White supremacists plead guilty in Charlottesville riot
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Two members of a white supremacist group pleaded guilty Friday to federal rioting charges in connection with a white nationalist rally in Virginia and political rallies in California.
Benjamin Drake Daley, 26, of Redondo Beach, California, and Michael Paul Miselis, 30, of Lawndale, California, each pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to riot.
Daley and Miselis are the last of four members of the Rise Above Movement indicted in Virginia to plead guilty. The militant white supremacist group was known for having members who train in mixed martial arts street-fighting techniques.
Two other members of the group — Cole White and Thomas Gillen — each previously pleaded guilty to the same charge.
All four men admitted they punched and kicked demonstrators who showed up to protest against white nationalists during a torch-lit march at the University of Virginia and the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017.
The men were indicted in October on two charges: traveling to incite riots and conspiracy to riot.
Prosecutors said photos and video footage showed the men attacking counterprotesters in Charlottesville and also participating in violence at political rallies the same year in Huntington Beach and Berkeley, California.
Each man faces up to five years in prison on the charge, but defendants often get less than the maximum under federal sentencing guidelines. An attorney representing Miselis did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday.
Daley moved to dismiss the charges against him, arguing that the federal Anti-Riot Act is unconstitutional because it is overbroad and vague, and infringes on First Amendment activities. The judge denied his request.
“Instead of being tried under a broad, vague and unconstitutional statute, Mr. Daley has chosen to plead guilty and appeal the constitutionality of the statute” to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Daley’s attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Lisa Lorish.
Prosecutors said Daley, one of the founders of the Rise Above Movement, was “chiefly responsible” for organizing the group’s presence at the Unite the Right rally.
“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 Thomas Cullen said in a statement.
As part of their guilty pleas, the men admitted their acts of violence were not in self-defense.
Their arrests came more than a year after hundreds of white nationalists descended on Charlottesville in part to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Violence prompted authorities to force the Unite the Right rally to disband. Afterward, a woman was killed and dozens were injured when a car driven by a self-avowed white supremacist plowed into a crowd of peaceful counterprotesters.
James Fields Jr. was convicted of state murder and wounding charges by a jury and later pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges. He is awaiting sentencing in both cases.
President Donald Trump sparked a public outcry after he blamed both sides for the violence.