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Members of California White Supremacist Group Charged in Connection With 2017 Charlottesville Riot

Nationwide — The U.S. Department of Justice has arrested and charged four members of a violent, racist, white supremacist group from California with traveling to the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville with the explicit purpose of inciting a riot and attacking counter-protesters.

The DOJ U.S. Attorney’s Office Western District of Virginia said in a press release Tuesday that agents in California arrested 25-year-old Benjamin Drake Daley of Redondo Beach, Calif., Thomas Walter Gillen, 34, of Rondo Beach, Calif., Michael Paul Miselis, 29, of Lawndale, Calif., and Cole Evan White, 24, of Clayton, Calif., and charged each of them with one count of conspiracy to violate the federal riots statute and one count of violating the federal riots statute.

United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen said, “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. 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.”

The criminal complaint identifies the men as being either members or associates of the Rise Above Movement (RAM), a group the Southern Poverty Law Center identified as “an explicitly violent, racist, right-wing fight club that attends rallies around the country to openly brawl with counter-protesters.”

ProPublica spent weeks investigating RAM in 2017 and identified it as a group with “more than 50 members and a singular purpose: physically attacking its ideological foes.”

“RAM’s members spend weekends training in boxing and other martial arts, and they have boasted publicly of their violence during protests in Huntington Beach, San Bernardino and Berkeley. Many of the altercations have been captured on video, and its members are not hard to spot.”

The criminal complaint against the four men accuses them of committing multiple acts of violence against counter-protesters that in some cases resulted in serious injuries to their victims. They are also accused of participating in a tiki torch march on the night of Aug. 11, 2017, that ended in violence against students and counter-protesters on the grounds of the University of Virginia.

The 2017 Charlottesville riot resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, who was killed when a man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. 

Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division Adam S. Lee said, “The events of August 2017 do not reflect the character and values of Virginia’s communities. 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. It is important for communities like Charlottesville to remember who the good guys are – who is sworn to protect them – and support them in their mission. The FBI has worked extensively with Virginia State Police and our local partners to achieve justice for those injured during the rally. Their partnership is how we have arrived at this point in our investigations. I want to thank them and U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen and his team in the Western District for their expertise and professionalism.”

As the Justice Department reminds us at the end of their statement, a criminal complaint is just a charge and “not evidence of guilt.”

It’s not a conviction either, because as the statement also says, “The defendants are entitled to a fair trial with the burden on the government to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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