A U.S. District Court judge ruled to dismiss federal charges against three reputed members of a Huntington Beach-based white supremacist group who were accused of traveling to political rallies, in some cases out of state, to incite brawls with protesters.
Judge Cormac Carney granted a defense motion Monday to dismiss the two-count indictment, concluding that the federal Anti-Riot Act is “unconstitutionally overbroad in violation of the First Amendment.”
The three defendants are Robert Rundo, 29, of Huntington Beach — who authorities say is a founding member of the Rise Above Movement — Robert Boman, 25, of Torrance and Aaron Eason, 39, of Anza in Riverside County. A grand jury indicted them Nov. 1 on one count each of conspiracy to commit rioting and one count of use of interstate commerce with intent to riot.
“We are disappointed with the court’s ruling and we are reviewing the possibility of an appeal,” U.S. attorney’s office spokesman Ciaran McEvoy said Tuesday.
Attorneys for Rundo did not respond to a request for comment.
A fourth defendant, Tyler Laube, 22, of Redondo Beach, pleaded guilty Nov. 20 to one count of conspiracy to violate the Anti-Riot Act.
On Tuesday, his attorney, Jerome Haig, filed a notice of a motion to withdraw Laube’s guilty plea. If it is granted, he will motion to dismiss the charges against his client, Haig said. Those motions would be heard by Carney.
“I can’t imagine the judge won’t grant it,” Haig said. “He wouldn’t sentence a defendant on a statue that he has found as unconstitutional.”
Two other members of RAM pleaded guilty to federal charges last month.
In his ruling Monday, Carney said the Anti-Riot Act doesn’t just criminalize violent acts or acts committed during a riot situation. “No violence even need to occur,” he wrote.
“A defendant could be convicted for … posting about a political rally on Facebook or texting friends about when to meet up,” the judge stated.
“One person’s protest might be another person’s riot,” he wrote. “It is easy to champion free speech when it advocates a viewpoint with which we agree. It is much harder when the speech promotes ideas that we find abhorrent.”
Carney noted that prosecutions under the 1968 riot statute — enacted at the height of demonstrations addressing civil rights and the Vietnam War — have been rare and that the law’s constitutionality hasn’t been widely evaluated.
In their motion to dismiss the charges, attorneys for Rundo argued that the Anti-Riot Act is “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.”
“The dangers this poorly drafted statute pose are brought into sharp focus when applied to this case,” according to the motion, filed April 22. “The government seeks to federally prosecute defendants for conduct that amounts to — at worst — a state law assault offense.”
“The government seeks to distinguish defendants’ conduct from an ordinary simple assault case and confer federal jurisdiction by alleging that defendants were members of an organization that espouses unsavory political views,” defense attorneys argued in court documents.
The Nov. 1 indictment included detailed accounts of 47 acts by RAM members or affiliates and enumerated social media posts and other electronic communications that allegedly described the group’s training plans and boasted about its activities, including provoking and participating in violent confrontations at political rallies.
Members of RAM attended a March 2017 rally in Huntington Beach where Rundo, Boman and Laube are alleged to have assaulted people. Soon after the event, according to court documents, Boman shared a link on social media to an article on the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website and message board, titled “Trumpenkriegers physically remove Antifa homos in Huntington Beach,” along with the comment, “We did it fam.”
Boman also is alleged to have posted a photo showing himself, Rundo, Laube and other RAM members at the rally with the comment, “Hail victory and the alt-reich.”
Rundo, Boman and Eason are alleged to have assaulted people attending an April 2017 rally in Berkeley.
In December 2017, Rundo posted a promotional video for RAM that the indictment alleged showed him, Boman, Laube and other members assaulting people at the rallies in Huntington Beach and Berkeley, along with images of RAM members in combat training.
According to the indictment, Rundo and other RAM members traveled to Germany, Ukraine and Italy in April 2018 and “engaged in combat training with members of European white supremacist organizations.”