Four men identified by federal prosecutors as members of a Southern California-based “militant white-supremacist organization” were in custody Wednesday in connection with violent clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters last year in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Benjamin Drake Daley, 25, of Redondo Beach; Michael Paul Miselis, 29, of Lawndale; Thomas Walter Gillen, 34, of Redondo Beach; and Cole Evan White, 24, of Clayton, California, are allegedly members of a group known as the Rise Above Movement. According to a federal court affidavit, they allegedly traveled to Charlottesville “with the intent to encourage, promote, incite, participate in and commit violent acts in furtherance of a riot.”
All four defendants have been charged in Virginia with one count each of conspiracy to violate the federal riots statute and violating the federal riots statute. Each faces up to 10 years in prison, if convicted on both counts.
A spokeswoman for the FBI in Los Angeles said federal agents and local police served arrest and search warrants Tuesday morning in Redondo Beach, Lawndale and Huntington Beach. Daley, Gillen and Miselis made their initial court appearances Tuesday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles, where they were ordered held without bail, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The newspaper said White appeared in federal court in San Francisco. His status was not clear.
The arrests were formally announced by federal prosecutors in Virginia.
“This case should serve as another example of the Department of Justice’s commitment to protecting the life, liberty and civil rights of all our citizens,” said Thomas T. Cullen, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia. “Any individual who has or plans to travel to this district with the intent to engage in acts of violence will be prosecuted and held accountable for those actions.”
According to an FBI affidavit filed in Charlottesville, the four defendants were “among the most violent individuals present” at rallies held Aug. 11-12, 2017. The affidavit describes the Rise Above Movement as a “militant white-supremacist” organization that espouses violence and “regularly meets in public parks in the Southern California area and trains in physical fitness, boxing and other fighting techniques.”
“RAM and its members openly identify themselves on various social media platforms as `alt-right’ and `nationalist’ and frequently posts videos and photographs of its adherents engaged in vigorous physical training and mixed marital arts street-fighting techniques in order to prepare to engage in fighting and violence at political rallies,” according to the affidavit.
According to the court document, Daley, Miselis, Gillen and White previously took part in acts of violence at political rallies in Huntington Beach in March 2017 and in Berkeley in April 2017.
The affidavit details — with photos in some cases — alleged acts of violence committed by the defendants during a torch-lit march in Charlottesville on Aug. 11, 2017, and again on the morning of Aug. 12, 2017. It alleges they were caught on video “committing acts of violence, assaulting counter-protesters by punching, kicking and head-butting.”
The Charlottesville clashes were prompted by a gathering of white nationalists in that city to protest the planned removal of a statue depicting Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The clashes between the white nationalists and counter-protesters turned deadly on Aug. 12 when a motorist plowed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. The alleged driver, 21-year-old James Fields Jr., is facing federal and state charges, including murder. His trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 26.
“The events of August 2017 do not reflect the character and values of Virginia’s communities,” said Adam S. Lee, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Richmond, Virginia, Division. “The impact is still felt by many. Law enforcement’s job is to protect people from harm and to ensure violence like we saw during that time never happens again.”
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