More than a year after they flew from California to Virginia to furnish their people-beating skills in service of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, four members of a locally notorious neo-Nazi street gang were arrested and charged Tuesday.
The arrests come almost 14 months after the violence the men engaged in, and almost a year after a ProPublica investigation identified at least one of the four and detailed his group’s operations in California and elsewhere. Another man unmasked by the non-profit investigative journalism outfit was court-martialed by the Marine Corps shortly after their work was published.
The men indicted Tuesday are members of a group called Rise Above Movement, which drew ProPublica’s scrutiny in part because it promotes itself as a kind of fight club for neo-Nazis. The group “claims more than 50 members and a singular purpose: physically attacking its ideological foes,” the site wrote in October 2017, after identifying RAM leader Ben Daley as the man captured on video attacking anti-fascist and anti-racist counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville.
Daley was charged with conspiring to violate the federal riot statute on Tuesday, along with fellow RAM members Thomas Gillen, Michael Miselis, and Cole White. The men range in age from 24 to 34.
“These guys came to Charlottesville in order to commit violent acts, and it wasn’t the first time they’d done it,” U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said in announcing the charges. Cullen called the four “serial rioters,” referencing their enthusiastic participation at numerous other clashes on the West Coast that were also documented by journalists a year ago.
Back in 2016, Daley and other RAM members were also in the habit of attending election rallies for Donald Trump, in at least one case holding up a banner that read “DEFEND AMERICA.” In pictures from that event, from Charlottesville, and from other clashes RAM’s engaged in in recent years, the young men look happy, fit, and frighteningly normal — the very model of the millennial everyman that’s begun to replace more kookily outfitted and ostentatiously militant presentments favored by earlier generations of American neo-Nazis.
Daley’s past online ravings harangued “Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook Jew police” for censoring him and suggested “that African Americans are ‘shit’ and that former President Obama is a leech; and to cheer the fatal shooting of a black man,” according to ProPublica. But where other, more prominent faces of the so-called “alt-right” modern incarnation of the same old violently paranoid racist organizing have earned their stripes mostly through words and online provocations, Daley and RAM have served as the forward-facing kinetic arm of the movement. They exist to beat up people who don’t think like they do.
Federal officers took pains Tuesday to portray the charges over Daley’s gang’s past violence as proof that people of good will can count on their protection, in Charlottesville and elsewhere.
“It is important for communities like Charlottesville to remember who the good guys are — who is sworn to protect them — and support them in their mission,” FBI special agent Adam Lee said in a press release announcing the charges.
Lee’s insistence on credit and support are likely to frustrate some locals, who remember watching police stand idly by both on the Friday night as torch-bearing neo-Nazis encircled and menaced a much smaller group of anti-racism protesters and during the chaotic and eventually lethal violence the following day. The police woefully inadequate police response in Charlottesville that weekend contrasts sharply with the heavy presence and persnickety enforcement of rules on beverages and accessories that local authorities imposed there during the one-year anniversary of Heatherh Heyer’s murder, when only anti-racist and anti-fascist mourners had gathered.
Still, the eventual prosecution of RAM’s travel-team goons is another example of federal officers in the area acting in tension with the both-sides fecklessness projected by President Donald Trump over the violence incited by his white supremacist supporters. Where Trump had repeatedly muddied the moral waters enough to prompt rejoicing from the white nationalists who’d attended the rally and brawl, U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen has now twice gone the other direction. He previously announced the government would seek hate-crime enhancements in the trial of Heyer’s killer James Fields, adopting as official U.S. Government position the obvious-to-all-present notion that Fields intentionally targeted a group he saw carrying signs with anti-racist and multiculturalist slogans.