‘Serial rioters’ charged in Charlottesville Alt-Right rally violence
Four California men described as “serial rioters” are facing federal charges after prosecutors say they flew across the country for a white nationalist rally in Virginia last year and violently attacked counterprotesters.
Federal agents arrested the men Tuesday, and prosecutors identified them as members of the Rise Above Movement, a militant white supremacist group they said espouses anti-Semitic and other racist views and meets regularly to train in boxing and other fighting techniques.
An affidavit filed by an FBI agent alleged the defendants — Benjamin Drake Daley, Michael Paul Miselis, Thomas Walter Gillen and Cole Evan White — have previously taken part in violence at other political rallies in California. Last August, they made their way to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville with their hands taped, “ready to do street battle,” U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said at a press conference announcing the charges.
“In our view, these four committed particularly violent acts in Charlottesville. Secondly, they committed violent acts in California at other rallies. Therefore, in our view, they were essentially serial rioters,” Cullen said.
The affidavit alleges the four were “among the most violent individuals present in Charlottesville.” It says photos and video footage shows they attacked counterprotesters, “which in some cases resulted in serious injuries.”
Daley and Gillen are from Redondo Beach, Miselis is from Lawndale and White is from Clayton. Cullen said each defendant faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the two counts they each face: traveling to incite riots and conspiracy to riot. However, defendants often get less than the maximum under federal sentencing guidelines.
A Los Angeles judge on Tuesday afternoon ordered Miselis, of Lawndale, to be held without bail, saying he poses a threat to the community.
During the hearing, prosecutors said Miselis and other members of their group traveled to Germany and the Ukraine to meet with violent white supremacy groups and that he had thousands of rounds of ammunition for assault-style weapons stored in his home.
Miselis’ attorney, Angel Navarro, said his client has no criminal history and detailed how Miselis received a master’s degree at UCLA and had worked at aerospace giant Northrop Grumman.
“What I’m concerned about is who he is now,” Judge Jean Ronenbluth said.
The detention hearings for Daley and Gillen, both of Redondo Beach, were postponed Tuesday. A hearing for White, of Clayton, is set for Wednesday.
Attorneys for Daley and Gillen declined to comment.
The arrests come more than a year after hundreds of white nationalists descended on Charlottesville in part to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Clashes erupted Aug. 11, 2017, as a crowd of white nationalists marching through the University of Virginia campus carrying torches and chanting racist slogans encountered a small group of counterprotesters.
The four defendants participated in that march, Cullen said.
The following day, more violence broke out between counterprotesters and attendees of the “Unite the Right” rally, which was believed to be the largest gathering of white nationalists in at least a decade. Street fighting exploded before the scheduled event could begin and went on for nearly an hour in view of police until authorities forced the crowd to disperse.
Cullen said investigators sifted through “an incredible volume” of video and still photographs to review the movements of the four men and determine whether they could claim they were only defending themselves after being attacked by others at the rally. He said prosecutors believe there was “no provocation” for them to engage in violence that day.
The four, he said, engaged in punching, kicking, head-butting and pushing, assaulting an African-American man, two women and a minister who was wearing a clerical collar, Cullen said.
According to The Anti-Defamation League, Rise Above Movement members believe they are fighting against a “modern world” corrupted by the “destructive cultural influences” of liberals, Jews, Muslims and non-white immigrants. Members refer to themselves as the mixed martial arts club of the “alt-right” fringe movement, a loose mix of neo-Nazis, white nationalists and other far-right extremists.
“They very much operate like a street-fighting club,” said Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism.
The group has roots in the racist skinhead movement in southern California, Segal said.
After authorities forced the rally to disband Aug. 12, a woman was killed when a car that prosecutors say was driven by a man fascinated by Adolf Hitler plowed into a crowd of peaceful counterprotesters.
The suspected driver, 21-year-old James Fields Jr., of Maumee, Ohio, has been charged with federal hate crimes in the death of Heather Heyer, 32. Fields also faces state murder charges; his trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 26.
The death toll rose to three when a state police helicopter that had been monitoring the event crashed, killing two troopers.
Associated Press writer Michael Kunzelman contributed to this report from College Park, Maryland. Rankin reported from Richmond, Virginia.