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Judge Keeps 3 Suspected Members of White Supremacist Group in Custody Citing 'Serious Concerns' About Violence 'Perpetuated'

October 03, 2018 - 8:27 am
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(CBS News/KNX 1070) --Citing "serious concerns" about the violence "perpetuated" by a Southern California-based white supremacist group, a federal judge is keeping three suspected members in custody for now.

The defendants in custody are Benjamin Drake Daley, Michael Paul Miselis and Thomas Walter Gillen. Cole Evan White is expected in court in San Francisco Wednesday.

The three men from Los Angeles County are accused of going to Charlottesville, Virginia to beat up counter-protesters at rallies held there in August of last year. They're also suspected of engaging in "acts of violence" at political rallies in Huntington Beach, Berkeley and other cities.

An affidavit says they're members of the Southern California-based Rise Above Movement, described as a "militant white-supremacist organization" that regularly meets in parks to train in boxing and other fighting techniques to prepare to "engage in...violence."

KNX reporter Claudia Peschiutta:

Asked to consider setting bond for one of the men, Michael Miselis, the judge brought up concerns about the violence said "was planned and...is ongoing."

Defense Attorney Angel Navarro says Miselis is a UCLA grad who worked at Northrop Grumman and has no prior criminal record. A prosecutor says a Nazi wall hanging was found in Miselis' home, along with thousands of rounds of ammo. 

All three men are awaiting arraignment.

The four suspected members were arrested on charges they traveled to Virginia last year to incite a riot and attack counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally that turned deadly, federal authorities said Tuesday. 

The defendants — Benjamin Drake Daley, Michael Paul Miselis, Thomas Walter Gillen and Cole Evan White — are part of the Rise Above Movement, which espouses anti-Semitic views and meets regularly in public parks to train in boxing and other fighting techniques, according to an affidavit written by an FBI agent. 

The affidavit alleges the four men were "among the most violent individuals present in Charlottesville" in August of last year during a torch-lit march on the University of Virginia campus and a larger rally in downtown the following day. It says photos and video footage shows they attacked counterprotesters, "which in some cases resulted in serious injuries." 

The men have also taken part in "acts of violence" at political rallies in Huntington Beach and Berkeley, California, and other places, the affidavit alleges. 

"This is a group that essentially subscribes to an anti-Semitic, racist ideology, and then organizes, trains, and deploys to various political rallies, not only to espouse this particular ideology but also to engage in acts of violence against folks who are taking a contrary point of view," U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said at a news conference in Charlottesville held to announce the charges. 

Cullen said each defendant faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted on the two counts they each face: traveling to incite riots and conspiracy to riot. However, defendants often get less than the maximum under federal sentencing guidelines. 

Cullen said the suspects don't face hate crime charges or civil rights violations, but didn't rule out the possibility of bringing more charges in the future. 

The arrests come more than a year after hundreds of white nationalists descended on Charlottesville in part to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. 

Clashes first erupted on Aug. 11, 2017, as a crowd of white nationalists marching through the University of Virginia campus carrying torches and chanting racist slogans encountered a small group of counterprotesters. 

The following day, more violence broke out between counterprotesters and attendees of the "Unite the Right" rally, which was believed to be the largest gathering of white nationalists in at least a decade. Street fighting exploded before the event could begin as scheduled and went on for nearly an hour in view of police until authorities forced the crowd to disperse. 

Cullen said investigators sifted through "an incredible volume" of video and still photographs to review the movements of the four men and determine whether they could claim they were only defending themselves after being attacked by others at the rally. He said prosecutors believe there was "no provocation" for them to engage in violence that day. 

The four men, he said, made their way to the rally with their hands taped, "ready to do street battle." 

Then they engaged in punching, kicking, head-butting and pushing, assaulting an African-American man, two women and a minister who was wearing a clerical collar, Cullen said. 

"In our view, these four committed particularly violent acts in Charlottesville. Secondly, they committed violent acts in California at other rallies. Therefore, in our view, they were essentially serial rioters," Cullen said. 

Cullen said the four men had "extensive and robust" social media profiles and used social media to further their purposes. He called that a "significant aspect of the case."

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. 

Segal said the group has roots in the racist skinhead movement in southern California. 

Daley, of Redondo Beach, figures "prominently" in the organization, according to the affidavit. 

About two hours after authorities forced the rally to disband, a woman was killed when a car prosecutors say was driven by a man fascinated by Adolf Hitler plowed into a crowd of peaceful counterprotesters. The death toll rose to three when a state police helicopter that had been monitoring the event crashed, killing two troopers. 

The suspected driver, 21-year-old James Fields Jr., of Maumee, Ohio, has been charged with federal hate crimes in the death of Heather Heyer, 32. Fields also faces state murder charges; his trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 26.

President Trump sparked a public outcry after he blamed both sides for the violence. 

An independent report released three months later found serious police and government failures in responding to the mayhem.

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