As It Happens

How an undercover reporter exposed an alleged neo-Nazi in the Canadian military

The Canadian military is investigating a possible neo-Nazi within its ranks — thanks in part to an an undercover investigation by Winnipeg Free Press reporter Ryan Thorpe.

Army reservist accused of involvement with The Base under police and military investigation

Patrik Mathews, seen in this 2015 photo, is a former combat engineer with the 38 Canadian Brigade Group in Winnipeg, with training in explosives. The Canadian military was already working on a policy to cover hateful conduct, but Mathews' high-profile arrest in the U.S. in January expedited that document, which is now available. (Courtney Rutherford/CBC)

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The Canadian military is assessing whether it has a neo-Nazi within its ranks — thanks in part to an undercover investigation by Winnipeg Free Press reporter Ryan Thorpe.

Army reservist Master Cpl. Patrik Mathews, 26, a trained combat engineer, is suspected of recruiting members for a global neo-Nazi group called The Base. Both the military and the RCMP are investigating. 

Mounties executed a public safety warrant and took a man into custody Monday night at a house in Beausejour, Man., which neighbours told CBC News belongs to Mathews

RCMP said they searched a house in Beausejour and seized a number of firearms, but no one is in custody at this time. 

Thorpe, who exposed Mathews' alleged links to The Base, told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann what it was like to infiltrate the extremist group. Here is part of their conversation.

What sparked your interest in this group initially?

Probably about maybe a month ago now, we got a news tip here at the Winnipeg Free Press about a white nationalist recruitment poster that had popped up in our city.

There was a couple of different ways that we could go about it, but ultimately we decided the only real way to get a sense of what this group is up to in Winnipeg and around Canada was for me to reach out as someone posing as a white nationalist interested in joining.

How did you make the first contact?

It began with some email exchanges back and forth. Eventually, I was invited to download the encrypted messaging app Wire and communicate with them on that. And then, eventually, I was invited to meet the Winnipeg member in person.

Just to be clear, what was on the posters that was causing such alarm?

There was a number of different designs, but the imagery was quite fascistic in nature. There was, you know, a slogan that read "Save your race, join The Base." There was words like, you know, "train, fight" — things like that.

Posters for The Base have been put up in various locations around Winnipeg. (Facebook/FF1)

So you make this initial contact and then at some point you meet this reservist Patrik Mathews? How did that happen?

This was the final hurdle I had to jump through in order to be named a member of this group.

We picked a location in Winnipeg, which was at Whittier Park, and a time of 8 p.m., and I provided a description of myself so he would be able to pick me out of the crowd.

And how did the meeting go?

I walked away considering it successful. He, you know, very quickly after we established a rapport, offered to drop his online pseudonyms and told me his real first name was Patrik.

And over the next hour and a half, I tried to learn as many biographical details about him so that I could later use that to identify him.

He told me that he was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, trained as a combat engineer, which was obviously very concerning.

What did you think when you heard that?

I had suspicions leading up to that meeting that this was, indeed, a member of the military, but that was the first time he had said it outright.

At the same meeting, he was, you know, using homophobic and racist epithets. He openly mulled over the possibility of, like, sabotaging a rail line and things. So, you know, this was clearly an individual with ... a potential propensity for violence.

RCMP Beausejour raid

3 years ago
Duration 1:40
Video posted to social media shows the RCMP raiding a house in Beausejour on Monday evening. (video courtesy: Tyler Wenzoski)

How did the things he say fit with what you know about The Base and its objectives?

Patrik, in that first meeting, you know, said ... he wanted to engage in paramilitary training. He didn't use those terms, but that's what it was. And that's consistent with what The Base is up to right now across North America. They're hosting paramilitary training events called Hate Camps.

And you say that they revere serial killers in your article?

They're really influenced by this very obscure neo-Nazi from the United States named James Mason who kind of pioneered this bizarre blend of, like, the world views of Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson. They idolize serial killers and mass murderers.

What else can you tell us about his role in the Canadian military?

I was able to confirm through a source in the Canadian Armed Forces that Patrik Mathews had been a longtime member of the Canadian Army Reserves. He was, indeed, trained as a combat engineer and that he had, you know, a fair amount of significant experience with explosives.

And what does that mean to The Base to have someone like him as a member?

That's exactly the people that are they are looking for. I mean, obviously they're open to folks who don't come from a military background, but they do actively push their members to join the military or seek to recruit folks who already have military experience, as well as experience or backgrounds in chemistry and engineering. And then these individuals become trainers, and they pass on those skill sets to the rest of the membership.

Given what you knew about The Base going into this meeting with Patrik in the park, and given the things that he was saying during your conversation, I mean, what were you thinking and feeling at the time? Were you nervous, perhaps?

I was quite nervous going into the meeting. I think I would've been a fool, you know, not to be worried. There was obvious risks involved with what I was doing and I wasn't cavalier about that.

But after meeting him in person, I would say within the first few minutes I wasn't really too worried about my personal safety. I didn't get the sense that this was someone that was about to hurt me or had any idea that I wasn't who I said I was.

Do you have any concerns that you might be a target now that this has all become public?

Once again, I don't want to be cavalier about the risks involved with this. There is a number of safety precautions I implemented in the lead up to publication. They're safety precautions that I'm still following.

We've also learned he's being investigated by the military and also the RCMP, which may not have happened without your reporting.

Ultimately, I don't think this would have come to light had we not done what we did.

One option at the beginning of all this would have been to just write a story saying flyers are popping up around the city. Here's, you know, an extremist expert. But then we wouldn't have got this information.

The media relations office at the Department of National Defence said [Tuesday], and I'm quoting: "Hateful conduct, be it through words or actions, is completely incompatible with Canadian Armed Forces values and culture." Do you believe the military has a problem on its hands when it comes to harbouring members of hate groups?

I feel like I should preface these comments by saying obviously this stuff doesn't reflect on the vast, vast majority of the members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Having said that, the military produced a report in November 2018 that said there had been 53 individuals, members of the Armed Forces, that had either been a member of a hate group or had undergone a process of radicalization.

Those are only the ones that we know about. 

As we've just seen here in Winnipeg, there are folks flying under the radar. So the reality is we don't even know the scope of this problem.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.