Two white supremacists described by authorities as traveling “serial rioters” each pleaded guilty to a federal crime Friday for instigating violence during the notorious 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Benjamin Daley and Michael Miselis, members of a white-power group called Rise Above Movement, or RAM, were among four men indicted by a federal grand jury last year on charges related to the Aug. 12, 2017, rally, which descended into a daylong scene of violent clashes between racist demonstrators and counterprotesters.
Appearing in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville, Daley, 26, of Redondo Beach, California, and Miselis, 30, of Lawndale, California, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to riot, punishable by up to five years in prison. The two other RAM members, Cole White, 24, of Clayton, California, and Thomas Gillen, 35, of Redondo Beach, earlier pleaded guilty to the same charge.
The four are scheduled to be sentenced July 19 by Judge Norman Moon.
“These avowed white supremacists traveled to Charlottesville to incite and commit acts of violence, not to engage in peaceful First Amendment expression,” said U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen of the Western District of Virginia. In a statement, he said, “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.”
Violent images from the demonstration, including video of a deliberate, homicidal car crash, were televised worldwide, making the Unite the Right rally a seminal event in the recent rise of emboldened white supremacism in the country.
James Fields Jr., now 21, a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi from Ohio, was convicted of first-degree murder in state court for ramming his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a woman and injuring at least 35 other people. The jury in that case recommended a life sentence, which is scheduled to be imposed in July. Fields also pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes and is awaiting sentencing.
The four California men were not accused of being involved in the deadly incident.
In a statement, the U.S. attorney’s office in Charlottesville described RAM as “a now-defunct, California-based, combat-ready, militant group that represented itself as part of the new nationalist and white supremacy movement.”
In March 2017, five months before the Charlottesville mayhem, Daley, Miselis and other RAM members attended a rally in Huntington Beach, Calif., where they “assaulted groups of protesters and other individuals,” the statement says. Afterward, they “celebrated” by posting images of the violence on the Internet “in order to recruit” new members.
In April that year, RAM members, including Daley and Miselis, instigated violence against counterprotesters at a racist rally in Berkeley, California, according to the statement.
Then they began planning for the Charlottesville rally, the statement says. “Daley and Miselis expected the event would become a riot and that their experience in riots at Huntington Beach and Berkeley would be valuable.”
On Aug. 12, a group of RAM members, their hands wrapped in white tape, “collectively pushed, punched, kicked, choked, head-butted and otherwise assaulted several individuals, resulting in a riot,” the statement says. As part of their plea agreements, Daley, Miselis, White and Gillen “admitted these actions were not in self-defense.”
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