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Four members of alleged hate group charged for role in 2017 Charlottesville rally

FILE -- White nationalists and counterprotesters in the streets of Charlottesville, Va., during the “Unite the Right” rally, Aug. 12, 2017. Three men were sentenced to prison time for crimes committed at the infamous white nationalist rally. (Matt Eich/The New York Times/Copyright 2018)

Four California men - all alleged members of an organized hate group - were charged Tuesday with violating a federal rioting law during the violent 2017 white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, authorities said.

The U.S. attorney's office in Charlottesville described the suspects as members of a militant racist and anti-Semitic group called Rise Above Movement, based in California. The four were arrested by FBI agents in California early Tuesday and charged with one count each of violating the federal rioting statute and conspiring to violate it.

The suspects were identified as Benjamin D. Daley, 25, of Redondo Beach; Thomas W. Gillen, 34, of Redondo Beach; Michael P. Miselis, 29, of Lawndale; and Cole E. White, 34, of Clayton.

Authorities said in a statement that the four men traveled to Charlottesville "with the intent to . . . commit violent acts in furtherance of a riot."

The Aug. 12, 2017 rally - dubbed "Unite the Right" by organizers - descended into a daylong scene of violent clashes involving hundreds of white supremacists and counterprotesters. The mayhem riveted the nation's attention on the emboldened subculture of ethnonationalists in the United States.

The demonstration was nominally focused on Charlottesville's public statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, which the city wants to remove. A lawsuit filed by Confederate heritage enthusiasts months before the rally has prevented the city from getting rid of the sculpture. A trial in the civil case is set for January.

Amid the violence that day, a self-professed neo-Nazi allegedly rammed his car into another vehicle on a crowded street, killing a counterprotester, Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring 35 other people.

The accused driver, James Alex Fields Jr., now 21, is awaiting trial in a Virginia court on numerous charges, including first-degree murder, and has been charged by federal authorities with multiple hate crimes, one of which carries a possible death sentence.

White-nationalist figures Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler, both University of Virginia graduates, organized the weekend events just over a year ago, including a Friday-night tiki-torch march.

The parade was marked by racist and homophobic slurs and chants such as "Jews will not replace us!" and "Our blood, our soil!"

The demonstrators on that Saturday - many armed with guns, clubs and bats - met fierce opposition from community members and anti-fascist protesters. Clashes soon erupted across the city. Law enforcement did not act immediately to break up altercations and stood by while groups battled in front of them.

As the marchers and counterprotesters dispersed, there were isolated incidents of violence.

Fields was photographed during the rally carrying a shield with the insignia of Vanguard America, a white-supremacist group that had a large presence at the event. The group later denied that Fields was a member. At the time of his arrest in Charlottesville, he was employed as a security guard.

Fields was arrested within minutes of the allegedly deliberate crash and eventually charged with first-degree murder by Virginia authorities. In the state case, if convicted of all charges, he could be sentenced to up to four life terms plus 110 years in prison.

Months after the rally, in June of this year, the Justice Department obtained a federal indictment charging him with 28 hate crimes related to the multiple victims.

Although one of the counts carries a possible death sentence, it will take months under Justice Department guidelines for prosecutors to decide whether to seek capital punishment.

The impact of the weekend's events was magnified when President Trump asserted that both the white supremacists and those who protested against them deserved blame.

Dozens of the white supremacists taking part in the rally wore red "Make America Great Again" hats and were vocal in their support of Trump. At an afternoon news conference on the day of the rioting, Trump condemned "this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides."

David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader and a Trump supporter who was in Charlottesville for the Unite the Right rally, replied to the president, writing, "I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists."

Later that week, Trump further angered critics when he said that there were "some very fine people" among those who took part in the torchlight procession through the U-Va. campus and the rally.

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This article was written by Paul Duggan, a reporter for The Washington Post.

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