Photo: Virginia State Capitol blocked off after Governor Ralph Northam called a “state of emergency” on Thursday
By Jakob Stein
On Thursday, three members of the neo-nazi paramilitary group ‘The Base’ were arrested by the FBI in Maryland and Delaware, as they planned to attend a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Virginia next Monday. The following day, three more suspected members of the neo-nazi group were arrested in Georgia, however it is still unclear whether they also had plans to attend the rally.
Reports indicate that the first group of men was planning to attend the pro-gun rally in Richmond, which is expected to see attendance from a wide range of fascist groups and rightwing militias. In the buildup to the rally, rumors and speculation have swirled online in far-right circles about the rally being a flashpoint for a reactionary civil war.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam seemed to share the belief that there were “credible threats of violence,” even mentioning the possibility of “armed militia groups storming our Capitol.” As a result of the threats and the subsequent federal arrests in Maryland and Delaware, he issued a state of emergency and has banned all firearms from Capitol grounds for the demonstration. Later on Thursday, the State Capitol building was fenced off in anticipation of the rally.
One unexpected group of attendees at the rally on Monday will be the Seven Hills Antifa, the local antifascist group in Richmond. In an interview with Vice, a representative highlighted the racist history of gun control laws and how the restriction of firearms has generally been applied unevenly, targeting the poorest and most oppressed groups in the US. While this is true, the history of ‘gun rights’ in the US is also connected to its history as a settler-colonial state built on arming westward settlers to forcibly displace and kill indigenous populations, as well as to enslave and oppress Black people.
The operative question behind the gun control debate in the US is which class has power. The issue of arming the proletariat is not a legal or logistical question, but a political one, principally of arming the masses with revolutionary ideology and with a political organization capable of waging People’s War to seize power. The secondary question of how guns are obtained is connected to this larger goal, and historically has been done through seizing arms from the enemy. Revolutionaries cannot arm the masses through stockpiling weapons like rightwing survivalists and doomsday preppers and cannot rely on the bourgeois state for the ‘right’ to do so.
The first set of arrests relating to the upcoming rally included Brian Lemley, Jr., Garfield Bilbrough IV, and Canadian military reservist Patrik Jordan Mathews, who had been working as a combat engineer with the Canadian military when the Winnipeg Free Press published an article outing him as a white nationalist who was actively recruiting other military personnel five months ago.
After the revelation, Mathews was discharged and fled Canada somewhere along the border with Minnesota, being received and transported to Delaware by the other two defendants. At the time of his arrest, Mathews was living in Newark, Delaware, the site of a separate fascist plot to firebomb a Planned Parenthood facility.
According to reports, Lemley and Mathews had built a rifle with fully-automatic capabilities. While buying a semi-automatic rifle would have been legal for Lemley, building firearms from component parts is sometimes done to make guns untraceable, and in this case, modified to shoot a higher number of rounds in short periods of time.
According to a FBI agent who had been observing the three at a firing range earlier this month, Lemley allegedly told Mathews after firing the customized rifle, “Oh, oops, it looks like I accidentally made a machine gun.”
Federal agents also recovered over 1,600 rounds of ammunition as well as vests meant to carry body armor. The men had also previously discussed fighting alongside neo-nazi paramilitaries in Ukraine as part of the ongoing civil war there, as other fascists around the world have done.
Those arrested in Georgia included Luke Austin Lane, Jacob Kaderli, and Michael Helterbrand; they were charged with “conspiracy to commit murder and participating in a criminal street gang.” According to police, the men planned to murder a Georgia couple known for being antifascists to “send a message.”
This follows the November arrest of 18-year-old Richard Tobin, also associated with ‘The Base,’ for his recruitment of other fascists online to carry out vandalism of synagogues in Racine, Wisconsin and Hancock, Michigan.
These events are further indications that the fascist movement in the US continues to fester and appears to be more agitated in the lead up to the 2020 election. While antifascist confrontation of public fascist rallies has seen some success, at least in the sense that these rallies occur less frequently and publicly, the underground paramilitary organizing of fascists has not been disrupted in the same way.
The larger fascist rallies, the best example of which is the 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, served to publicly recruit potential members with a show of force and break into the mainstream. However, this tactic has been leveraged less than the easier and more popular tactic of recruiting online.
In these far-right online spaces, clandestine organizations like ‘The Base’ and ‘Atomwaffen Division’ have lured both inexperienced reactionary teenagers and older disillusioned military veterans with the promise of ‘action.’
Atomwaffen Division in particular has been linked to numerous murders over the past several years, and along with the actions of those affiliated with ‘The Base,’ indicate a new form of fascist paramilitary organizing which operates more like decentralized terrorist cells than traditional armed political organizations.
These groups are particularly appealing to young white men with petit bourgeois (middle class) backgrounds, the same demographic typical of mass shootings. They are attracted to reactionary ideology in times of crisis as they lose their status in higher stratas and seek answers to the alienation they experience under imperialism and are taught to hate the oppressed peoples that imperialism has conjured up as enemies to defend their position.
While these groups are more dangerous in the immediate sense of reactionary violence with the intent to kill, they lack the necessary political organization to win over large portions of the most reactionary segments of US society, and therefore will continue to operate with a relatively low number of hyper-violent individuals. In order to take on these threats, it is necessary to train the masses to effectively ideologically and physically confront fascism with both clandestine and mass actions.
Recruitment flyers for ‘The Base’ have already been spotted in Austin, TX as well as many other cities around the country. It is the duty of antifascists everywhere to closely monitor these developments and identify those responsible before they have to chance to carry out further acts of reactionary violence against the people.