Four California members of a white supremacist group based in Southern California face federal charges of traveling to Charlottesville, Virginia, with the intent of rioting at the “Unite the Right” rally Aug. 11-12, 2017.
Benjamin Drake Daley, 25, and Thomas Walter Gillen, 34, both of Redondo Beach, and Michael Paul Miselis, 29, of Lawndale were arrested and charged in federal court in Los Angeles Oct 2 for traveling to the “Unite the Right” rally with the intent to incite a riot and commit violence. The three are being held without bail. The FBI also took Cole Evan White, 24, of Clayton, California, into custody near San Francisco. White was arraigned in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
During their courtroom appearance Tuesday, a federal prosecutor said FBI and ATF agents found ammunition for assault-style weapons, smoke bombs, flairs and a wall hanging reading “88,” the numeric code for the phrase Heil Hitler inside Miselis’ home.
Thomas Cullen, the US Attorney for the Western District of Virginia whose district includes Charlottesville, told reporters that the four men had previously taken part in violence during “alt-right” and other racist activities in Berkeley, California in the spring of 2017, just months before “Unite the Right.”
“In our view, they were essentially serial rioters,” Cullen said.
All four men have been charged with conspiracy to violate federal rioting laws and one count each of violating the federal rioting laws.
In the criminal affidavit, the four are described as having traveled to Charlottesville last August to join hundreds of other white nationalists at a rally organized by Richard Spencer, the high-profile leader of a white supremacist think tank, to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The rally on August 12 turned deadly when a 21 year old man, James Alex Fields Jr., from Maumee, Ohio, was charged with felony murder and assault with a deadly weapon, (his automobile) after ramming his car into a crowd gathered to protest the racist presence. A 32-year-old paralegal, Heather Heyer, died in the attack.
In addition to the State of Virginia’s murder charge, federal prosecutors have charged Field with federal hate crimes. Cullen told reporters that the charges filed Tuesday mark the second time federal officials have filed charges stemming from the rally. The case of Fields, who is scheduled for trial in state charges in November and December, was the first.
The men are members of the so-called Rise Above Movement that espouses anti-Semitism, promotes “clean living” and meets regularly in public parks to train in physical fitness, including boxing and other street-fighting techniques, according to the criminal affidavit.
The Los Angeles Blade reported last August that Orange County’s history was an ultra-conservative region that spawned such Religious Right activists as Rev. Lou Sheldon and enforcers such as the White Aryan Resistance (WAR), the KKK and pockets of swastika-tattooed Neo-Nazis.
“You could have a whole treatise just on California hate,” Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, told the LA Times. “California is one of those ground-zero places. These new fragmented groups are looking to do in-your-face kind of stuff in blue places.”
ProPublica journalist A.C. Thompson interviewed Gustavo Arellano, former editor of the OC Weekly, in a PBS Frontline documentary, Documenting Hate: Charlottesville. “This is more than a couple of random people. There’s something much more organized,” Arellano told Thompson about the Rise Above Movement, which celebrates Hitler and trains with Neo-Nazis in an area off the 405 freeway in Irvine.
But, notes Thompson, these “defenders of traditional white culture-traditional masculinity” do not stand out like their tattooed elders. They find ways to blend in. Thompson matched images of one violent RAM member with another violent hater from Charlottesville—and found Michael Miselis, UCLA Ph.d candidate who held a government-issued security clearance for his job at Northrop Gruumman. Miselis was fired the day after Thompson’s story appeared in ProPublica. Miselis was one of the four charged Tuesday.
Orange County attorney and businessman Harley Rouda, the challenger to longtime anti-LGBT Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, during a Q&A session earlier this year at the University Synagogue in Irvine, said the “biggest issue” of 2018 is that “institutions of our government and culture — the foundations of democracy — are now under attack.” Rouda then paused, recounting a recent visit to the German Historical Museum in Berlin.
“[T]he rise of Hitler was all based on nationalism….Hitler said, ‘Our country is getting screwed … [but] stand with me and we can take our country back,’” Rouda continued. “That process then evolved into the denigration of minorities as a rallying point for his base,” warning that America could become like Nazi Germany if Trump is left unchecked.
“What’s going on right now is we’ve got a president who’s trying to divide us,” Rouda said. “If we allow him to be successful, then our country’s going to go down a path that none of us wants to see.”
The defendants came to the Charlottesville rally prepared to engage in physical violence, having taped their fists “in the manner of boxers or MMA-style fighters,” the affidavit says. Photographic and video evidence, the affidavit alleges, shows Daley and other white nationalists from California punching, kicking and head-butting counter-protesters, including an African American man, two women and a minister wearing a clerical collar.
“This wasn’t in our view the lawful exercise of 1st Amendment rights. These guys came to Charlottesville to commit violent acts,” Cullen said.
Each defendant has been charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the federal riots statute and one count of violating the federal riots statute. If convicted, each faces up to 10 years in prison, he added.
Reporting by The Los Angeles Times, The SPLC Hate Watch Newsletter, ProPublica, ADL.org, the staff of the Los Angeles Blade & wire service reports