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FBI arrests white-supremacist group members for 2017 assaults across California and in Charlottesville

November 8, 2018 40 1 No Comments

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The last of four white supremacist suspects accused of inciting violence at political rallies surrendered to the FBI on Sunday. Aaron Eason, 38, a member of the white nationalist group Rise Against Movement (RAM), had remained at large for a week following the arrests of the group’s founder, 28-year-old Robert Rundo, and associated members Robert Boman, 25, and Tyler Laube, 22. Each of the four suspects faces two federal charges of conspiracy and rioting, related to violent attacks on protestors at separate rallies in California and in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The arrests come just weeks after federal authorities in California arrested four other members of the RAM group, who each face similar charges associated specifically with the violence at the alt-right rally in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017. Federal prosecutors in Charlottesville accused the four of travelling across the country “with the intent to encourage, promote, incite, participate in, and commit violent acts in furtherance of a riot.”

Rundo, the founder of the organization, had reportedly fled through Mexico to somewhere in Central America before being arrested and deported to the United States. He was taken into custody by FBI agents last Wednesday at the Los Angeles International Airport. He along with Laube and Boman were denied bail. “The nature of these offenses is nothing short of horribly violent,” said Judge Maria A. Audero during Boman’s hearing. Eason will be kept in custody at least until his detention hearing this Friday.

The 25-page federal complaint, signed by Agent Scott Bierwirth with a counter-terrorism squad in the FBI, documents the recent activities of RAM and of the four members charged over the past week. In its “Statement of Probable Cause,” the complaint charts the planning and execution of violent attacks by some or all of the four members at rallies in Huntington Beach and Berkeley, California, as well as in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The attacks, pieced together by the FBI using troves of public and private videos and messages posted on social media, were against counter-protestors, journalists, and in some cases bystanders whose appearance simply fit the bill for RAM’s race-based program of terrorization. In one instance, at Huntington Beach, Rundo was filmed throwing a counter-protester to the ground and beating him “while other RAM members looked on, cheered, and prevented others from intervening.” When the counter-protester managed to escape after releasing pepper spray, the group pursued him into a parking lot and continued to assault him with flagpoles, rocks, and fists.

As the FBI report indicates, such attacks are typical and a part of the modus operandi of the group. RAM advertises itself as a group that provides solicited and unsolicited vigilante “security” to public gatherings of white supremacists, the alt-right, and (as was the case in Huntington Beach) Trump supporters. The group organizes combat training sessions for its members (which it documents and publishes online with accompanying slogans like “White Unity”) and seems to promote physical fitness among its members, often showing up to rallies with tape and gauze wrapped around their knuckles in addition to the usual MAGA gear, fitness clothes, and skeleton masks. “I wanted to let you know that the organizers of the free speech rally at Berkeley on April 15 are paying for rooms for our guys,” Eason wrote in a text message to Michael Miselis, one of the RAM members who was apprehended earlier in October. “Quality only of course. If you have good people who aren’t cut out for security, the organizers are looking for people to fill roles like photography…Oh and we have hand to hand and formation fighting training in San Clemente this Saturday.” True to their word, the group showed up at the rally in Berkeley and committed a series of assaults detailed in the report.

In Charlottesville last year, during the infamous Unite the Right rally that resulted in the murder of the activist Heather Heyer, RAM members travelled across the country to be at the fore of the violence that ensued. Their assaults are well documented. In one instance, Ben Daley, one of the RAM members arrested in October, can be seen grabbing an unidentified woman by the hair and beating her repeatedly. In later footage, the same woman can be seen lying on the curb and reaching out to a paramedic, her face and neck covered in blood.

In his report, Bierwirth also describes a trip taken by members of RAM to Germany, Italy, and Ukraine, during which they met with the leader of the right-wing isolationist International Department for the National Corps, Olena Semenyaka. As described in the report, Semenyaka’s National Corps is the political arm of the Azov Battalion, a neo-Nazi paramilitary unit “which is believed to have participated in training and radicalizing United States-based white supremacy organizations.” Considering the group’s social media posts about the trip, it appears that most of the rest of their time was spent “slap-tagging stickers on various buildings and poles” and videotaping each other making various white supremacist signs and salutes.

The newsletter ProPublica conducted an investigation into the group over the several weeks leading up to the arrests, similarly documenting their various assaults and methods of planning, and identifying various members who appear online. In a short video highlighting some of their work, they report on the criminal background of several of the eight men arrested in October. Laube and Boman, for example, were convicted of robbery. Several others were convicted for possession of illegal or concealed guns. In 2009, Rundo pled guilty to stabbing a Latino man five times in an unprovoked gang assault on the victim and his friend. The victim survived, and Rundo served 20 months of a two-year sentence.

Mike German, a former FBI agent who worked undercover in Nazi skinhead and vigilante militia organizations, told ProPublica that the framework for dealing with white supremacist groups needed to be shifted. Police, he said, are “looking at this whole thing so narrowly, as two groups clashing at a protest.”

“It is organized criminal activity,” German said, a notion that seems finally to be catching on in light of last month’s arrests.

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