WASHINGTON — Four “serial rioters” from California traveled to Charlottesville, Va., to incite rioting during last year’s deadly violence around a white supremacist rally, and they repeatedly attacked counterprotesters, resulting in serious injuries, federal law enforcement officials said on Tuesday in announcing charges against the men.
Members of a militant white-supremacist organization called the Rise Above Movement, the men arrived in town “with their hands taped and ready to do street battle,” said Thomas T. Cullen, the United States attorney for the Western District of Virginia. They punched, kicked, head-butted and pushed the counterprotesters, according to court papers, and were “among the most violent individuals present in Charlottesville.”
Their organization’s propaganda contains “fascistic themes of emasculated young white men needing to reclaim their identities through learning to fight and engaging in purifying violence,” according to court papers. The men had also committed acts of “violence and brutality” in cities in California including Huntington Beach, Berkeley and San Bernardino, the government said.
The men were identified as Cole Evan White, 24; Benjamin Drake Daley, 25; Michael Paul Miselis, 29; and Thomas Walter Gillen, 34. Mr. White was arrested Tuesday in San Francisco, and the other three men were arrested in Los Angeles. Each was accused of inciting a riot and conspiracy, counts that each carry a maximum five-year prison sentence.
Photographs and videos showed the men attacking counterprotesters, prosecutors said in court papers, and the men bragged about their attacks in Facebook messages. “I hit like 5 people,” Mr. Daley said in one such conversation, according to court documents.
Investigators sifted through a huge amount of electronic evidence in the case — more than in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing — that took 13 months to examine, law enforcement officials said.
“This is long overdue,” said Tanesha Hudson, a community activist who appeared outside the federal courthouse in downtown Charlottesville after the announcement. “We’ve been pushing them for accountability.”
The rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, which brought together far-right groups under the banner Unite the Right, devolved into violence and set off a national firestorm further stoked by President Trump blaming all sides.
At that time, white supremacist groups were protesting the removal of Confederate monuments across the South, and several hundred people gathered to demonstrate against the City of Charlottesville’s decision to remove a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
The evening before the rally, the four men and dozens of others marched with lit torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia. The next day, the rally quickly devolved into shoving and brawling as the marchers yelled racist taunts and chanted anti-Semitic slogans. The police and the National Guard were brought in, the governor declared a state of emergency and the area was cleared.
Another rally-goer, James Alex Fields Jr., was indicted in June on hate crime charges in the death of one of the counterprotesters, Heather Heyer. Prosecutors said that after the rally was stopped, he targeted and mowed down counterprotesters with his car and was motivated to harm them because of their race, religion and national origin.
Mr. Fields also faces first-degree murder charges in state court. He has pleaded not guilty in both cases.
Mr. Trump painted the violence as a result of bad behavior on “many sides.” Even after he condemned the violence, Mr. Trump refused to criticize white nationalists and said that the demonstrators also included “some very fine people.”
Civil rights advocates rebuked Mr. Trump, and Republicans rushed to condemn the resurgence of white supremacist rallies. The president disbanded a pair of business advisory councils after others aligned with the White House, including corporate executives, stopped supporting him.