Berkeley protests
Fighting broke out on Center Street during a rally in downtown Berkeley on April 15, 2017. Photo: Daniel McPartlan

The violence that broke out between the far right and the far left in Berkeley on April 15, 2017, was the most extreme seen on city streets in years. For about two hours, men and women wearing masks, costumes and variations of the American flag pummeled one another in the streets around Martin Luther King Jr. Park, throwing explosive devices, smoke bombs and pepper spray. Police arrested 20 people in connection with the violence. Eleven people were injured.

Now a complaint filed in federal court reveals new details of how members of one white nationalist group, the Rise Above Movement, made plans to come to Berkeley to beat up anti-fascists and others who did not agree with their white supremacist views.

The documents that outline how some of the violence that day was planned in advance were released in late October when federal officials filed a complaint against four Southern California men who were involved with RAM. Robert Rundo, 28, of Huntington Beach; Robert Boman, 25, of Torrance; Tyler Laube, 22, of Redondo Beach; and Aaron Eason, 38, of Azusa were accused of the “intent to incite, organize, promote and encourage, participate in or carry on riots or to commit acts of violence in furtherance of a riot,” according to court documents. They “violently attacked and assaulted counter-protestors,” in Berkeley, Huntington Beach, San Bernardino and Charlottesville, said the complaint. All are being held without bail in Southern California.

That complaint came three weeks after federal officials indicted another four men for their involvement in violent altercations in Charlottesville and Berkeley. They are Cole Evan White, 24, of Clayton, who worked at Top Dog; Benjamin Drake Daley, 25, of Redondo Beach; Thomas Walter Gillen, 34, of Redondo Beach; and Michael Paul Miselis, 29, of Lawndale. They are being held without bail in Virginia.

Two days after the April 15, 2017, “Patriot’s Rally” that drew national attention to the violence in the city’s streets, Berkeleyside published a story that attempted to explain which groups had participated. Included in the groups on the right were the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, Identity Evropa, and individuals, including the rally organizer, Rich Black; Kyle Chapman, aka “Based Stickman;” Lauren Southern, a Canadian right-winger; and Brittany Pettibone, a conservative commentator. RAM was not mentioned. However, one member, Rundo, was arrested April 15, 2017, on suspicion of battery on a police officer and for resisting/obstructing a police officer. The charges were later dropped.

“We reviewed it over the summer in July and declined to file charges,” Teresa Drenick, an Alameda County deputy district attorney, told ProPublica for an article published in October 2017.  “We determined we didn’t have enough evidence to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Rundo “served 20 months in a New York State prison for stabbing a rival gang member from MS-13 in a 2009 attack in Flushing, Queens,” according to the New York Times.

Before the arrests were made in October, a number of organizations and news outlets had written about RAM and had pointed out that it did not seem like police agencies were intent on prosecuting the group. The Northern California Anti-Racist League was the first organization to expose the workings of RAM. It published an article about RAM on its website in July 2017, which was later praised by federal officials as providing information about the group. The Southern Poverty Law Center had also been tracking the group’s rise. The East Bay Express also wrote about the group.

Getting ready to rumble

RAM had its origins in southern California sometime in 2016, according to an affidavit by Scott Bierworth, an FBI agent who investigated RAM. Rundo and Daley were among the people who started the group. They envisioned it as “a combat-ready, militant group of a new nationalist white supremacy/identity movement.”

The group, which has about 50 members, espouses hatred for Jews, Muslims, African-Americans and leftists, and posted Nazi imagery on its social media sites, according to ProPublica. Many of the core members have serious criminal histories, according to the article.

From the start, RAM members plotted how they would attend rallies and engage with people they regarded as their adversaries, according to the affidavit, which also revealed that federal officials recorded some of Daley’s phone calls. The RAM members plotted to appear somewhat benign by getting military-style haircuts and wearing polo-style shirts and khakis so they could look like “security personnel,” at the rallies, according to federal documents. When they came to Berkeley, they wore grey shirts and donned skeleton facemasks.

After allegedly engaging in violence at a March 25, 2017 rally in Huntington Beach, members of RAM made plans to come to Berkeley for the April 15, 2017 rally, according to court documents. Berkeley had become a focal point for the battle between the left and the right ever since Feb. 1, 2017, when the Berkeley College Republicans had invited the right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at UC Berkeley. The university canceled the speech after a group of about 150 black-clad anti-fascist agitators descended on Sproul Plaza and smashed windows, hurled incendiary devices, set a portable lamp on fire, and then rampaged through the streets of Berkeley, causing $600,000 in destruction.

In response to antifa, a number of Trump supporters came to MLK Jr. Park on March 4, 2107, saying they were there to defend an attack on free speech. They were met by anti-fascist protestors and a physical fight broke out in the park. The April 15 rally was called in response to that.

RAM members actively recruited like-minded people to join them to come to Berkeley, according to federal documents. On March 27, 2017, Eason wrote to Miselis, whom he had just met at the Huntington Beach rally two days earlier:

“It’s Aaron from the HB rally. 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.… We’re expecting about 15 solid guys in our caravan coming up from So Cal and we can accomodate (sic) as many as you can give. Quality only of course. If you have good people who aren’t cut out for security, the organiziers (sic) are looking for people to fill roles like photography. Anyone who doesn’t come will wish they had. Oh and we have hand to hand and formation fighting training in San Clemente this Saturday. It’s not required, but we’d like to get everyone we can there.”

Two days later, Eason wrote Miselis with more details about the “training,” according to federal documents.

“Training is a go. Saturday at 11 am,” Eason wrote. “Marblehead Park, San Clemente.… We’ll probably have equipment for shield and stick training and our formation tactics ready.”

Daley then wrote to Miselis telling him that the group was renting a van to carry a large group from Southern California to Berkeley on April 14, 2017. Eason then rented a 12-to-15 passenger van and paid $493.87 with a credit card, according to court documents. RAM later posted a photo of the group posing in front of the van in Berkeley, according to the affidavit.

Berkeley protests
For a time on April 15, 2017, opposing sides stayed separated by plastic barriers. Photo: Daniel McPartlan

In anticipation of possible clashes, Berkeley police had tried to keep the opposing sides separate. They erected a flexible orange plastic fence in MLK Jr. Park to separate the two sides and searched people entering the park. Police confiscated anything that could be used as a weapon and took away numerous sticks, poles, brass knuckles, cans of pepper spray, knives, and other items.

For a while, people on the left, many clad in black with their faces covered, and people on the right, many wearing red MAGA hats, taunted one another from behind the orange fence. But that didn’t last long and eventually the black-clad protesters surged across the fence and some started to fight with people on the right.

Federal officials said the photo on the left shows Bowman taping his hands before the April rally. The photo on the right allegedly shows Bowman hitting someone while Eason, Miselis, and other RAM members stood beside him. Photo: US Attorney’s Office of the Central District of California.

This was a signal to engage for RAM members, according to federal documents. Some of the members had taped up their hands and had put on skeleton masks to hide their faces. They then proceeded to punch counter-protesters.

Protestors in MLK Jr Park on April 15, 2017. RAM members and other white nationalists are behind the banner and standing around. An explicitly anti-Semitic sign is also shown. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

“Videos posted online also show RUNDO, BOMAN, EASON, and Daley standing alongside other RAM members displaying a sign that stated “Defend America” with their hands taped in the manner of a boxer or mixed martial arts fighter, wearing grey and black athletic shirts with their faces partially covered by the distinctive skeleton masks shown in RAM training videos,” read the court documents… “In one video, BOMAN is shown punching a counter-protester in the face. In another video, BOMAN is shown punching a person while holding the person down on the ground. In another video, another RAM member is shown repeatedly punching a person while two unidentified people and a second RAM member appear to hold the person down in a crouched position. In another video, Miselis, Daley, and two other RAM members are shown repeatedly kicking and punching a counter-protester who was crouching in a defensive position, until police intervened and pushed them away. In another video, RUNDO is shown approaching a counter-protester and punching him in the side of the head.”

When a Berkeley police officer saw Rundo “punching [an] apparently defenseless person in the head,” he ordered Rundo to stop. When he did not, the officer knocked Rundo to the ground and Rundo “punched the officer twice in the head before BPD officers subdued and arrested him,” according to the affidavit.

Some of his fellow RAM members chased counter-protesters out of the park while chanting “hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”

At one point, some RAM members grabbed a banner that Yvette Felarca, a BUSD middle school teacher and organizer for the far left group By Any Means Necessary, was holding. They apparently regarded it as a trophy and bragged about taking it on social media.

I “stole yevet farlarkas [sic] banner at the April 15th riots lol,” Daley wrote in a private Facebook message on June 1, 2017, according to court documents. Daley’s associate responded, ‘That subhuman professor from CA.… She needs the rope[,].” Daley responded, “Yep lol.” The associate responded, “My boy supposedly kicked her in the face.”

In May 2017, Bowman posted a photo on Facebook that was taken in a garage decorated with white supremacist signs and banners, according to the court documents. One of the signs had the anti-Semitic phrase “Da Goyim Know,” and appeared to be the sign Boman carried in Huntington Beach and was in Berkeley on April 15. Another banner on display appeared to be the one taken from Felarca.

RAM members were not the only violent protesters that day. One video that went viral showed Nathan Damigo, a founder of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa, hitting a female anti-fascist protester, Emily Rose Marshall. In photos of the rally, Damigo can be seen hanging out near RAM members.

The RAM members bragged about their exploits after the rally was over, according to court documents.

“Maybe if there [is] enough time could mention berekly [sic] how we were the first guys to jump over the barrier and engage and how that had a huge impact,” the RAM Twitter account tweeted May 15, 2017.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...