U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Sullivan in Greenbelt, Maryland, called the decision not to free Bilbrough on bond a “very close call," but said he had reservations about releasing the defendant into his grandmother's custody. Sullivan said he's willing to consider other possible living arrangements.
Bilbrough, who worked as a pizza delivery driver and lived with his grandmother in Denton, Maryland, before his arrest, pleaded not guilty last month to charges including conspiracy to “transport and harbor certain aliens.”
Former Canadian Armed Forces reservist Patrik Mathews, 27; and Brian Mark Lemley Jr., 33, of Elkton, Maryland, separately pleaded not guilty to related charges including transporting a firearm and ammunition with the intent to commit a felony.
Defense attorney Robert Bonsib said Bilbrough doesn't have a criminal record and cut ties with The Base before his arrest. “He doesn't represent a danger in this case," Bonsib said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom said Bilbrough knew The Base's goal was to accelerate the overthrow of the U.S. government and replace it with a white supremacist regime.
“This guy knew what the consequences of his actions were at the time,” the prosecutor added. Gail Bilbrough, the defendant's grandmother, said she thought her grandson was too busy with college and a part-time job to get into trouble even though she had been concerned about his association with Mathews and Lemley.
“I realize now how bad and dangerous The Base is and how serious the charges are,” she told the magistrate. In a court filing, Justice Department prosecutors said Lemley and Mathews discussed “the planning of violence” at a gun rights rally in Richmond, Virginia, in January. A closed-circuit television camera and microphone installed by investigators in a Delaware home captured Mathews talking about the Virginia rally as a “boundless” opportunity, prosecutors said.
“And the thing is you’ve got tons of guys who ... should be radicalized enough to know that all you gotta do is start making things go wrong and if Virginia can spiral out to ... full blown civil war,” Mathews said, according to prosecutors.
Lemley talked about using a thermal imaging scope affixed to his rifle to ambush unsuspecting civilians and police officers, prosecutors said. “I need to claim my first victim,” Lemley said on Dec. 23, according to prosecutors.
Bilbrough, the only defendant in the case who isn't facing firearms-related charges, participated in their early discussions about traveling to Richmond but had tried to distance himself from the group shortly before his arrest, a prosecutor has said.
Windom has described Bilbrough as a leader of the group who was viewed as a “prophet” by Mathews and Lemley. Bilbrough had repeatedly expressed an interest in traveling to Ukraine to fight with "nationalists" there, and tried to recruit Mathews and Lemley to go with him, prosecutors said.
Bilbrough has participated in several training camps for The Base and appeared in a propaganda video for the group, according to prosecutors. They said Bilbrough had compared The Base favorably to al-Qaida and remarked to other Base members that the Islamic State group “doesn't compare to us.”
“By these statements, Bilbrough was boasting that The Base’s aspirations were greater than either terrorist organization,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing. During a hearing in January, Windom showed the judge a photograph recovered from Bilbrough's phone in which the defendant is holding up the severed head of a goat he killed in a “ritual sacrifice” at a training camp in Georgia for members of The Base. Bilbrough initially tried to kill the goat with a knife but failed, so he borrowed a gun to shoot it, Windom said.
The magistrate cited that “weird conduct” as cause for concern about Bilbrough. Bonsib said it “looks bad” but ultimately doesn't prove his client poses a danger. “He was to that goat,” the magistrate said.
FBI agents arrested Mathews, Lemley and Bilbrough as part of a broader investigation of The Base. Authorities in Georgia and Wisconsin also arrested four other men linked to the group.