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US Army veteran among group of suspected neo-Nazis arrested by FBI on gun charges
GREENBELT, Md. (Reuters) - Three suspected members of a neo-Nazi group appeared in a Maryland court on Thursday to face federal charges after the FBI arrested them for carrying an assault rifle and planning to incite violence at a gun-rights rally in Virginia.
Earlier on Thursday, the FBI arrested the trio: Brian Lemley, 33, a former cavalry scout in the U.S. Army; Patrik Mathews, 27, a combat engineer in the Canadian Army Reserve who authorities said had illegally entered the United States; and William Bilbrough, a teenager who prosecutors called a serious flight risk, saying he expressed a desire to fight with Ukrainian nationalists.
Their appearance in the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland, came the day after Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency banning any weapons around the grounds of the state capitol in Richmond.
He said investigators had seen groups making threats of violence ahead of the gun-rights rally planned at the legislative building for Monday.
Federal prosecutors said the three suspects were members of the neo-Nazi group The Base, a small militant organization dedicated to committing violence against minorities and obstructing authorities from learning about their activities. When Lemley and Mathews were arrested, they smashed their cellphones and dumped them into the toilet before submitting to federal agents, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom said.
Standing calmly before Judge Charles Day, Lemley wore a T-shirt and pajama pants, while Mathews sported camouflage pants and a bushy blond beard.
Both men answered "yes" when the judge asked if they understood the charges against them, which include transporting a firearm with intent to commit an offense. They answered "no" when asked if they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Bilbrough, redheaded and wearing glasses, listened as prosecutors read the charges against him, including transporting and harboring aliens. He smiled several times as prosecutors described his alleged activity with the Base.
Lemley and Mathews remained in federal custody due to their alleged firearms violations. The judge decided to detain Bilbrough after prosecutors said the 19-year-old defendant might go into hiding or try to flee the country since he had repeatedly expressed a desire to travel to Ukraine to fight with "nationalists" there.
Bilbrough's defense attorney denied that his client posed a flight risk, noting that he lived with his grandmother and lacked a passport.
The judge set the three defendants' detention hearings for Wednesday.
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have been sharply criticized for not focusing enough on the threat of far-right extremism following a spate of attacks on synagogues and a 2017 white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heads of both of those agencies have said in recent months that they were taking the threat more seriously.
Several thousand gun rights supporters are planning a large rally in Richmond, Virginia's capital, on Monday in response to the newly Democratic-controlled state legislature's push to stiffen gun laws.
Virginia, where Democrats took control of the legislature by promising stronger gun laws, has become the latest focal point for the contentious American debate around the right to bear arms. Many gun-rights groups contend the U.S. Constitution guarantees their ability to possess any firearm. Those opposed say gun laws would help lessen the number of people killed by guns each year.
The three men are accused of interstate commerce of weapons, harboring illegal aliens, an alien in possession of a firearm and ammunition, and aiding and abetting. The FBI also said in the court filing that the men had attempted to manufacture DMT, a powerful psychedelic that is an illegal drug under federal law.
While federal authorities can bring criminal terrorism charges against those suspected of working on behalf of foreign extremist groups like al Qaeda, they lack those tools when pursuing affiliates of domestic extremist groups, whose views are protected by the free-speech clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The men were in possession of what looked like a fully automatic rifle, according to an FBI agent who watched the men fire the weapon at a gun range.
Shortly after firing the weapon on Jan. 2 at a Maryland gun range, Lemley told Mathews, "Oh, oops, it looks like I accidentally made a machine gun," according to the court document.
Lemley and Mathews lived together in Delaware, while Bilbrough resided in Maryland. Mathews illegally crossed over the border into the United States in August, the court document said.
(Reporting by Julia Harte in Greenbelt, Maryland, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, Mark Hosenball and Andy Sullivan in Washington and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)
Though the Army has yet to actually set an official recruiting goal for this year, leaders are confident they're going to bring in more soldiers than last year.
Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command, told reporters on Wednesday that the Army was currently 2,226 contracts ahead of where it was in 2019.
"I will just tell you that this time last year we were in the red, and now we're in the green which is — the momentum's there and we see it continuing throughout the end of the year," Muth said, adding that the service hit recruiting numbers in February that haven't been hit during that month since 2014.
Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.
We are women veterans who have served in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. Our service – as aviators, ship drivers, intelligence analysts, engineers, professors, and diplomats — spans decades. We have served in times of peace and war, separated from our families and loved ones. We are proud of our accomplishments, particularly as many were earned while immersed in a military culture that often ignores and demeans women's contributions. We are veterans.
Yet we recognize that as we grew as leaders over time, we often failed to challenge or even question this culture. It took decades for us to recognize that our individual successes came despite this culture and the damage it caused us and the women who follow in our footsteps. The easier course has always been to tolerate insulting, discriminatory, and harmful behavior toward women veterans and service members and to cling to the idea that 'a few bad apples' do not reflect the attitudes of the whole.
Recent allegations that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie allegedly sought to intentionally discredit a female veteran who reported a sexual assault at a VA medical center allow no such pretense.
KABUL/WASHINGTON/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The United States and the Taliban will sign an agreement on Feb. 29 at the end of a week long period of violence reduction in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Taliban said on Friday.
Active-duty service members, Reservists and National Guard members often serve side-by-side performing highly skilled and dangerous jobs, such as parachuting, explosives demolition and flight deck operations.
Reservists and Guard members are required to undergo the same training as specialized active-duty troops, and they face the same risks. Yet the extra incentive pay they receive for their work — called hazardous duty incentive pay — is merely a fraction of what their active-duty counterparts receive for performing the same job.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, D-3 of Moorestown, are partnering on legislation to correct the inequity. Known as the Guard and Reserve Hazard Duty Pay Equity Act, the bill seeks to standardize payment of hazardous duty incentive pay for all members of the armed services, including Reserve and National Guard components.
Another Marine was hit with jail time and a bad-conduct discharge in connection with a slew of arrests made last summer over suspicions that members of a California-based infantry battalion were transporting people who'd crossed into the U.S. illegally.