Three members of the white supremacist group Rise Above Movement received prison sentences of more than two years each on Friday for crimes stemming from the 2017 Unite the Right rally.
Benjamin Drake Daley, Thomas Gillen and Michael Paul Miselis were among four RAM members indicted in October on one count each of conspiracy to violate the federal riots act and one count each of traveling from California to Charlottesville with the intent to “incite a riot, organize, promote, encourage, participate in, and carry on in a riot, to commit an act of violence in furtherance of a riot, or aid or abet any person inciting and participating in or carrying on in a riot.”
After a U.S. district judge in Virginia ruled that the three could be prosecuted under the riot statute and that it did not violate their First Amendment rights, the three accepted plea agreements last spring. However, in California federal courts, a similar case against other RAM defendants was thrown out because the judge there said the riot statute was overbroad. The Virginia defendants will still be able to appeal their convictions on constitutional grounds, and have 14 days to do so.
A fourth RAM member indicted at the same time — Cole Evan White — accepted a plea agreement in November and is currently out on bond.
On Friday, the prosecution attempted to argue that a hate crime enhancement was appropriate for Daley, Gillen and Miselis, citing months of similar behavior at protests in California and a litany of anti-Semitic and misogynistic rhetoric.
Dino Paul Cappuzzo, a former FBI investigator, testified to an investigation he had conducted on the defendants.
According to Cappuzzo, the three defendants had participated in rallies in Huntington Beach, California, and Berkeley, California, prior to attending the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. At both California rallies, the defendants engaged in violent behavior, he said.
“They showed a propensity for violence and mayhem prior to Charlottesville,” he said.
Additionally, the defendants participated in a book burning of works such as “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Schindler’s List.”
The courtroom was shown video evidence depicting the defendants in Charlottesville at the Aug. 11, 2017, torch rally on University of Virginia Grounds and Aug. 12, 2017, footage at the UTR rally.
In harrowing footage from Aug. 12, Daley and Miselis can be seen punching, kicking and choking counter-protesters on Second Street in downtown Charlottesville while attempting to gain access to what is now called Market Street Park.
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.
Chris Kavanaugh, an assistant U.S. attorney representing the prosecution, argued that a hate crime enhancement was appropriate for sentencing the defendants due to their well-established anti-Semitism and anti-woman views. Whether the victims of their violence at the UTR rally were chosen because they were a protected class isn’t necessary, he said, because they were perceived to be Jewish or aligned with those the RAM members disliked.
“[The defendants] were protesting against them because they stand alongside the people they despise,” he said. “Call it political if you want — it’s still race-based violence, and the hate crime enhancement applies.”
Lisa Lorish, a federal public defender representing Daley, disagreed with this argument, pointing out that none of the victims from the Second Street attacks was interviewed to determine if they were a protected class. Regardless, the RAM defendants’ speech was protected, she said.
“The things they’ve said are reprehensible,” she said. “They’re reprehensible to me, they’re reprehensible to many people, but they’re constitutionally protected.”
Lorish went on to describe the prosecution’s argument that the counter-protesters were attacked by the RAM defendants because of their perceived class or class alignment as “circular.”
“They government is arguing that, because [Daley] assaulted them, they must be Jewish, instead of arguing that he assaulted them because they are Jewish,” she said.
U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon sided with the defendants’ argument and said the government’s argument did not do enough to establish that the victims were chosen because of their racial or religious background and thus a hate crime enhancement was not warranted.
Daley, because he was a co-leader of RAM, received higher sentencing guidelines than the other two defendants. He received a 37-month sentence and two years of supervised probation upon release.
Miselis’ attorney argued that his client had received significant social and financial punishment already, having lost his lucrative job as a defense contractor for the U.S. government. Moon guffawed at the implication he should take leniency on Miselis because he had been an accomplished member of society prior to his crimes.
“It’s like when a bank president embezzles money and then says ‘I can’t be a bank president anymore because no one trust me,’” Moon said. “Good, that’s how it should be.”
Miselis was sentenced to 27 months in prison and two years of supervised probation upon release.
Gillen, despite not being depicted harming anyone at the UTR rally, received a 33-month sentence due to past criminal conduct, mostly revolving around marijuana. He will also be under two years of supervised probation upon release.
All three defendants will still be allowed to appeal their arguments that the charges be dismissed on constitutional grounds, which bears significance after a similar case was thrown out in California last month.
Robert Rundo, the other co-leader of RAM, was one of three charged with conspiracy to riot under the same statute as the Virginia case. A California U.S. District Judge dismissed the charges in June, writing in a memorandum opinion that, though hateful and violent, the defendant’s speech was constitutionally protected.
The Virginia RAM defendants have 14 days to appeal.
White, the last RAM defendant, is expected to be sentenced this fall.