Man facing prison for attacking protesters in Charlottesville in 2017 is student at San Francisco State

White nationalist demonstrators clash with counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.
(Steve Helber / Associated Press)

In April 2017, Cole Evan White punched protesters in the head at an anti-fascist, anti-Trump rally in downtown Berkeley. Four months later, he joined torch-carrying white supremacists on a march through the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where an avowed neo-Nazi deliberately plowed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one of them.

Days later, White enrolled at San Francisco State University, where he remains a part-time student.

White, 26, is one of four California men — all members of a now-defunct Southern California-based white supremacist group known as the Rise Above Movement — who pleaded guilty to charges that they punched, kicked, choked and head-butted counter-protesters at the August 2017 rally in Virginia. White’s three co-defendants have already been sentenced to between two and three years in prison.


White, however, continued his studies at San Francisco State there even after pleading guilty to conspiring to riot on the streets of Charlottesville. He was jailed for more than seven months between his October 2018 arrest and his release on $10,000 bond in May 2019.

Now he’s facing a possible prison term. A federal judge is scheduled to sentence White on Friday for his role in the violence in Charlottesville, which made national headlines after counter-protester Heather Heyer was run over by a car and killed.

San Francisco State spokesman Kent Bravo said the admissions process for the university and other schools in the Cal State system does not ask applicants about their criminal backgrounds. The university learned of White’s arrest and guilty plea when an Associated Press reporter inquired about his status this week, according to Bravo.

A Redondo Beach man who trained with a militant white supremacist group pleaded guilty Monday to one count of conspiracy to riot in connection with the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.

Bravo said White is currently a part-time student who first enrolled for the fall 2017 semester, which started less than a month after he joined other members of the Rise Above Movement in attacking counter-protesters at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.

“San Francisco State University unequivocally condemns white supremacy,” Bravo said in a statement Monday. “We send our compassion and concern to those affected by the events of that tragic weekend, specifically the victims and families of those who were targeted by individuals motivated by hate.”

White pleaded guilty in November 2018 to a riot conspiracy charge punishable by a maximum of five years in prison. He has asked U.S. District Judge Norman Moon to spare him any more time behind bars.

White also acknowledged that he also joined other Rise Above Movement members at an April 2017 political rally on the streets of downtown Berkeley, where he punched protesters in the head.

When Benjamin Drake Daley arrived in Charlottesville, Va. from Redondo Beach, he stopped by Walmart to pick up supplies: white athletic tape, black spray paint and a folding tactical knife.

San Francisco State had an enrollment of 28,880 students for the fall 2019 semester. White, a California native, has a 3.3 grade-point average and made the dean’s list for the fall 2019 and spring 2020 semesters, according to defense attorney Michael Hemenway.

White has also worked for his father’s sprinkler-repair company in Clayton, Calif., since his release from custody. Hemenway said the San Francisco-area resident has fully complied with the terms of his release, including electronic monitoring, while waiting to be sentenced.

Hemenway cited the risk of coronavirus infection in prison as a reason to spare his client from incarceration and sentence him to time served, home detention or a combination of both.

“Cole absolutely understands the consequences of his actions, and he will certainly be deterred from committing any crimes in the future,” Hemenway wrote.

Last week, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to reconsider an appeal by two of White’s co-defendants. A three-judge panel rejected the two men’s arguments that the Anti-Riot Act, the law to which they pleaded guilty to violating, is unconstitutionally vague under the 1st Amendment’s free-speech clause.