Four members of the racist and antisemitic “Rise Above Movement” face federal charges of traveling to Charlottesville, Virginia, with the intent of rioting at the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017.
Three of the four were arrested Tuesday near Los Angeles: 25-year-old Benjamin Drake Daley of Redondo Beach, California, 34-year-old Walter Gillen of Redondo Beach, California, and Michael Paul Miselis, a 29-year-old Lawndale, California resident. The FBI took the fourth person, 24-year-old Cole Evan White of Clayton, California, into custody near San Francisco.
U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen, whose district includes Charlottesville, said the four men had previously taken part in violence during “alt-right” and other racist activities in Berkeley, California, in the spring of 2017, just months before “Unite the Right.”
“In our view, they were essentially serial rioters,” Cullen said during a press conference at the federal courthouse blocks from where the Aug. 11-12, 2017, rally turned deadly.
All four men have been charged with conspiracy to violate federal rioting laws and one count each of violating the federal rioting laws. Each was scheduled to appear in court in California on Tuesday and expected to make appearances in Charlottesville within two weeks.
The charges stem from violence after the demonstrators using tiki torches marched through the Lawn at the University of Virginia toward the university’s Rotunda and iconic statue of founder Thomas Jefferson, chanting, “Blood and Soil!” and “Jews will not replace us!” The march preceded the Aug. 12 rally that turned violent.
The next day, racists, neo-Nazis and their followers descended on downtown Charlottesville near a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in a rally that became a riot. A 21-year-old man from Maumee, Ohio, James Alex Fields Jr., is charged with ramming his car into a crowd gathered to protest the racist presence. A 32-year-old paralegal, Heather Heyer, died in the attack. Fields faces state first-degree murder charges and federal hate crime charges.
The charges filed Tuesday mark the second time federal officials have filed charges stemming from the rally. The case of Fields, who is scheduled for trial in state charges in November and December, was the first.
Cullen said others may face charges in the future as the investigation continues and more people who took part in the violence are identified. Cullen said the men haven’t been charged with a hate crime because doing so would have required prosecutors to show that racial animus or religion were primary motivators in prompting the men to attack others. Hate crime charges are possible in the future, Cullen said.
“Given the evidence we have and the MO of this particular group, we felt more comfortable that the riots act was a more appropriate charge,” Cullen said.
RAM and violence
The four are adherents of the Rise Above Movement, an SPLC-designated white nationalist hate group composed of hardcore white supremacists inspired by Identitarian aesthetics and the European circuit of racist, neo-Nazi MMA promotions, clothing brands and football hooliganism. The group organizes and trains primarily to engage in fighting and violence at political rallies.
In Berkeley, the group’s members appeared alongside many factions of the far-right, including neo-Nazi and racist skinheads, racist “alt-right” groups like Identity Evropa, and “alt-lite” groups like the Proud Boys and Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman’s now-defunct Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights. A handful of RAM members also hold membership in the largest national network of racist skinheads in the U.S., known as the Hammerskin Nation, of which mass murderer Michael Page was also a member.
“This is a group that aggressively subscribes to an antisemitic, racist ideology,” Cullen said.
The group’s activities and attacks during the Berkeley riots have been charged as overt acts — an element of the conspiracy to riot — in Virginia.
In the 23-page criminal complaint unsealed on Tuesday, Daley, Gillen, Miselis and White are identified in social-media pictures and videos as taking part in the torch-lit march and in social-media conversations as having admitted to hitting bystanders.
“We had them completely surrounded,” Daley is quoted as telling someone on social media. “I hit like 5 people.”
The complaint also outlines how the FBI says it used social-media videos to identify Daley as taking part, along with unidentified others, in punching, beating and headbutting counter-protesters on Second Street NE in downtown Charlottesville.
The FBI claims that after arriving in Charlottesville on Aug. 11, 2017, Daley went to Walmart and bought white athletic tape, black spray paint and a folding tactical knife.
The pictures, some of which are embedded in the complaint, seem to show RAM members with taped fists punching and kicking counter-protesters. In one image, White, with two-toned platinum hair, appears to be head-butting an unarmed clergyman.
Gillen, with hands taped as they were in Berkeley, is seen in another photo apparently beating on counter-protesters along with Daley and Miselis on Aug. 12, 2017.
Other images included in the complaint allegedly show Miselis, White, Daley and Gillen beating, headbutting, kicking and attacking unarmed counter-protesters around downtown Charlottesville. In one photo, Daley is shown after allegedly throwing a water bottle at a counter-protester and making a throat-slashing gesture at them.
Search warrants for the social-media accounts of the four men, as well as open-source photos and videos, were used to identify Daley, Gillen, Miselis and White, said FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Thomas Chadwick.
Once a bond or detention status is determined for the four men, a grand jury has 30 days to indict them. Cullen expects all four to appear in federal court in Virginia within two weeks. After that, unless a speedy-trial waiver is granted, the men could face a jury as soon as 70 days from indictment.
“We could be trying this case by the end of the year,” Cullen said. “And we’re ready to do that.”
That timing could leave Charlottesville facing two trials — the four RAM defendants and Fields’ murder trial — just blocks from each other and from where the violence took place at the same time.
But that doesn’t mean the investigation is over. In the photos released as part of the complaint, multiple unidentified people can be seen, some of whom were taking part in the violence.
Cullen said agents and attorneys are continuing to pore over the video and photos from “Unite the Right” trying to identify others who took part in the attacks and eliminate the possible claims of self-defense.
Until the investigation is closed, Cullen said, anyone who took part in the attacks can’t rest easy.
Photo Credit: Jason Andrew/Redux