Federal authorities today indicted a former worker from the Top Dog restaurant on Durant Avenue and three other California men on charges of conspiring to travel to Charlottesville, Virginia and start a riot. Three of the men also allegedly participated in one of the most violent rallies in Berkeley in 2017.
Cole Evan White, 24, of Clayton, who worked at Top Dog; Benjamin Drake Daley, 25, of Redondo Beach; Thomas Walter Gillen, 34, of Rondo Beach; and Michael Paul Miselis, 29, of Lawndale, have been charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the federal riots statute and one count of violating the federal riots statute, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Virginia. They were “among the most violent individuals present in Charlottesville, ” United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen said in a press conference to announce the arrests.
The four men were arrested early this morning, according to officials.
The four men are all members or associates of the Rise Above Movement (RAM), which officials described as a “militant white-supremacist organization based in Southern California.” The four men traveled from California to Charlottesville in August 2017, ostensibly to participate in a rally in Emancipation Park to protest the proposed removal of a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The four men were part of the “Unite the Right” rally that took place Aug. 11 and 12. They went “with the intent to encourage, promote, incite, participate in, and commit violent acts in furtherance of a riot,” according to the press release.
“This is a group that essentially subscribes to an anti-Semitic, racist ideology, and then organizes, trains, and deploys to various political rallies, not only to espouse this particular ideology but also to engage in acts of violence against folks who are taking a contrary point of view,” Cullen said at the news conference in Charlottesville, according to the Associated Press/KCBS.
The four men “committed multiple acts of violence against counter-protestors … which in some cases resulted in serious injuries,” according to the press release. “In addition,” the “were present and participated in the torch-lit march that culminated in violence against students and counter-protestors on the grounds of the University of Virginia on the night of August 11, 2017.”
The marchers carried tiki torches that lit up the night sky and repeated white nationalist slogans such as “Jews will not replace us,” “Blood and Soil” and “White Lives Matter.” After they reached a statue of Thomas Jefferson at the base of the university’s rotunda, the four men clashed with a group of counter-demonstrators, according to the complaint.
The indictment showed a picture of White allegedly using his torch “as a weapon on at least two occasions during the melee.”
The next day, one protester, Heather Heyer, was killed when someone drove a car into a crowd of demonstrators. James A. Fields, Jr. has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with Heyer’s death, among other state and federal charges. The four men from California were not connected with that killing, according to officials.
Federal officials also said in the complaint that three of the men had engaged in violent behavior in Huntington Beach on March 25, 2107, and in Berkeley on April 15, 2017, and in San Bernardino. The April 15 protest in Civic Center Park and downtown Berkeley was extremely violent with far-right protesters and Antifa members duking it out on the street, hurling smoke bombs at one another and dousing opponents with pepper spray. One video from that day that went viral showed Nathan Damigo of white-nationalist group Identity Europa hitting an Antifa protester. Police arrested 20 people that day and reported that 11 were injured.
A complaint accompanying the indictment filled out by FBI Agent Dina P. Capuzzo included photos of White, Gillen and Miselis allegedly hitting counter-protesters in Berkeley. One photo showed Gillen repeatedly punching a protester who had fallen to the ground. “Gillen, in an apparent effort to engage in physical violence, has taped his fists in the manner of boxers or MMA style fighters, as evidenced in the photo above,” said the complaint.
Another photo showed Miselis, his hands also taped, hitting someone, according to the complaint. Another set of photos showed White.
Immediately after the Charlottesville rally, which drew huge international attention and led President Donald Trump to say there was bad behavior “on many sides,” White returned to his job at the Berkeley Top Dog. Within hours of his return, a Twitter user named @YesYoureRacist had identified White as someone who participated in the rally at Charlottesville. The owners of Top Dog found out about the tweets and confronted White. He quickly resigned.
“On Saturday, August 12, it came to our attention that one of our employees was involved in the recent ‘alt-right’ rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina [sic],” the owners said in a press release issued on Aug. 14. “Later that day we spoke with Cole White. During that conversation, Cole chose to voluntarily resign his employment with top dog and we accepted his resignation,” the company wrote in a press release Monday.
“We pride ourselves on embracing and respecting all our differences and every individual’s choice to do as that person wishes within the boundaries of the law. We do not endorse hatred or any illegal conduct. It simply is not part of our culture.”
The owner of Top Dog, Richard Reinmann, has affixed Libertarian literature all around the Berkeley stores.
The FBI and other police officials used social media to home in on the four men charged Tuesday. Investigators scoured RAM’s Twitter account and found photos of their training in southern California. They also viewed hours of footage put up on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to find evidence of the four men’s activities in Virginia, according to the complaint. It took 13 months, officials said.
White is being held without bail in the jail in Oakland. The other three appeared in court today, according to KCBS. If convicted, the four men face up to 10 years in prison.