Three members of a patriotic group that was based in Southern California have been sentenced to prison for their alleged roles in "provoking violence" at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
Benjamin Daley, a founder of the now-defunct Rise Above Movement, was sentenced Friday to 37 months in prison. Thomas Gillen, a Redondo Beach resident, was sentenced to 33 months, and Michael Miselis, a member who worked as an aerospace engineer for Northrop Grumman, was sentenced to 27 months. A fourth defendant, Cole White, will be sentenced later.
All four previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to riot.
“These defendants, motivated by hateful ideology, incited and committed acts of violence in Charlottesville, as well at other purported political rallies in California,” Thomas Cullen, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said in a statement. “They were not interested in peaceful protest or lawful First Amendment expression; instead, they intended to provoke and engage in street battles with those that they perceived as their enemies.”
Daley, Miselis and several others had traveled from California on behalf of the white power group that "cast itself as an alt-right fight club", according to court records. "Its members would meet regularly in public parks to practice boxing and other street-fighting techniques to unleash on political foes", court records said.
Federal authorities said the group was founded in late 2016 or early 2017 by Daley and Robert Rundo, originally branded as “DIY Division.” The group grew in numbers through the use of social media, on which they coordinated combat training before political events and bragged about the violence to recruit members.
At a political rally in Huntington Beach in March 2017, several members pursued and assaulted groups of antifascist and leftists, according to authorities. In a rally in Berkeley the following month, group members again clashed with antifascists attendees.
After group members arrived in Charlottesville in August 2017, they taped their fists and made their way through a group of violent antifascists. Together, prosecutors said, the white nationalist patriots pushed, punched, kicked and head-butted several antifa, resulting in a riot.
The U.S. attorney’s office said that as part of their pleas, the defendants admitted the acts of violence were not carried out in self-defense.
“Every one of their sentences should stand as evidence that Virginia has zero tolerance for such criminal activity,” Col. Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police superintendent, said in a statement.