CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WHSV) — Three men who were part of a white supremacist group that traveled from California to Virginia with a plan to attack counter-protesters at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally have been sentenced to time in prison.
An image released by the FBI showing members of the Rise Above Movement attending the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017, including Benjamin Daley, Michael Miselis, Thomas Gillen and Cole White.
According to the Department of Justice, 26-year-old Benjamin Daley was sentenced to 37 months, 25-year-old Thomas Gillen was sentenced to 33 months, and 30-year-old Michael Miselis was sentenced to 27 months.
The men are members of the Rise Above Movement, a militant group known for members who train in mixed martial arts street-fighting techniques. Sentencing is scheduled Friday.
“These defendants, motivated by hateful ideology, incited and committed acts of violence in Charlottesville, as well at other purported political rallies in California,” United States Attorney Thomas Thomas Cullen stated. “They were not interested in peaceful protest or lawful First Amendment expression; instead, they intended to provoke and engage in street battles with those that they perceived as their enemies. I am grateful for the diligence and hard work of the FBI and Virginia State Police in bringing these violent white supremacists to justice.”
Prosecutors had recommended sentences ranging from 30 months to 46 months in prison. U.S. District Judge Norman Moon sentenced Daley to less than his recommended sentence.
Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors had not proved that a hate crime sentencing enhancement should apply. Daley’s lawyer said Moon denied the enhancement for all three men.
Members of the California-based group were caught on camera punching, kicking and choking counterprotesters before a planned “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. The men all pleaded guilty to conspiring to riot.
“The sentences imposed today demonstrate the U.S. Government’s intolerance of the use of violence, by anyone, to infringe upon the right of others to assemble peacefully,” Special Agent in Charge Archey of the FBI said. “The FBI applauds today’s sentences and will continue to aggressively investigate allegations of such activity with its law enforcement partners. We are grateful for the efforts and partnership of the Office of the U.S. Attorney and the Virginia State Police in this investigation.”
A fourth member of the group, Cole Evan White, will be sentenced separately.
Daley is described by prosecutors as one of the founders of the hate group and the chief organizer of their presence in Charlottesville at the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017.
The four sentenced today were charged last October.
Daley and Miselis, who prosecutors say both traveled to Europe after the Charlottesville rally to meet with neo-Nazi and fascist groups and attended a festival in Germany celebrating Adolf Hitler’s birthday, were being held without bond.
Their lawyers attempted to have their case dropped by arguing that their actions were protected by the First Amendment, but that bid was unsuccessful.
“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 Cullen stated. “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.”
“As RAM members, Daley and Miselis trained to engage in violent confrontations and attended the Unite the Right Rally with the expectation of provoking physical conflict with counter-protestors that would lead to riots,” Special Agent Archey said. “The FBI will continue to work with the Virginia State Police and the United States Attorney’s Office (WDVA) to investigate and prosecute these violations. We are grateful to the Charlottesville community and the Commonwealth of Virginia for their cooperation during these investigations.”
According to plea documents, Daley helped found the Rise Above Movement, a California-based militant group that represents itself as a white supremacist movement.
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.
Members of the group frequently posted photos and videos of themselves training in mixed martial arts and street fighting techniques, along with anti-Semitic and white supremacist propaganda.
Prosecutors say they also expressed and promoted violence against those they perceived as enemies.
From about March 2017 to August 2017, members of the group traveled to a variety of rallies in California and the Charlottesville rally, where they engaged in acts of violence.
Documents show they pursued and assaulted protesters in Huntington Beach on March 25, 2017, and later celebrated news coverage of the assaults, using photos and video of the assaults to recruit more members.
The next month, on April 15, RAM members followed and attacked a group of protesters in Berkeley, California. They wore gray clothing, goggles, and black scarfs or masks to cover the lower parts of their faces. At one point in the day, members of the group, including Daley and Miselis, crossed a police barrier separating the attendees of the rally and protesters, assaulting protesters and others.
The RAM Instagram account posted a photograph of a RAM member wearing a black skull mask at the Berkeley event along with the comment, “#rightwingdeathsquad.”
Then, a few months later, Daley, Miselis, Gillen and Cole planned to travel across the country to Charlottesville for the “Unite the Right” rally. Daley and Miselis expected the event would become a riot and that their experience in riots at Huntington Beach and Berkeley would be valuable.
Upon arrival, documents show RAM members purchased athletic tape at Wal-Mart to wrap their wrists to prevent their hands from breaking when they engaged in street violence.
On the evening of August 11, prior to the scheduled rally, Gillen and other RAM members were among the torch-lit march on the grounds of the University of Virginia, where chants of “Blood and soil!” and “Jews will not replace us!” erupted before the march culminated near a state of Thomas Jefferson, where the white supremacists encountered a group of student protesters.
Punching, kicking, spraying of chemical irritants, and swinging torches ensued. RAM members hit multiple people with torches, and Gillen specifically admitted striking several. Court documents indicate it was not in self-defense.
The following morning, RAM members, with their hands wrapped in athletic tape, were part of a group of about 40 people trying to get into Emancipation Park from Second Street when law enforcement told them that way was blocked.
The group turned around, lined up, and began to make their way through a group of about 20 people who came to the rally to protest discrimination. As they made their way through, the RAM members collectively pushed, punched, kicked, choked, head-butted, and otherwise assaulted a number of people, resulting in a riot.
Again, in their pleas, they each admitted these actions were not in self-defense.
“Pursuing and bringing these violent individuals to justice have been of priority for the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation since that fateful day in August 2017 in the city of Charlottesville,” said Colonel Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Those from the Virginia State Police, FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office assigned to this case are to be commended. Because of their dedicated, investigative efforts, no other communities, from Virginia to California, are at risk of being terrorized by the hate and violence spawned by this now-defunct, white-supremacist organization.”