Advertisement

White nationalist leaders arrested in L.A.; private messages show effort to 'reimagine' movement

White nationalist leaders arrested in L.A.; private messages show effort to 'reimagine' movement
White nationalist demonstrators walk into the entrance of Lee Park surrounded by counter-demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., last year. (Steve Helber / Associated Press)

Federal authorities have arrested key members of a Southern California white-power group, the latest move in an ongoing effort by authorities to break the back of an organization linked to racism-fueled violence.

Robert Rundo, leader of the so-called Rise Above Movement, was taken into custody Sunday at Los Angeles International Airport, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.

Advertisement

Two others — Tyler Laube and Robert Boman — were arrested Wednesday morning in connection with organizing and participating in riots, according to federal authorities. Another, Aaron Eason, was charged but remains at large, they said.

All four were charged with traveling and using the internet to organize or participate in riots, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Private messages between group leaders, members and associates show an effort to keep their violent intentions secret, according to an FBI affidavit attached to the complaint. One man, Benjamin Daley, urged members in a 2016 phone call to attend events wearing polo-style shirts and khakis, and to get military-style haircuts.

In an August 2017 exchange with someone considering joining the group, Daley said the individual would have to “change your [style] up a bit when your with us.” The associate said he could grow out his hair and drop the “boots and braces look,” the affidavit said. Daley responded: “think its time to reimagine the nationalist look and playbook, we have become predictable that needs to change.” He told another associate to keep a low profile on social media.

In private Facebook messages to the person in January, Daley said: “I would be mindful of saying anything that could be misconstrued as a call to violence. I know people who literally have had feds show up at there door over posts. [J]ust food for thought. Trust I’m not speaking in terms of morality rather practicality.”

In a hearing Wednesday, the judge in the case denied bail for Rundo, calling him a flight risk. Prosecutors argued that Rundo — who appeared in court in a white jumpsuit, mostly staring down at his hands — had taken several trips abroad, including one to Mexico. He was picked up in Central America before he was taken into custody at the airport in L.A.

Rundo “has demonstrated and undergone a significant personal sacrifice over the past three weeks, repeatedly seeking to flee from this ongoing engagement of law enforcement,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. David Ryan.

Prosecutors also pointed out Rundo’s criminal history, which includes a conviction in a stabbing case, and said that when authorities searched his home, they found a large framed portrait of Adolf Hitler.

Boman and Laube appeared in court later Wednesday afternoon. Ryan said Boman was located in the morning after spending the night in a treehouse at someone else’s residence. Boman — who has prior convictions for grand theft, robbery and assaulting a police officer — fled authorities by bicycle and foot before officers tackled and arrested him.

Boman’s attorney said his client has a problem with meth and argued that he was not a flight risk because he has nowhere to go.

Judge Maria A. Audero ordered that he, along with Laube, be held without bail. “He’s a member of a horribly violent group,” she said of Boman.

Laube’s attorney called him the “least culpable” of those charged in the complaint, saying his client wasn’t on social media and didn’t attend an April 2017 protest in Berkeley at which violence broke out, because by then he had withdrawn from the organization.

For 18 months, Laube has been residing in a sober-living home in Gardena.

The arrests come after several other members and associates of the group were publicly accused of traveling to Virginia with the intent to incite a riot and commit violence in Charlottesville last year.

Advertisement

Daley, 25, along with Thomas Walter Gillen, 34, both of Redondo Beach; Michael Paul Miselis, 30, of Lawndale; and Cole Evan White, 24, of the Northern California city of Clayton were arrested earlier this month.

Federal authorities said the group was founded in late 2016 or early 2017 by Rundo and Daley, originally branded as “DIY DIVISION.” The group grew in numbers through use of social media, on which they coordinated combat training before political events and bragged about the violence to recruit members.

Posts include video clips of members assaulting people at political events, their faces covered by distinctive skeleton or U.S. flag masks. In one February post, the group posted a photo of members covering their faces with books, along with the text: “When the squads not out smashing commies . . . #nationalist #lifestyle.”

Authorities believe that their Twitter account, @RiseAboveMvmt, was operated by Rundo. It has since been suspended.

As bold as the group’s social media presence was, members have been guarded with the media and remain relatively under the radar in their communities. Family members of some group members have declined to speak with The Times, and former neighbors of others said they didn’t know who the group members were. Local law enforcement agencies said they were unaware of the group causing major problems in the South Bay.

For more than a year, authorities say, the group has caused trouble across California, at political rallies in places including Berkeley and Huntington Beach. Much of the violence at the Charlottesville rallies was captured in photos and videos, screenshots of which were laid out in an affidavit prepared by an FBI task force officer.

In one scene, White is seen headbutting a woman, leaving her with a bloody gash on her face. In another, White grabs a counter-protester by the shoulders and jerks him away before headbutting a minister wearing a clerical collar. The footage also appears to show Miselis, his hands taped, shoving a black man to the ground and then striking him.

5:10 p.m.: This article was updated with information from court proceedings.

12:30 p.m.: This story was updated with new details and additional information about private messages.

11:05 a.m.: This article was updated with information from the criminal complaint and information from a court hearing.

This article was originally published at 9:45 a.m.

Advertisement
Advertisement