potential murder target.
Local police and the FBI believe the headquarters for The Base's paramilitary training camp was a home and 105-acre tract of land in Silver Creek, Ga.
That's where Luke Austin Lane, 21, was arrested on Wednesday. Michael John Helterbrand, 25, and Jacob Kaderli, 19, were scooped up shortly after. They are charged with conspiracy to commit murder and participation in a criminal gang known as The Base.
Undercover operation detailed in affidavit
The underground FBI operation began in July 2019 when an undercover agent underwent an online vetting interview for admission into The Base using an encrypted online messaging app, according to the affidavit.
The agent was admitted to the members-only chat room and was soon invited to an in-person meeting with two members of The Base later identified as Lane and Kaderli.
The next day, they were joined by two other members for firearms training.
"Based upon previous discussions with members of The Base online, the UCE (undercover employee) believed the intended purpose of those drills were to prepare for the 'boogaloo,' a term used by members of The Base to describe the collapse of the United States and subsequent race war," the affidavit states.
At the end of the training, the members posed for photos, wearing tactical gear and balaclava hoods. The photos were later used for propaganda.
In early October, the undercover agent met again at the Georgia home with Kaderli, Lane and another member of The Base "who crossed into the United States illegally" and is referred to as TB.
It's believed TB is Mathews, who was last seen in Manitoba at the end of August. Court documents filed in support of his arrest say he had met up with two members of The Base in Michigan. He was living in an apartment with one of them in Delaware when they were arrested. TB also lived with Lane in Georgia for several months before that.
During that October meeting, TB talked about a journalist believed to be Ryan Thorpe of the Winnipeg Free Press, who exposed Mathews as a Base recruiter in newspaper stories published last August.
"The TB member further characterized the journalist who doxed him as 'essentially Antifa' and others like him as enemies of The Base stating, '[A]ny engagement in anti-fascist activity will carry the death penalty,'" the affidavit reads.
A larger group of about a dozen members, including TB, met again between Oct. 31 and Nov. 3. After putting their cellphones in airplane mode, Lane allegedly told the undercover officer about a plan he and TB had been discussing, targeting members of Antifa who lived nearby.
"Lane said he decided against carrying out the plan with the TB member because he felt the TB member was incompetent and believed they would get caught," says the affidavit.
One month later, Lane told the group about a "camping trip" planned for Dec. 13. They were instructed to bring two sets of clothing, leather gloves, and firearms and ammunition.
The undercover officer arranged to meet with Lane, who told him "his plan was to kill two high-ranking Antifa members," a married couple who lived nearby.
"Lane believed killing the couple would ultimately send the right message and show that the previous actions taken by antifascists like VICTIM 1 and VICTIM 2, such as doxing white supremacists, would not continue to go unpunished," the affidavit says.
Lane told the undercover officer he believed Kaderli and Helterbrand would be "solid."
He allegedly also told the undercover officer that he wanted to kill TB and a member of The Base in Maryland because they knew about the plan to murder the couple in Georgia. He worried that they had already told a third Base member, something that could cause problems for the cell in Georgia.
The next day, the undercover officer picked up Land and Kaderli and drove them to the couple's home to do reconnaissance.
The plan was to use a "lock pick gun" to gain entrance to the front door and kill the couple with revolvers because they don't leave shell casings at the crime scene.
They planned to rent cars and use licence plates from a different state, put Vaseline on their eyebrows and eyelashes to prevent leaving evidence, and rent a cheap motel so they could shower after the murders.
At meetings later that week, they continued to solidify their plan, which included setting the victims' house on fire.
However, Helterbrand said he was getting back surgery on Dec. 27 and would need about six weeks to recover. The group later discussed carrying out their plan between Feb. 22-23.
That never happened, as FBI officers began arresting them this past week.
"Investigation of The Base indicates that various cells have a significant degree of autonomy regarding their activities, and criminal conduct is typically not centrally co-ordinated in order to foster plausible deniability among those not directly involved," the affidavit says.
That strategy can be seen in the affidavit supporting the arrest Friday of another member of The Base, Yousef Omar Barasneh in Wisconsin.
He's accused of conspiring to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate Jewish citizens by vandalizing private property, a synagogue and a temple in two Wisconsin communities between Sept. 15-23.
"Officers saw swastikas, the symbol for The Base, and anti-Semitic words spray painted on the exterior of the building," court documents say.
Barasneh is accused of being a member of the North Central region of The Base, also known as the Great Lakes cell. Members organized an armed training session in Wood County, Wis., and posted photos on social media, according to the affidavit supporting Barasneh's arrest.
In this case, FBI officers gathered evidence during a search of two people's homes and electronic devices. According to the affidavit, the undercover officer involved in the Georgia sting saw Barasneh, who was known as "Joseph," participate in firearms training at The Base headquarters in Georgia.
Arrests ahead of pro-gun rally in Virginia
The Base was founded in July 2018 to unite white nationalists to "prepare for a violent insurgency against various targets, including the United States government and non-white majority groups," according to the affidavits.
Investigators say leadership has cautioned its members to be "as covert as possible" during this phase.
However, according to court documents, law enforcement authorities were concerned some members, including Mathews, were planning to attend a pro-gun rally at the Virginia state capitol on Monday.
On Wednesday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said he had received credible evidence of out-of-state "armed militia groups storming our capitol." He declared a state of emergency and imposed a temporary ban on all weapons, including firearms, around the capitol building until the day after the rally.
"Let me be clear. These are considered credible, serious threats by our law enforcement agencies," Northam said at a news conference.
Anti-fascist activists believe the arrests of members of The Base this week could galvanize like-minded people, raising concerns about a repeat of the violence that killed one person and injured 28 in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
"It's possible that they were going there to try to create a sense of disorder," said Joshua Fisher-Birch, a researcher at the Counter Extremism Project in New York.
"They are an accelerationist group. They want to create chaos that will help lead to the breakdown of order in the government. So in a situation like this, any disorder benefits this group."
"If they can inflame tensions whether it's between pro-firearms groups and law enforcement or between pro-firearms groups and gun control groups, this is something that really benefits them," he said.