Two key members of a white supremacist group based in Southern California pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring to riot for their roles in provoking violence at a deadly far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
Benjamin Drake Daley, a founder of the so-called Rise Above Movement, and Michael Miselis, a member who worked as an aerospace engineer for Northrop Grumman, entered their pleas in a Charlottesville courtroom. They will face up to five years in federal prison when they are sentenced in July.
“These avowed white supremacists traveled to Charlottesville to incite and commit acts of violence,” Thomas Cullen, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said in a statement. “Although the First Amendment protects an organization’s right to express abhorrent political views, it does not authorize senseless violence in furtherance of a political agenda.”
Daley, Miselis and several others had traveled from California on behalf of the relatively small militant white power group that casts itself as an alt-right fight club. Its members would meet regularly in public parks to practice boxing and other street-fighting techniques to unleash on political foes.
For more than a year, authorities said, the group caused trouble across California, at political rallies in places such as Berkeley and Huntington Beach. After the chaos in Charlottesville, they began to receive national attention.
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.
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.”
When Daley arrived in Charlottesville from Redondo Beach, he stopped by Walmart to pick up supplies: white athletic tape, black spray paint and a folding tactical knife.
The next morning, he and other members of the group taped their fists and made their way through a group of people protesting against discrimination. Together, prosecutors said, the white supremacists pushed, punched, kicked and head-butted several people, resulting in a riot.
The U.S. attorney’s office said that as part of their pleas, Daley and Miselis admitted the acts of violence were not carried out in self-defense. Two others, Cole White and Thomas Gillen, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to riot in the Charlottesville case.