The photo shows a pale, skinny young man in a white shirt and dark sunglasses, face contorted and veins in his head and neck popping as he appears to throttle a dark-haired woman. They are standing in front of the parking lot of the First United Methodist Church on Second Street NE in Charlottesville. It’s August 12, 2017.
Last week, the man in this photo, Benjamin Drake Daley, 25, and three companions were arrested on federal rioting charges, almost a year after Daley was first identified by the nonprofit media organization ProPublica. As it reported on October 19, 2017, Daley and another California man, Thomas Walter Gillen, 34, are part of a violent white supremacist group called the Rise Above Movement, and had been involved in violence and rioting at several California rallies before they made their way to Charlottesville.
Later reporting by ProPublica also identified two other RAM members, Michael Paul Miselis, 29, and Cole Evan White, 24, involved in the Charlottesville violence.
All four were arrested in California and charged with rioting and conspiring to riot, stemming from both the tiki-torch march through UVA Grounds on August 11 and the downtown brawls on August 12, according the Department of Justice.
At a Charlottesville press conference October 2, U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen described them as a “militant white supremacist group” and “serial rioters” who came “ready to do street battle,” and who committed multiple acts of violence here.
In an interview, ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson said RAM was a “sort of post-skinhead group that models itself on neo-fascists from Europe.” Unlike many of the current crop of white supremacists who spend their time online writing screeds or creating memes, RAM members go the gym and “have a clean cut, athletic look,” says Thompson. They’ve absorbed members from some of the most dangerous groups, he says, and are on the “really violent, street-based edge of the neo-white supremacist movement.”
The group was featured in a ProPublica/Frontline documentary called “Documenting Hate: Charlottesville” that aired on PBS August 7.
On October 2, Cullen gave a nod to the ProPublica and Frontline efforts, but said the federal investigation began more than a year ago, immediately following August 12. Part of the more than yearlong delay in filing charges was because the FBI and Virginia State Police had to sift through “an incredible volume and amount of digital evidence,” as well as press accounts—more than what investigators had at the Boston Marathon bombing, said Cullen. “We’ve laid out a pretty compelling account,” he added.
According to the complaint, RAM propaganda incorporates “fascistic themes of emasculated young white men needing to reclaim their identities through learning to fight and engaging in purifying violence,” which they had done at pro-Trump political rallies-turned-riots in Berkeley and Huntington Beach, California.
The four took part in the “Jews will not replace us” torch march through UVA, and White can be seen “using his torch as a weapon on at least two occasions during the melee,” says the complaint. And on Facebook, Daley boasted of hitting five people, but described the rally the next day as “a HUGE failure.”
On August 12, Daley and his pals can be seen in videos punching, kicking, and head-butting counterprotesters on Second Street NE between High and Jefferson streets, according to court documents. White allegedly head-butted a collar-wearing clergyman and a female counterprotester, whose bloodstained face is included in a photograph in the complaint.
Miselis, a doctoral student at UCLA with a U.S. government security clearance, “appears to be shoving an African American to the ground and then striking him,” says the complaint. It also notes that in the same ProPublica video, Miselis kicked the man as he’s falling to the ground, while Daley is seen grabbing a female counterprotester by the neck and “body slamming her to the ground.” Miselis, who after the rally went back to work as an engineer at defense contractor Northrop Grumman, lost his job a day after being exposed in the ProPublica/Frontline documentary.
ProPublica “did a fantastic job in piecing together some of the organized activities that occurred on August 11 and August 12, and the work that they did was certainly reviewed by our office as a starting point to understand a little bit about this particular group,” said Cullen.
To date, the majority of the white supremacists arrested on August 11- and 12-related charges, including three of the four men arrested for attacking local resident DeAndre Harris in the Market Street Parking Garage, were first identified by journalists and activists like The Intercept’s Shaun King, who combed through photos, video footage, and social media posts.
Local activist Jalane Schmidt, a religious studies professor at UVA, says that even before the Unite the Right rally, in hopes of getting the permit revoked, activists gave police a 22-page dossier identifying people who had posted violent intentions online before coming to Charlottesville.
“It’s just ridiculous,” she said of the delay in the arrests. “There’s been a bunch of people who’ve been identified.”
While Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney was not available for comment, Sergeant Tony Newberry says he’s been working on finding the remaining two men who were videotaped assaulting Harris but have not been identified. The department has issued national press releases and put the men’s images on the A&E show “Live PD.”
“We’ve done everything we can to identify those two,” he says.
Speaking to the federal arrests, Cullen says a prosecutor in his office “literally has worked on nothing else since August 12.”
“We had to convince ourselves the attacks were without provocation,” he said—and that they were not protected First Amendment activities.
When asked why the four were not charged under hate crime laws, Cullen said federal riot statutes seemed more appropriate, but he did not rule out consideration of other charges—or other arrests.
Legal expert David Heilberg says hate crimes are harder to prove than conspiracy or rioting. “The feds charge with what they’re pretty sure they can prove.”
However, federal prosecutors often make additional charges, called superseding indictments, using the same set of facts if other witnesses come forward, says Heilberg.
“This case should serve as another example of the Department of Justice’s commitment to protecting life, liberty, and civil rights of all our citizens,” said Cullen, who warned, “Any individual who has or plans to travel to this district with the intent to engage in acts of violence will be prosecuted and held accountable for those actions.”
Adam Lee, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Richmond division, took the opportunity to make a plug for law enforcement: “It is important for communities like Charlottesville to remember who the good guys are—who is sworn to protect them—and support them in their mission,” he said.
That might be a hard sell for those who watched city and state police officers stand by as white supremacists and anti-fascists engaged in open violence. The independent investigation of the 2017 events, released in December, found that “law enforcement failed to intervene in violent disorders and did not respond to requests for assistance.”
The four men are being held without bond and Cullen expects them to be transported to Charlottesville and heard before a magistrate judge by this week. Each man faces 10 years in prison if convicted of both charges.