Defence lawyers for a former Canadian Armed Forces reservist from Manitoba argue he never intended to promote terrorism in the United States and should be sentenced to 33 months behind bars.
Patrik Mathews, 28, pleaded guilty earlier this year to four charges, including illegally transporting a firearm and obstruction of justice.
"Mathews vehemently rejects the accusation that he ever intended to promote a federal crime of terrorism," defence lawyers wrote in documents filed last week in Maryland District Court.
Prosecutors are seeking what's called a "terrorism enhancement" that would significantly increase his prison term. They are recommending Mathews be sentenced to 25 years.
Mathews has been in U.S. custody since he and two Americans were arrested by the FBI last year. It's alleged all three were members of the white supremacist group, The Base, and had been planning violence at a Virginia gun rights rally in 2020.
U.S. army veteran Brian Mark Lemley Jr. also pleaded guilty to weapons charges and is to be sentenced along with Mathews on Oct. 28. William Bilbrough IV was earlier sentenced to five years in prison for his role in bringing Mathews into the U.S.
Defence documents said Mathews, a former combat engineer from Beausejour, Man., was humiliated after 2019 media reports said he was a recruiter for The Base so he fled to the U.S., where he was picked up by Lemley and Bilbrough.
Prosecutors allege that once he was in the U.S., Mathews began building a functioning assault rifle, took part in military training exercises, screened new members for The Base and made numerous videos espousing violent, anti-Semitic and racist language.
In the documents, prosecutors said law enforcement gathered information about Mathews and his co-accused through a "sneak-and-peek" warrant, video surveillance and undercover agents. A large portion of recordings "involved violence in furtherance of white nationalism and the downfall of the American state," they said.
Prosecutors said Mathews and other members of The Base thought the "boogaloo movement," which white supremacists believe will be a violent uprising starting a civil war, would begin at the Virginia gun rally.
Defence lawyers argue the hate speech and references to violence in the secret recordings of Mathews and his co-accused are protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
"The conversations reflected the defendant's beliefs and advocacy of ideas that many would find repugnant," the defence documents said.
"Discussion of such ideas, especially within one's own home, do not establish the intent to commit crimes of terrorism."
The defence also said people who have been sentenced in relation to the attack on Capitol Hill earlier this year did not receive a terrorism enhancement.
Over punishing people can exacerbate existing political and social tensions, the lawyers said.
"(Mathews and his co-defendant) deserve a second chance to return to their families and resume their lives, as society continues to heal from the political tension and division that ensued during the Trump presidency," said the defence documents.
"The government's recommended sentence serves no purpose than to utterly destroy the defendants' lives."
Prosecutors said the First Amendment cannot save Mathews from his own words. In documents filed this week, they argue Mathews clearly had a plan.
He didn't cross over the border or build a rifle on a whim, they said.
"The defendants' beliefs and intentions — their desire to subjugate and kill minorities, to violently establish a white nation, to demote women to a lesser class — were the sole bases, or at least the primary bases, for committing their crimes of conviction, and are the reasons the defendants intended to promote federal crimes of terrorism."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2021.
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press