Prosecutors seek prison terms for Charlottesville rally attackers

Published: Jul. 17, 2019 at 2:04 PM EDT
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Hatred for Jews, blacks and feminists motivated three members of a white supremacist group to attack counterprotesters at a rally for far-right extremists in Virginia, federal prosecutors argue in seeking stricter sentences for the men this week.

Justice Department prosecutors recommend prison sentences ranging from 30 months to 46 months for Rise Above Movement members Benjamin Daley, Michael Miselis and Thomas Gillen, according to a court filing Monday. Each faces up to five years in prison when U.S. District Judge Norman Moon sentences them Friday.

The prosecutors said a "hate crime motivation enhancement" should be applied to their sentences. That enhancement would increase the recommended penalty for each defendant under sentencing guidelines, but the judge isn't bound by those guidelines.

Defense attorneys are seeking more lenient sentences for their clients, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to riot at the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Prosecutors say members of the California-based group engaged in other racist and anti-Semitic activity before the violence that erupted at the "Unite the Right" rally. Monday's court filing includes photographs of Rise Above Movement members gathering on a beach to burn books, including "The Diary of Anne Frank" and "Schindler's List," and disrupting a "white privilege" workshop in Santa Monica, California, sponsored by the Committee for Racial Justice.

One of the photos of the July 2017 book burning appears to show a pork chop atop the copy of "Schindler's List." Others show Daley and Gillen performing a Nazi salute or a "white power" hand sign, prosecutors said.

"The defendants' viewed their victims (and all counter-protestors) to be Jews that were part of Jewish-led conspiracy to marginalize the white race, and the defendants targeted these victims because of that motivation," prosecutors wrote.

The Justice Department separately prosecuted and secured a life prison sentence for avowed white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr., who plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

Fields was charged with federal hate crimes. Daley, Miselis, Gillen and a fourth Rise Above Movement member, Cole Evan White, were indicted last year on charges they violated a federal anti-rioting statute. White also has pleaded guilty but will be sentenced separately.

The group often held combat training sessions for its members and associates to prepare for violent clashes at political rallies. RAM members assaulted protesters at rallies in Huntington Beach, California on March 25, 2017, and in Berkeley, California, on April 15, 2017, according to prosecutors.

"RAM's goal when they attended these rallies was simple: They sought to provoke physical conflict, or - even better - they looked for any reason to serve as an excuse which they believed would justify their use of violence against their ideological foes," prosecutors wrote.

Daley, Miselis and Gillen flew from Los Angeles to Charlottesville on the eve of the rally and participated in a torch-lit march through the University of Virginia's campus, joining in chants such as "Blood and soil!" and "Jews will not replace us!" Daley called the torch-lit march a "HUGE success" in a document that investigators found on his laptop.

"I was proud and honored to be there as a part of it," he wrote, according to prosecutors.

The next morning, cameras captured RAM members punching, kicking and choking counterprotesters, including women, as they walked toward a park where the rally was to be held. Daley, a group leader, looked into one of the cameras and said, "This country's ours. Time's up" before making a throat-slashing gesture and adding, "All of you," according to prosecutors.

Less than two weeks later, a bartender at a restaurant in Southern California overheard Daley trying to recruit a man to join the group. The bartender told authorities he heard Daley say, "We're going after feminists now," according to prosecutors.

Daley's attorneys accuse prosecutors of trying to "muddy the waters" by focusing on their client's "white nationalist views" instead of his actions.

"A sentence of more than 27 months will improperly punish Mr. Daley for his admittedly extreme political views, which are protected by the First Amendment, instead of his actual conduct," they wrote.

Gillen's lawyer said his client admits he engaged in violence at the April 2017 rally in Berkeley, but said there is no evidence that Gillen committed violent acts at the rallies in Huntington Beach or Charlottesville.

"While this alone is certainly no defense to the offense of conviction, it is a mitigating factor," Gillen's attorney wrote.

Miselis has a master's degree in aerospace engineering and had "top-secret clearance" while working as an analyst for Northrop Grumman, running simulations of air-to-air and air-to-ground combat, according to his attorney. His "notoriety" led to his firing after his arrest, the attorney said, adding that Miselis had difficulty making friends until he met RAM members in 2017.

"It was then that his life took a U-turn that was at odds with everything that he had done before," the defense attorney wrote.