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.