The leader of the antisemitic and racist Rise Above Movement and a fellow member of the group pleaded guilty Friday to a federal charge of conspiracy to riot.
Benjamin Drake Daley, 26, from Redondo Beach, California, is the fourth member of the organization to reach a deal with federal prosecutors. He had been charged with conspiracy to violate federal rioting laws and one count each of violating the federal rioting law.
A second RAM member, Michael Paul Miselis, a 30-year-old Lawndale, California, resident, also pleaded guilty Friday morning to a charge of conspiracy to riot.
The other two RAM members, Thomas Walter Gillen, 34, of Redondo Beach, California, and Cole Evan White, 24, of Clayton, California, are each awaiting sentencing. Gillen, Miselis and Daley are scheduled for sentencing July 19, while White’s sentencing date has not been set.
“These avowed white supremacists traveled to Charlottesville to incite and commit acts of violence, not to engage in peaceful First Amendment expression,” U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said in a statement on Friday. “Although the First Amendment protects an organization’s right to express abhorrent political views, it does not authorize senseless violence in furtherance of a political agenda.”
The charges stem from violence during “Unite the Right” and the infamous “tiki-torch” march through the lawn at the University of Virginia toward the university’s rotunda and the iconic statue of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence as well as the founder of the university. During the Aug. 11, 2017, march demonstrators chanted “Blood and Soil!” and “Jews will not replace us!”
The Rise Above Movement, an SPLC-designated white nationalist hate group, is made up of hardcore white supremacists who are influenced by white nationalist-inspired Identitarian philosophy 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.
The FBI said in a criminal complaint that it identified Daley, Gillen, Miselis and White 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 FBI also detailed in the complaint how it used social media videos to identify Daley and unidentified others taking part in punching, beating and headbutting counterprotesters 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.
In their plea agreements, the RAM members admitted to taking part in riots in Berkeley, California, on April 15, 2017, then traveling to Charlottesville in August to “Unite the Right,” where they planned to attack people.
“It’s going to be like Berkeley again,” Daley is quoted in a plea agreement as telling White. “It’s going to be the event of the year.”
Daley’s plea is the latest in a string of legal victories for prosecutors and plaintiff’s attorneys pursuing cases after “Unite the Right.”
Federal prosecutors secured the guilty plea in March of 21-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., on 29 hate crimes charges. Fields admitted to driving his 2010 Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counterprotesters after “Unite the Right.”
That came three months after a state court jury convicted Fields of first-degree murder and multiple counts of malicious wounding for the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer in the same incident.
Fields is scheduled for separate sentencing hearings in both cases in July.
State prosecutors also convicted four people of attacking and beating Charlottesville resident DeAndre Harris in a parking garage in the hours after “Unite the Right.”
Jacob Scott Goodwin, a neo-Nazi sympathizer from Ward, Arkansas; Alex Michael Ramos, a onetime member of a militia group called the Georgia Security Force III% from Jackson, Georgia; 20-year-old Daniel Patrick Borden of Mason, Ohio; and League of the South member Tyler Watkins Davis of Middleburg, Florida, are all behind bars.
Goodwin, Ramos and Borden were sentenced to state prison time. Davis is scheduled for sentencing August 27.
The City of Charlottesville also sued many of the groups and people who took part in “Unite the Right,” reaching settlements with many that keep them from returning to the city of 48,000 to hold armed protests.
In a plea agreement reached in July 2018, neo-Nazi Christopher Cantwell, who runs the “Radical Agenda” podcast, admitted to shooting pepper spray on two people during the “tiki-torch” march at the University of Virginia on Aug. 11, 2017. As part of the deal, Cantwell is barred from the state of Virginia until 2023.
The founder of the Rise Above Movement, Robert Rundo, a 28-year-old Huntington Beach, California resident, and two other members of the group face a federal criminal trial July 9 in Los Angeles on charges of conspiracy to riot and aiding and abetting the conspiracy.
A fourth member of the California group, Tyler Laube, pleaded guilty in November 2018 to conspiracy. Laube is awaiting a sentencing date.
That case revolves around a series of violent attacks at rallies in Huntington Beach, Berkeley and San Bernardino, California, in 2017.
“Every American has the right to peacefully organize, march and protest in support of their beliefs – but no one has the right to violently assault their political opponents,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement after the indictment on Oct. 29, 2018.
Photo credit: Edu Bayer