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Tag: charlottesville riot

Supreme Court Upholds Conviction Of Neo-Nazi Thugs On Riot Charges

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

If white nationalists who engaged in acts of thuggish violence at protests during the Trump years were hoping they could escape culpability with the help of the Trump-appointed courts, then that gambit is not looking very solid right now, courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court on Monday announced it would refuse the case of two members of the Rise Above Movement (RAM)—a band of neo-Nazi alt-righters from Southern California who like to travel around the country to participate in far-right protests with the intention of inflicting violence on "leftists"—who wanted to overturn the riot laws federal prosecutors had used to convict them for their violent roles in the August 2017 "Unite the Right" riots in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Members of RAM had flown from California to Virginia in August to participate in the event, and had committed numerous acts of violence there, at the culmination of which a young white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a young woman named Heather Heyer and maiming 19 other people. Three of the men pleaded guilty to felony federal charges of conspiracy to riot and crossing state lines to riot in May 2019; two of them, Michael Miselis and Benjamin Daley, filed appeals.

In 2020, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had considered the men's conviction and sentencing on the grounds that the Anti-Riot Law used to imprison them was unconstitutionally overbroad. It ruled that while certain provisions in the law—such as those criminalizing speech that "tends to encourage a riot"—are unconstitutional First Amendment violations, it nonetheless upheld the men's convictions because those charges fell under other parts of the law—namely, the men's "substantial conduct," which included "pushing, punching, kicking, choking, head-butting, and otherwise assaulting numerous individuals, and none of which 'were in self-defense'"—which the court found were perfectly constitutional.

The Supreme Court's announcement leaves the convictions of Miselis and Daly, as well as the rulings in their appeals, in place. As is typical, the high court offered no comment in turning away the cases.

Daley faces a 37-month prison term, while Miselis was sentenced to 27 months.

The Rise Above Movement's existence and its activities were first exposed in detail in a ProPublica investigative piece published in October 2017. Nearly a year later, federal prosecutors filed charges against the men and another Charlottesville participant, Cole Evan White. Four other RAM members, including co-founder Robert Rundo, were charged in October 2018 with conspiracy to riot as well; however, their convictions were overturned on appeal in June 2019 by a federal judge who deemed the law unconstitutionally overbroad. Those charges were reinstated this March, primarily as a result of the Ninth Circuit's 2020 ruling.

RAM, as a 2019 sentencing memo explains, "represented itself as a combat-ready, militant group of a new nationalist white supremacy and identity movement. RAM regularly held hand-to-hand and other combat training for its members and associates to prepare to engage in violent confrontations with protestors and other individuals at purported political rallies. All three of the defendants attended these trainings to prepare for their violence."

Like most far-right street-brawling groups, their entire raison d'être was to provoke fights with far-left and anarchist groups, particularly those attached to various campuses in California and elsewhere. "RAM's goal when they attended these rallies was simple: They sought to provoke physical conflict, or—even better—they looked for any reason to serve as an excuse which they believed would justify their use of violence against their ideological foes," the memorandum notes. Their violence included events in Huntington Beach and Berkeley, California, in the spring of 2017.

At the Aug. 12, 2017, event in Charlottesville, the RAM gang once again played a leading role in provoking violence on the streets, both at the Aug. 11 tiki torch march onto the University of Virginia campus and at the main Aug. 12 event in Charlottesville around the Robert E. Lee statue in a downtown park. The men were especially exultant about the Friday night march in which they had massively outnumbered counterprotesters and had mercilessly assaulted them: "After the students and protestors left, Miselis's own Go-Pro video captured him yelling 'total victory' and 'we beat you tonight, we'll beat you tomorrow too!'"

The next day, they engaged in such violence as punching protesters and knocking them to the ground, at which point they began kicking them so hard that Miselis broke his own toe. Daley infamously attacked a feminist and began strangling her, caught in an image reproduced frequently, and then threw her to the pavement with such force that she suffered a concussion.

Afterwards, online conversations made clear that "the defendants' primary regret about their time in Charlottesville was not having exacted enough violence."

Rundo, who fled the country after being cleared on appeals, is now an international fugitive. He is believed to be currently hiding out in Bosnia while being sought by police there, after having been expelled from Serbia.

On Charlottesville Anniversary, Activists Hit Organizers With Anti-KKK Act

Two years have passed since the Unite the Right rally of August 2017, when hundreds of white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia and one of them murdered counter-demonstrator Heather Heyer by driving his vehicle into a crowd of counter-demonstrators. Many other acts of white nationalist terrorism have occurred since then — mostly recently, an anti-Latino attack in El Paso, Texas that left 22 people dead. But activist Amy Spitalnick, in an August 12 article for NBC News, explains how a law used to fight the KKK in the 19th century can be used to fight extremists in Charlottesville in 2019.

Spitalnick, who heads the organization Integrity First for America, notes that her organization is “working with a coalition of Charlottesville community members injured in the Unite the Right rally to sue the two dozen individuals and organizations responsible.” And the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, Spitalnick stresses, is “central to our case” and is “one of the few legal remedies intended to deal with private — rather than government — conduct that violates civil rights.”

The KKK was founded in 1865 and quickly became a major source of domestic terrorism in the United States. Six year later, the Ku Klux Klan Act was passed by a post-Civil War Congress and signed into law by Republican President Ulysses S. Grant — and it offered a “civil remedy,” Spitalnick explains.

“Following its passage,” Spitalnick recalls, “the first iteration of the Ku Klux Klan organization was effectively dismantled and did not resurface until decades later.” And 148 years later, that law is still on the books and can be used to address the harm caused by events like “what happened in Charlottesville.”

The organizers of the Unite the Right Rally, Spitalnick emphasizes, engaged in activity that violated the civil rights of Charlottesville residents.

“Over August 11 and 12, 2017, they marched military-style on the University of Virginia and downtown Charlottesville,” Spitalnick asserts. “They carried semiautomatic weapons, swastikas and other hate symbols — as well as torches to evoke the tactics of the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis. They chanted ‘Jews will not replace us,’ ‘blood and soil’ and ‘white lives matter.’ They violently attacked students, clergy and other community members.”

Spitalnick goes on to discuss her lawsuit against the Unite the Right organizers, writing, “If everything they own now and in the future can be jeopardized, it makes it much more difficult to recruit followers for these horrific causes. Some defendants cited the lawsuit in deciding against returning to Charlottesville last August.”

Spitalnick wraps up her article by noting that the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 can be used not only against extremists in Charlottesville, but in other places as well.

“The last two years have proven that Charlottesville was not an isolated incident, but a flashpoint in the rise of extremist violence that’s connected to the attacks that followed,” Spitalnick writes. “Before killing 11 Jews in a synagogue last October, the Pittsburgh shooter communicated with some of the Charlottesville leaders…. With this trial — and the judgments we expect to win against these extremists — we can help reverse that deadly and hate-filled cycle.”

‘RAM’ White Supremacists Charged in Charlottesville Riot Plead Guilty

Last year, when federal authorities arrested and charged four members or associates of a white supremacist gang for their roles in the infamous 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the men and their supporters struck a defiant tone.

The men proclaimed their innocence, and their backers described them in social media posts as “patriots” and “political prisoners.” The gang, known as the Rise Above Movement and based in Southern California, set up an anonymous tip line for people to share evidence that might exonerate the imprisoned members, and it established a legal defense fund, with donations taken via PayPal and bitcoin.

But in the following months, the men, one after the other, have pleaded guilty. Last Friday saw the final two guilty pleas, including one from Ben Daley, 26, one of the group’s leaders. He was joined by Michael Miselis, 30, a former Northrop Grumman aerospace engineer. The men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to riot.

“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 T. Cullen said in announcing the guilty pleas. “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 Rise Above Movement and its role in the violence in Charlottesville in 2017 and at rallies in other cities was the subject of reporting by ProPublica and Frontline, work the authorities have credited in taking action against the men. Federal prosecutors in California are pursuing charges against four other RAM members, including its founder, Robert Rundo.

The plea documents filed during Friday’s court proceedings in Charlottesville lay out a detailed narrative of what the authorities say were RAM’s repeated acts of violence two years ago.

The narrative chronicles RAM’s combat training and the visual evidence capturing its members attacking protesters, including in Charlottesville, where, the authorities spell out, they “collectively pushed, punched, kicked, choked, head-butted, and otherwise assaulted several individuals, resulting in a riot.”

In pleading guilty, the authorities said, Daley and Miselis admitted their actions were not in self-defense.

In the contemporary white supremacist scene, RAM had positioned itself as the violent vanguard of the movement, a successor to the volatile and hyper-aggressive skinhead gangs that were prevalent during the 1980s and 1990s. Since its formation in 2016, the group has recruited several members of the Hammerskin Nation, the largest skinhead gang in the country, which has been tied to numerous killings, including the massacre of six Sikh worshippers at a temple outside Milwaukee.

Though RAM has eschewed the skinhead style — combat boots and bomber jackets — in favor of a more mainstream look, its members have embraced the bloody tactics of the Nazi skinhead gangs.

Miselis, a onetime engineering student at UCLA, was fired from his job at Northrop Grumman after ProPublica and Frontline exposed his membership in RAM. In a companywide email, then-CEO Wesley Bush said he was “deeply saddened yesterday to see news reports alleging that one of our employees engaged in violence as part of the Charlottesville protests.” Miselis held a government-issued security clearance while at Northrop, a major defense contractor, though the company has so far declined to say what projects Miselis was assigned to.

Rundo, who was living in Orange County at the time of his arrest, has also portrayed the federal prosecutions as a miscarriage of justice. “The rioting charges brought against us have not been used in 70 years,” Rundo said in a jailhouse interview posted on YouTube in February. “This has little to do with rioting and all to do with censorship and silencing anyone that they deem too radical by today’s standards.”

In the interview, Rundo blamed the media for demonizing RAM and described the group as a self-improvement club for white men.

Rundo has pleaded not guilty, and he could be headed to trial.

The RAM prosecutions have become something of a cause celebre for the racist right. Augustus Invictus, a fringe political figure and attorney, has set up a legal defense fund to solicit donations for the RAM members facing charges. “The federal government has taken an absolute political hard line against the right wing,” Invictus said in a 53-minute YouTube video discussing the case. The video has generated more than 22,000 views and nearly 700 comments, most of them sympathetic to RAM and many of them racist, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic.

One of RAM’s most infamous supporters is Robert Bowers, the Pennsylvania man accused of murdering 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last October. Shortly before the massacre, Bowers posted a message decrying the RAM prosecutions on Gab, a far-right social media platform. Bowers has pleaded not guilty in the unfolding case.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

IMAGE: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists encircle and chant at counter protestors at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)