Three members of the white supremacist group Rise Above Movement were sentenced to more than two years in prison on Friday for attacking protesters at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Benjamin Drake Daley, 26, Thomas Gillen, 25, and Michael Paul Miselis, 30, all from California, received sentences ranging from 27 to 37 months after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to riot.
They were among a group of four people indicted last October and accused of “punching, kicking and choking anti-racism protesters” at Charlottesville, the Associated Press reported.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said in a statement reported by the AP.
A fourth member of the Rise Above Movement, Cole Evan White, was released on bond after accepting a plea agreement last November, according to The Daily Progress.
Southern California’s Rise Above Movement, which claimed to have about 50 members and was profiled by ProPublica in October 2017, was described by Southern Poverty Law Center as an “overtly racist, violent right-wing fight club that attends rallies around the country to do open combat with counter-protesters.”
In an August 2017 social media post, Benjamin Drake Daley, of Redondo Beach, CA, bragged about striking five people at the Unite the Right rally, in which scores were injured, and counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed when white supremacist James Field plowed his car into a group of counterprotesters. Field was given two life sentences plus 419 years in prison for the attack.
According to SPLC, RAM’s recruitment strategy included “promotional videos featuring their workout and training routines, [and] is targeted toward men who find the idea of a real-world fight club appealing. White supremacy supplies the justification for violence, but ultimately this group has been about street fighting. They’ve won praise from far-right media outlets that applaud the zeal with which they assault political opponents.”
ProPublica noted that many of RAM’s core members have “serious criminal histories,” including felony charges of assault and weapons offenses.
At trial, former FBI investigator Dino Paul Cappuzzo testified that the three defendants had participated in violent rallies in Huntington Beach and Berkeley, CA, before traveling to Charlottesville, according to The Daily Progress.
In Charlottesville, the three men marched in the notoriously racist and anti-Semitic torch rally on Aug. 11, 2017 at the University of Virginia, and then they were seen “punching, kicking and choking counterprotesters” the next day.
Per the newspaper:
Still images that depict the victims of the attacks were later edited and found on the defendant’s phones, one bearing the phrase “THOT STATUS: PATROLLED,” using a sometimes misogynistic acronym. Another image of Miselis kicking a man was edited to insert a Star of David over the victim’s head.
Capuzzo said over the course of his investigation he determined that the RAM defendants had started the violence on Second Street.
Prosecutors tried to charge the defendants with a hate crime, but U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon said there wasn’t enough evidence to establish that the victims were targeted because of their religious, ethnic, or racial background.